Kanban vs. Scrum


The Agile methodology provides the team with the capability to simultaneously begin creating software while they are gathering the business requirements. Hence the usual phenomenon known as “analysis paralysis” is not likely to hinder the team from progressing until the planning stage is over. As a matter of fact, Agile methodology is acclaimed for its ability to enable projects to create the “right” products. It allows teams to be competitive, and through continuous re-planning, helps to preserve a product’s market relevance and ensure that the team effort is recognized and the product is released on time. The Agile Manifesto leads into breaking away from the stereotype approach and helps deal with real challenges through an adaptive and proactive strategy.

Dynamic business environment and complex organizational structures induce change that possesses the ability to destabilize and frustrate even the mostestablished business models. The key to a successful organization is the effective management of service delivery, through efficient methods and practices. Efficient and smooth workflow practices are believed to be accomplished through Agile methodologies with an emphasis on flexibility and rigor to optimize utilization of resources. Two popular implementations of Agile are Scrum and Kanban. In would be fitting to compare and analyze these processes, in an attempt to understand the dynamics behind their respective methodologies.

Scrum: This is an iterative and incremental process aimed to deliver marketable products or features upon the completion of a fixed duration iteration called a “Sprint”. Scrum defines the scope within a Sprint and enables the optimization of resources through the formulation of cross-functional, self organizing teams, collaborating to enhance of scope of every subsequent Sprint. This process tool also enhances the predictability and learning based upon previous Sprints. Scrum upholds the corner-stones of transparency, inspection and adaptability while breaking away from the rigid organizational structure with its predefined roles and responsibilities.

Kanban: This process propagates the implementation of visual process management, wherein immense importance is given, to display the work in progress and resources are guided by production criteria like: (i) What to produce? (ii) How to produce? (iii) How much to produce? Kanban is a practice, adapted by organizations to incorporate incremental and evolutionary change, which builds an efficient workflow through flexibility in assigning work priorities. By limiting work in progress (WIP) this method aims to expose, stimulate and continuously improve the system. Kanban lays impetus on measuring to optimize the lead time which is the average time taken to complete, also known as the “cycle time”.

Similarities between Scrum and Kanban

Both Scrum and Kanban are process tools aimed at optimizing the workflow practices and appear to be very similar in approach and are sometimes easily confused to be one and the same. The following similarities lead to the confusion:

  1. These are both empirical in their approach as every project or process is unique and requires improvisation that yields the desired results by effective implementation of these tools.
  2. Scrum as well as Kanban is an implementation of Agile, packaged to formulate workflow process tools.
  3. Both Scrum and Kanban use pull scheduling to optimize allocation and utilization of resources.
  4. Concept of limiting the WIP: Both Scrum and Kanban limit the ‘work in process’ by restricting the WIP within a Sprint and work-cycle, respectively.
  5. Both Scrum and Kanban are aimed at process improvements to yield optimized workflow through the Lean methodology to yield enhanced velocity and reduction in lead time, respectively.
  6. Both Scrum and Kanban focus on splitting the project or process into smaller and manageable independent work-cycles, capable of delivering releasable products or features.

In addition it is believed that these two approaches are compatible and can indeed be mixed to derive the benefits of both these methods. Some people even go to the extent to promote a concept called Scrumban. While others are a little vary to mix-up and recommend to practice them as two distinct approaches.

Differences between Kanban and Scrum

Both Scrum and Kanban may appear to be similar yet these are inherently distinct approaches that have evolved to attain a refined state that yields efficient workflow practices.

The following are the key differentiators that distinctively define Scrum and Kanban:

  1. Scrum breaks away from the stereotype roles and structure of a conventional organization to formulate self organizing, cross-functional teams. Whereas Kanban does not necessarily prescribe cross-functional team structure and can also find implementation within the existing organizational structure.
  2. Scrum prescribes the roles of Product Owner, Scrum Master and Development Team. Whereas Kanban does not prescribe any specific roles and can adopt the existing roles of a specialist structure.
  3. Scrum prescribes fixed length iterations called Sprints, whereas Kanban does not mandate fixed duration iterations. Rather Kanban encourages optimization of work-cycle through reduction in lead time and enhancement of the velocity of workflow, to achieve more through multiple cycles that optimize the workflow.
  4. Scrum recommends numerous rules and thus comes out to be more prescriptive. Whereas Kanban is more open, flexible and adaptive, making it less prescriptive in nature.
  5. Scrum restricts change within a Sprint and seeks specific amount of work commitment within iterations. Whereas Kanban is open to change within iterations, while operating within the prescribed limits.
  6. Although both Scrum and Kanban limit the WIP but they adapt different means to restrict the work in process. Scrum focuses upon containing the WIP within a Sprint, whereas Kanban limits WIP per workflow state.

A holistic analysis of the similarities and differences between Scrum and Kanban validates that although these appear to be visibly distinct approaches, yet they also draw out multiple similarities. This empowers the organization to select the best suited method and also enables them to refine and customize their approach.

Suitability of Kanban vs Scrum

The suitability of Kanban over Scrum or the visa versa should logically entail an analysis based upon the business environment and perquisites required to establish efficient workflow practices. There are specific conditions that tilt the balance in favor of one or the other, as discussed below.

Conditions with resultant Kanban recommendation over Scrum:

  1. Requirement to instantly implement efficient workflow practices without disrupting the existing structure of roles and responsibilities.
  2. Need for a less prescriptive method or tool promotes Kanban.
  3. Long and continuous flow of process deliverables tilts the preference towards Kanban.
  4. Recommended wherein the Lead time is the key parameter to drive efficiency.
  5. If fixed length iterations are not suitable, Kanban is better suited as against Scrum.

On the contrary, Scrum implementation may be recommend, based upon certain parameters like the need to have fixed length iterations for better control. Instances with a requirement of standardized output driven through, a process guided by rules which are prescriptive in nature. Requirement of cross functional teams to establish, teams independent of hierarchy promotes Scrum over Kanban.

The suitability of Kanban over Scrum or vice versa is driven by the inherent strengths and weaknesses of these tools based on the nature of project or processes that operate through independent and self controlling teams. Thus the limitation of one tool propagates the implementation of the other.

How to choose which process to use: Kanban or Scrum?

Both Kanban and Scrum are evolved methodologies that have specified application in different scenarios. It is important to understand their applicability to recommend the best option to deduce the best fit, on a case to case basis.

However, it is believed that Kanban is a refinement over Scrum and finds higher applicability across software development projects.

It could be beneficial to draw some techniques, characteristics of Scrum and implement these with a few taken from the Kanban methodology. Inherently both these methodologies are derived from the Agile concept and principles. It is empirical to differentiate the applicability based upon an understanding of which method best justifies the Agile principles, in a given scenario. Thus the loyalty towards Agile principles, renders the best fit.

Both these methodologies are genuine extensions and implementation of Agile. Yet the actual question still remains unanswered. Is it logical to keep expanding upon tools and methods to create customized tools which are limited to scenarios? On the other hand it could be practical to keep improvising, based upon a basic method to evolve and customize the tool, as per requirement. Thus it might not really be required to establish a new tool every time we are faced with constrains. Existing and established methods, such as Scrum, XP, Crystal and now Kanban, should suffice for some time into the future.

Author: Adam Alami, PhD Fellow, IT University of Copenhagen

Adam Alami is a PhD fellow at the IT University of Copenhagen. Adam has a wealth of experience in information technology practices. He started his career as a software developer, then moved to business analysis and project management. His 20 years’ experience revolves around major business transformation projects and process improvement. He accumulated a wealth of cross industry experience in major projects in the areas of Enterprise Transformation, Integration, Migration, and Systems Modernization.

He has a track of academic achievements. He holds a Bachelor degree on Software Engineering from the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM) and a Master degree on Computing from the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS).

Email: [email protected]

Posted in: Agile Methods
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Gaurav posted on Tuesday, April 24, 2018 1:31 PM
Adam, I liked your article. It was really informative. Keep up the good work .
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