Kanban vs. Scrum: What’s the difference?

Kanban vs. Scrum: What’s the difference?

Tamara Rosin

If you’re a manager, the following question has almost certainly crossed your mind: How can I get my team to work together faster and more productively without completely overhauling their workflows?

For many teams, the solution has been to deploy kanban or scrum, two effective project management frameworks that bring the agile methodology to life.

While they require different processes and styles of organization, both scrum and kanban aim to help self-organizing teams achieve the same goals of faster, more productive work, greater team collaboration, more efficient problem solving, and quicker product delivery.

But with some team leaders championing scrum and others promoting kanban, how do you know which framework to use for your team? In this article, we’ll dive into kanban vs. scrum. We’ll cover the main differences between them, identify their similarities, and provide tips for choosing the right methodology.

Covering the basics of agile software development

Before we start differentiating kanban from scrum project management, let’s first understand the basics of the agile methodology, the umbrella term for these frameworks.

“Agile” software development refers to methodologies that practice iterative development in order to deliver value faster, with higher quality and greater predictability. Agile software development requires a high level of collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams and a high aptitude for adapting to change.

Agile was created to help teams adapt and respond to change throughout the software development process, more quickly identify problems and bugs, and prevent delays by finding solutions as early as possible. Before it became mainstream, many development teams relied on the traditional waterfall approach, which uses a linear approach to development and testing.

Today, many types of teams use agile project management frameworks, not just developers. One thing that makes agile so successful and popular is its focus on the people who are doing the work, and how effectively they work together. While individual accountability and progress are essential to effective agile project management, there is heightened focus on collaboration and problem-solving.

Kanban methodology — what is kanban?

As we stated above, the kanban framework is a type of agile project management. Specifically, kanban is a workflow management method that helps teams better define, manage, and improve processes. This framework helps teams deliver work by visualizing goals, tasks, and progress to help maximize efficiency and continuously improve outputs.

Kanban project management

The kanban board is one of the most essential artifacts in the Kanban framework.

For small-scale, simple projects, you can create a kanban board with just a whiteboard, a stack of post-it notes, and a box of dry-erase markers. First, simply create three columns labeled “To Do,” “Doing,” and “Done.” Then write down all of the tasks involved in the project on different post-it notes, and place them in the appropriate column.

With larger, more complex projects, it will be difficult to manage all of the moving parts in this fashion. Most often, teams that adopt the kanban framework use a digital board to easily manage tasks, stay on top of progress, and meet deadlines.

Adopting the kanban methodology means agreeing to the following four principles:

  1. Workflow visualization: Clearly visualizing your work is fundamental to kanban. To achieve this, teams use kanban boards that label outstanding work as “To-do” and finished work as “Done.” Further labeling is used to more specifically label statuses, flag issues, or denote who is responsible for certain tasks.  
  2. Limit work in progress: To avoid overwhelming your team or losing track of tasks, set a limit on how much work can be in progress (or in the “To-do” column) at one time. This helps ensure your team tackles top-priority work first before beginning new items from the product backlog.
  3. Focus on flow: With everyone on the team maintaining and watching the kanban board, work will start to flow more smoothly. To ensure this flow continues, look for bottlenecks or problems that cause interruptions, and use them as opportunities to achieve further improvement. The ultimate goal is for work to continuously flow without stopping and starting.
  4. Emphasize continuous improvement: Monitor your kanban system and how your team responds to it, and seek ways to make improvements over time. 

So, what is the scrum methodology?

Like kanban, scrum is a framework that is designed to facilitate teamwork on complex projects. It promotes the agile methodology by completing work in an iterative fashion in order to achieve a well-defined goal.

In scrum, teams work within time-boxed sprints, where the goal is to build functional deliverables that provide value to stakeholders by the end of each sprint. Communication, self-assessment, and feedback are paramount to scrum, and help inform improvements for the next sprint.

Teams that adopt the scrum framework must also adopt the following principles:

  1. Empirical process control: Scrum teams should uphold the scrum philosophy by maintaining the values of transparency, assessment, and adaptation.
  2. Self-organization: A strong sense of accountability and individual ownership among each team member is essential for developing effective teamwork and a creative environment.
  3. Collaboration: In scrum, project management is viewed as a “shared value creation process,” in which teams must work together to develop and deliver the greatest value.
  4. Value-based prioritization: By continuously prioritizing and re-prioritizing work, scrum teams will ensure they consistently deliver valuable and usable products at the end of each sprint.
  5. Time-boxing: Scrum teams use time limits to help teams effectively plan, manage, and execute projects. In addition to time-boxed sprints, daily standup meetings, sprint planning meetings, and sprint review meetings all take place with time constraints.
  6. Iterative development: By consistently soliciting customer or stakeholder feedback, scrum teams ensure they continuously improve and create value for users.

What are the differences between scrum and kanban?

Now that we have a solid general understanding of both frameworks, let’s get to the big question: What’s the difference between kanban vs. scrum?

There are several differences between kanban and scrum, such as in the flow of work, time constraints, team roles, and measuring success.

However, it’s important to remember that while the frameworks have different systems and approaches, they are both designed to help teams achieve the same goals of faster, more efficient work, better communication, and a stronger sense of accountability.

the differences between kanban and scrum - chart

Scrum vs. Kanban: Which framework is better?

If both scrum and kanban help teams achieve the same goals, how can you determine which is best for your team?

Some experts suggest that teams that are just starting to use a self-organizing approach to project management are better off using scrum, as it provides more structure and procedures to guide progress and iterative work.

Ultimately, the decision of which framework is best will depend on the types of projects your team works on as well as their preparedness to introduce change into their daily workflows.

Why choose one? Get the best of both worlds with a hybrid approach

Many teams choose to use kanban alongside scrum, or combine the practices in a hybrid approach. There are two ways to use the two frameworks together.

Adopt the scrumban framework

The first approach is to try “scrumban,” the hybrid approach to scrum and kanban. It combines the structure of scrum with the flexibility and emphasis on visualization of kanban to create a framework that enables teams to boost agility and adaptability while managing workflows.

Scrumban helps self-organizing teams better manage and guide the development of a project, product, or service, while making it easier to adapt to changes as needed. Like scrum, scrumban uses short iterations similar to sprints to manage workloads and ensure value creation. And like kanban, it uses boards to visually track the status of tasks and execute work in progress.

Seek a digital solution that enables both

With this approach, you can prioritize one framework over the other while still benefiting from specific features that you find useful.

monday.com is one such solution. With a kanban view and scrum template, monday.com’s Work OS enables teams to visualize their work with ease. At the same time, it offers enough structure to help each individual stay on top of their tasks, communicate, and knock out work with speed and efficiency.

monday.com facilitates better problem solving by increasing transparency, improving information sharing, and providing a forum for teammates to talk to one another. With foundational elements of both scrum and kanban built into its functionality, the platform encourages effective iterative teamwork by helping each team member increase their sense of accountability and making it virtually effortless to update on progress.

Discover the difference of optimal project visualization with monday.com.

Kanban vs. Scrum: You can’t choose wrong

Choosing between kanban and scrum are like taking different routes to the same destination. The ride will be different, but eventually, you’ll get there.

Each framework has benefits, and each is designed to help teams work faster, boost collaboration, and deliver greater value.

In the end, deciding which one is best for your team will depend on understanding the scope and complexity of your projects, as well as the willingness of your teammates to embrace new systems of work.

Many managers choose not to choose. Instead of picking one framework, they adopt a hybrid approach, or simply choose the elements of each that best fit their needs. In either case, a powerful, intuitive, and highly-capable teamwork solution is essential for running effective project management.

Only with the ability to easily communicate, provide status updates, ask questions, solve problems, share information, and visualize progress will your team successfully run kanban, scrum, or a combined model.

Try our Scrum template and view it as a kanban board to see which works for you!

Get Scrum template!

Tamara Rosin
Tamara's writing explores the effects of technology on organizational change, culture, and consumer behavior. When she isn't busy creating marketing content, you can find her writing short stories about life in Israel.
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