Kanban vs. Scrum: Choose Between Two Agile Methodologies

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Rafael Timbó
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Rafael Timbó
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Chief Technology Officer
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Learn more about the difference between Kanban vs. Scrum, and decide which one best fits your tech team's project to develop.
Published on
February 14, 2023
Updated on
April 11, 2024

When hiring project managers for your software development projects, you will come across Kanban and Scrum, two of the most popular project management and software development methodologies. Kanban helps teams visualize tasks, while Scrum gives structure to the schedule and team.

Kanban and Scrum both have advantages and disadvantages. Read this guide to learn more about the differences between Kanban vs. Scrum methodologies. We'll also cover when to use Kanban vs. Scrum and whether you can use both at the same time.

Difference Between Scrum and Kanban

What is the difference between Kanban and Scrum? Here's a breakdown of the key differences between the two software development workflows:

What is Scrum Methodology?

Scrum is a subset of Agile, an iterative and structured approach to product development and project management. Unlike traditional project management methods, Agile recognizes the changeability of product development and customer needs. As such, it provides a methodology for teams to respond to change effectively and efficiently.

The goal of Scrum is to create learning loops to gather and integrate customer feedback. These loops, called "sprints," are scheduled regularly, have clear start and finish dates, and typically last between one to four weeks. During each sprint, teams create shippable products that customers can use after the sprint ends — for example, the first prototype of an app. Once the team receives feedback from customers, they will use the feedback to work on another shippable increment. They will keep on doing this until the project is finished.

Scrum teams adopt the following to keep things moving forward:

Scrum Roles

Scrum has three clearly-defined roles:

  • The Scrum Master helps the team follow and understand Scrum principles.
  • The product owner advocates for the client or customer by managing the product backlog and prioritizing the development team's work.
  • The development team delivers increments and demonstrates accountability.

Scrum Artifacts

Scrum artifacts are information that Scrum stakeholders and teams use to detail the software being created, actions for producing it, and the actions performed during the project. Artifacts are vital for every Scrum team because they promote inspection, transparency, and adaption.

Teams create the following artifacts during each Scrum sprint:

  • Product backlog: This is a list of new features, bug fixes, enhancements, work requirements, or tasks required to create a product. A team compiles product backlogs from input sources like competitor analysis, customer support, general business analysis, and market demands.
  • Sprint backlog: This is created by the development team to plan deliverables for increments in the future. Teams create the sprint backlog by picking a task from the product backlog and breaking it into smaller sprint items. For instance, they can break a task like "building a home page" into "create a homepage visual design mockup" and "program the buttons on the homepage." Teams update the sprint backlog during the spring planning Scrum phase.
  • Product increments: Product increments are deliverables created by finishing product backlog tasks during a sprint. Each increment includes the increments of all previous sprints. Product increments are very useful in version tracking and rollback.

Scrum Ceremonies

Scrum has several ceremonies or meetings, including:

  • Sprint planning: This session involves creating a road map for the upcoming sprint. It usually lasts an hour or two. The product owner, development team, and the Scrum Master should be present.
  • Daily stand-up: Also called daily Scrums, these meetings ensure the sprint proceeds efficiently. They happen at the beginning of every workday for around 15 minutes. During these meetings, team members identify roadblocks and describe their current goals, tasks, and obstacles. The complete dev Scrum team, Scrum Master, and product owner should be present.
  • Sprint review: After the team has completed a sprint, they meet with stakeholders in a sprint review meeting. Also called iteration reviews, these meetings require the Scrum team, product owner, and Scrum Master to meet with other teams, executives, and managers to showcase what they did during the sprint.
  • Sprint retrospective: The last Scrum ceremony is the sprint retrospective, where the development team, product owner, and the Scrum Master meet to discuss the sprint's challenges, successes, and insights. Most sprint retrospectives last an hour. Using feedback from the Scrum Master and stakeholders, the team should identify how it can improve its processes to have better sprints in the future.

Advantages of Scrum

  • Flexibility and adaptability: Scrum suits a wide range of situations and environments that don't initially have clear requirements and require constant change.
  • Low costs: Scrum requires less documentation and revision than traditional project management methods like Waterfall. Accordingly, it can be a cost-effective way to run software development projects.
  • Encourages creativity and teamwork: Scrum encourages teams to collaborate and get creative. As a result, it's a great framework for encouraging innovation.
  • Higher quality work: Having everyone on the team take full ownership and responsibility for their work can motivate people to give their best, resulting in high-quality products.
  • Improved customer satisfaction and company revenues: Releasing high-quality products improves customer satisfaction and loyalty, leading to higher revenues.

Disadvantages of Scrum

As with all things, however, Scrum does have some disadvantages. These include:

  • Extensive training: Scrum requires skilled and well-trained professionals to implement. In other words, you must specifically hire Scrum Masters, product owners, and Scrum developers for Scrum projects. If you hire someone with limited experience working with Scrum, they will not be able to integrate with the rest of the team. This can lead to inefficiencies, miscommunication, and delays.
  • Difficulty with scaling: Scrum is best for small and medium-sized projects. Applying it to large projects can be an uphill battle, especially if you have limited Scrum talent. That's because team members can easily get frustrated with Scrum's requirements and frequent meetings.

What Is Kanban?

Kanban is an Agile methodology that helps teams maximize productivity. It's a natural choice for addressing incoming requests that vary in size and priority. Unlike Scrum, it is based on a continuous structure that keeps teams ready to adapt to changing priorities.

In Kanban, work items are represented by cards on a Kanban board, a digital or physical project management tool for visualizing work, limiting work-in-progress, and maximizing flow or efficiency. Cards flow from one workflow stage (column) to the next. Common workflow stages include To Do, In Review, Blocked, and Done. However, you don't have to use these stages; you can create your own workflow. For instance, if you ship content, you can use the following workflow stages: Backlog, Prioritized, Outlines are Ready, Designing, Reviewing, and Shipped.

Once a team member has finished a task, they can move the card representing that task into the next workflow or column. Note that team members can pick up work as soon as some work finishes. Meanwhile, in Scrum, teams can only pick up new work after they have completed all the work in a sprint.

Kanban does not require teams to finish or deliver tasks under tight deadlines. Instead, it uses the Kanban pull system, where teams pull work only when there is a demand for it and they have the ability to handle that demand.

Advantages of Kanban

Kanban has several advantages, including:

  • Improved visibility: The Kanban board is central to the Kanban development workflow. Teams can use the board to see how many tasks are left and where bottlenecks are forming.
  • Increased productivity: Better visibility means increased productivity. Since everyone knows what's going on, they can track their time more consistently. They can also gain a better understanding of their work patterns.
  • Reduced team overburdening: Traditional management methods rely on upfront planning and delegating work to the team. This often results in the team being overburdened with work. In contrast, Kanban's pull system lets teams take on tasks only when they have the capacity to do so.
  • Reduced waste: Eliminating waste will help you save time, resources, and money. Waste is defined as any action that does not provide value to the customer. In other words, it's any unnecessary step that does not benefit the customer.

Disadvantages of Kanban

The main disadvantages of Kanban are:

  • Rigid stability: Kanban is best for projects with repetitive steps. It can't handle projects that constantly spawn new sub-tasks.
  • Manual updating:  Unlike Scrum, there is no leader in Kanban. This means the whole team is responsible for manually updating the Kanban board. Otherwise, the board won't be an accurate representation of the workflow.
  • No time representation: Kanban boards can't represent how long a card has been on the board. As a result, teams can easily lose track of deadlines for certain tasks.

How To Choose Between Agile Methodologies

As you can see, Kanban and Scrum have much to offer. But, they don't offer the same benefits since they're meant for different project types. Follow these steps to choose between Scrum vs. Kanban:

Identify the Needs of Your Development Team

First, identify your development team's needs by asking the following questions about your software development project:

  • What is the work in progress (WIP) limit? In Agile, WIP limits establish the maximum amount of work in each part of the workflow. If your project has strict WIP limits for every iteration, Scrum is the best pick. If your project's WIP limit is ongoing (i.e., people can pick up work as soon as they finish some work), pick Kanban.
  • Does the project require constant improvisation? If yes, Scrum is the best choice. Otherwise, use Kanban. Sprints in Scrum empower teams to constantly revise projects according to stakeholder and client demands.
  • Does the project emphasize responsibility and ownership? If yes, pick Scrum. As mentioned above, Scrum encourages team members to take responsibility for their actions. If your project doesn't emphasize responsibility and ownership, pick Kanban. Remember, Kanban does not have particular roles. Instead, it revolves around a group of individuals working on tasks.

Determine the Complexity of Your Project

Next, determine the complexity of your project.

If it requires multiple roles, stages, and tasks, Scrum is probably your best pick. Unlike Kanban, Scrum has clearly defined roles, ceremonies, and artifacts. This makes it easier for team members to stay on top of project requirements and meet customers' ever-changing demands. On the other hand, if your project is simple and consists of repetitive steps, Kanban is a better choice. The Kanban board is a great way to streamline projects with repetitive steps.

Uncover the Gaps in Your Current Workflow Processes

Lastly, you must uncover the gaps or weaknesses in your current workflow processes or cycle time.

Look at your key performance indicators (KPIs), metrics, and customer reviews. What needs to be improved? If your software development process is slow and has a lot of bottlenecks, consider using Kanban to eliminate waste and maximize efficiency. If your workflow is long-winded and confusing and involves a lot of actors and goals, consider using Scrum to delegate tasks and stay on top of clients' needs.

You Can Choose Both: Scrumban

If you're still torn between Scrum and Kanban, consider choosing Scrumban. As its name indicates, Scrumban is a hybrid of Scrum and Kanban that combines the structure of Scrum with the visualization and flexibility of Kanban. In short, it allows teams to adapt to production and stakeholder needs without being overburdened by the process and methodology.

Here's how Scrumban works:

  1. Create a Scrumban board: Like a Kanban board, a Scumban board has columns marking each phase of progress.
  2. Establish WIP or progress limits: In Scrumban, the WIP limit is the number of total cards on the board at any time. We recommend setting a realistic limit to keep your team from becoming frustrated and overwhelmed.
  3. Arrange the team's priorities on the board: Establish the priority order of all projects and tasks on the board. The team will decide who will tackle which tasks. The team does not need to determine how long each task takes because work in Scrumban is continuous and not time-limited.
  4. Set daily meetings: Scrumban does not require as many meetings as Scrum, but it can include short daily meetings for the team to discuss their challenges and plans for the upcoming day. Team members can also use these daily meetings to learn more about each other since they will spend most of their time working individually on their tasks.

Hire Scrum Developers and Kanban Project Managers

Kanban and Scrum are Agile software development methodologies that allow for continuous process improvement, increased efficiency, and improved customer satisfaction.

If you're interested in hiring an Agile developer, Revelo's here to help. As Latin America's premier tech talent marketplace, we boast over 300,000 information technology professionals with various skill sets, including continuous delivery and Scrum and Kanban development. Fill in this form today to learn more about how we can help you.

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