#agile, #kanban, #scrum
19 June 2021
Julianna Sykutera

Kanban vs SCRUM – Key Differences

Kanban and SCRUM are project development models, i.e. project management methods often used in software development. Both fall under the agile methodology – an iterative model characterized by a high degree of flexibility and adaptability to any changes in the project at almost any stage. It’s an extremely versatile method and is being increasingly preferred over more traditional approaches (such as the “Waterfall” methodology).

Choosing the relevant IT methodology is one of the first things a development team will do, as it will set the schedule and budget for the entire project. Despite both Kanban and Scrum being agile methods, they are very different from one another, and not necessarily mutually exclusive. Hence, to answer the Kanban vs Scrum dilemma, you first need to know the individual aspects, qualities, and shortcomings of both methodologies.

What is the Kanban Model?

The Kanban model prioritizes visualization by using a so-called Kanban board to manage and optimize workflows. All tasks are essentially represented through Kanban cards and usually arranged in 3 groups – To Do, In Progress, and Done – which illustrate their current status. This allows developers to track each and every task quickly and efficiently, as bottlenecks can more readily be spotted and removed. 

A key principle of the Kanban methodology is limiting Work In Progress (WIP). The idea is to reduce the amount of unfinished tasks at a time. This shortens the time that a task needs to move from “To Do” to “Done”, so it won’t block the entire workflow. That brings us to the next key principle, which is – to enhance flow. By flow we mean the manner in which work moves through the Kanban system. If the tasks are completed in an orderly fashion, without any significant delays, it is said to be a good flow. A bad flow is characterized by long waiting times, a large number of tasks “In Progress”, abrupt starts and stops, etc. 

Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of the Kanban model!

Pros

  • Easy to understand and implement.
  • Shorter time cycles due to overlapping skill sets and optimization of cycles.
  • Increased productivity and motivation due to rapid feedback loops.
  • Visual display of progress and easy-to-spot bottlenecks.
  • Flexibility and adaptability – while the current tasks are being worked on, the client is free to tinker with the “To Do” list without disrupting the team.

Cons

  • Not iterative.
  • Lack of timeframes – no limit on changes which can be made but which can cause protracted working times
  • Board can become overly complicated and make it tough to track tasks and progress.

What is SCRUM?

Scrum methodology favors shorter development bursts called sprints, each usually lasting 2 weeks (can be longer), for the purpose of simplifying the development cycle. This should theoretically increase productivity by getting the most work done in the shortest time. The scrum framework consists of 3 roles, each with its own responsibilities: 

Product Owner – represents the business side of the product, and is responsible for setting the project requirements and choosing the product features. The product owner works closely with the team on feature developments and is the one who decides the order of their implementation, thus dictating the workflow. 

Scrum Master – leads the team and is responsible for ensuring the process runs smoothly. The scrum master is tasked with coaching and guiding the team wherever necessary, organizing critical meetings, removing developmental obstacles, etc. 

Team – is a self-organizing unit consisting of different experts who develop and test the product. Scrum teams work closely together in breaking down the work, distributing the tasks, and seeing the sprints to completion.  

Other important terminology to know about the Scrum methodology are the scrum “artefacts”, the most important of which are:

  • Product Backlog – an account of all the work that needs to be done, which includes the product requirements, features, improvements, bug fixes, etc.
  • Sprint Backlog – the chosen batch of items from the Product Backlog which will be the focus of the next sprint. 
  • Increment (Sprint Goal) – a potentially usable end product of the sprint. 

Finally, let’s see what are the advantages and disadvantages of the scrum methodology!

Pros

  • Visibility and transparency of the whole process.
  • It is easier to tackle larger projects with the use of sprints.
  • Changes can easily be made due to the work in smaller chunks and constant feedback.
  • Faster delivery times.

Cons

  • If the Scrum Master is not highly experienced, the whole project is in jeopardy.
  • Best suited for small, tight-knit teams; is generally difficult to implement in larger teams.
  • The experience and cooperation of the team members dictate the success of the project.
  • The strict time limits can build up lots of pressure on the team members.
  • Can be tough to get used to the method if developers are new to scrum.

Kanban vs SCRUM

As you can see, despite both methodologies being described as agile, they are very different from one another, and there is no clear “winner” out of the two. The choice kanban vs scrum depends on many factors:

  • Do you have a small or large organization?
  • What is the project scope and timeframe?
  • How many changes do you expect?
  • How experienced are your team members?
  • How familiar is your team with both models?
  • Do you have a “scrum master”?

By answering these questions and using the information about the differences, advantages, and disadvantages of Kanban and Scrum, you can get a clear idea of which model might work better for you. The two methods are also not incompatible with one another. In fact, experienced developers often combine Kanban and Scrum principles to get the best from both worlds. 

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