Kanban vs Scrum – What You Need To Know

Kanban vs Scrum

If you are familiar with Agile you know about Scrum and Kanban. While these two Agile frameworks have similarities, they are also very different. Their differences go way beyond stickies on boards. In this post I’ll describe the two frameworks and their history, as well as their benefits and differences.

Scrum OverviewScrum is by far the most used Agile framework. Credit for the framework goes to Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber. Scrum got under way back in 2001 after the creation of the Agile manifesto.

Scrum is great for complex software delivery projects. In Scrum, there are defined team roles which are Product Owner, Scrum Master, and development team. The Product Owner creates a backlog of user stories that define the scope of a project. The team then completes the stories in short iterations called “sprints”. Sprints usually last 2-4 weeks. Sutherland was influenced by his days as an Air Force pilot. He relates the team sprints process to coming back from short missions and landing the plane on time.

The goal is to have working software, approved by the Product Owner, at the end of each sprint. The stories worked on in the Sprint should be done (all testing completed..etc). The key metric used in Scrum is Velocity. Velocity is the average amount of points a team can complete in a Sprint. Within Sprints, change to work is discouraged.

The stories completed in each sprint represent part of the total project scope. The team repeats this cycle of sprints until all stories in the backlog are done, in which case the project ends.

Kanban Overview  – “Kanban” get’s its origins from the Toyota Production System. Back in the 1950s, Taiichi Ohno created a pull system for Toyota. The idea was first sparked by his experience in American supermarkets. He was fascinated by how shoppers would walk down the ails pulling only what they needed from the shelves and putting it into their shopping carts. Shoppers usually had a list they carried which told them what they needed.

In Toyota plants, “Kanban” are instructions in clear plastic that communicate information needed at work stations. In a sense, a Kanban is like a grocery list. When an order comes in, a Kanban would be used to pull the whole car creation process together. Each item needed for the Kanban is ready just in time (JIT). This enables minimal build up of inventory. In a lean system, the goal is to reduce waste. The build up of inventory is the worst form of waste according to Taiichi Ohno.

The principles of the Toyota Production system were emulated in lean software development when Kent Beck created XP (Extreme Programming). The goal was to use the JIT principles and limit work in progress to the teams capacity. Beck also implemented a test driven development (TDD) process that improved quality. XP can be considered a different Agile framework from Scrum and Kanban. In my view, XP has more of relation to Kanban, since Beck based most of the practice off of Ohno’s Kanban method.

Unlike Scrum, Kanban is usually not the framework of choice for software delivery projects. Projects have a clear beginning and end, as well as a defined scope. Kanban works well for support teams, where work will be ongoing.

Teams will use a Kanban board, like the board a Scrum team would use for their Sprint. There are no Sprints in Kanban, the work is a continuous flow. There are also no defined roles in Kanban, like there is in Scrum. Cycle time is the key metric used and unlike the Sprints in Scrum, in Kanban change can happen at anytime.

Some of the benefits of Kanban include flexibility in planning, increased throughput, fewer bottlenecks and visual metrics. Kanban also compliments continuous delivery.

Below is a grid that Dan Radigan from Atlasssian put together, which displays the differences between Kanban and Scrum.

                                          Scrum                                                             Kanban

Cadence Regular fixed length sprints (ie, 2 weeks) Continuous flow
Release methodology At the end of each sprint if approved by the product owner Continuous delivery or at the team’s discretion
Roles Product owner, scrum master, development team No existing roles. Some teams enlist the help of an agile coach.
Key metrics Velocity Cycle time
Change philosophy Teams should strive to not make changes to the sprint forecast during the sprint. Doing so compromises learnings around estimation. Change can happen at any time

Summary

Scrum and Kanban are two different Agile frameworks, but both have many benefits. In my view, Kanban is more aligned with lean development than Scrum. The area where Scrum gets into trouble with lean is the idea of having a team create and work on a large backlog. Lean experts, like Mary Poppendieck, cringe when they hear the word backlog. This is because it goes against the principles of JIT and low inventory. At Toyota, I’m sure the plant manager would freak if they had a large backlog of orders piling up. They want to have low inventory and good throughput. While Kanban works great for a repeatable process, my view is that Scrum is the best framework for complex software delivery projects.

If you enjoyed this post, check out The Top 10 Influencers of Agile.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

 

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5 Comments

  1. Craig Rawstron

    Aren’t the column headings in the Dan Radigan list back to front?

  2. Al Shalloway

    mike – i believe this article is very biased towards scrum in an inaccurate way. Please read The Question Isn’t ”Scrum Vs Kanban?” or Even “Scrum and Kanban?” But Rather “What Works?” http://www.netobjectives.com/blogs/question-Isnt-scrum-or-kanban and leave a comment.
    thanks,

    • Good point Al. I guess I have a preference for Scrum, working with software projects. To your point, one may not be better than the other, they’re different. Each of them have their advantages.

  3. Dean Legatski

    While I agree with your assessment of Scrum for projects and Kanban for support, I think that both methods should have bias towards a limited backlog. While in Kanban, the backlog is more an indication of not keeping up with the support requests, for Scrum it is important since you are at risk of “waterfalling” your project if you try to populate all of the stories too early.

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