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Kanban vs Scrum – This Is the Easy Way How to Choose

Let’s face the facts. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution in the world of Agile frameworks. Choosing the right one for you can either increase the chance of your project’s success or throw roadblocks along the way.

If you’d like to learn what the crucial aspects of Scrum and Kanban are when making a decision, this article will help.

It’s all about Agile

See the comparison of Kanban vs Scrum.

No matter who the winner is in Kanban vs Scrum or which Agile framework you choose for your digital product development, it’s worth noting that they all have the one common predecessor. The manifesto. Established in 2001, it still drives the majority of software development companies around the globe. Each approach is just a different implementation of the same set of 4 values and 12 principles.

According to the Scrum guide, it is a framework that helps to develop, deliver, and sustain complex products. By definition, it is also lightweight, simple to understand but difficult to master. So far it’s the most popular Agile framework.

Let’s check our second contender in the Kanban vs Scrum duel. Even though the word kanban has been used in Japan for ages, adopted by Toyota in the 20th century, the Kanban method for software development was introduced in 2007. It is a method for defining, managing, and improving services that deliver knowledge work, such as professional services, creative endeavors, and the design of both physical and software products.

Which approach is better for me?

See the comparison of Kanban vs Scrum.

To find which solution is best for your needs, we need to compare the most crucial differences between the two.

Change

Personally, I find this point the most important in the whole comparison. Even though Scrum claims to be a lightweight framework, it’s a full package. You should implement all rules and practices from the Scrum guide and be able to develop, deliver, and sustain complex products. There’s not much to improve – just take it or leave it. In the opinion of its supporters, the majority of failures using this framework are caused by omitting some aspects of the approach.

The Kanban method in this field is the opposite. Sometimes it is characterized as “a start from what you do now” framework, which perfectly reflects its nature. Change is inevitable and desired. One of the core Kanban principles says that everyone involved should agree to pursue improvement through evolutionary change, by encouraging acts of leadership at every level.

What’s the result of this battle in the Kanban vs Scrum war? If I were the judge, I’d give one point to the Kanban method. One of the IT project management trends says that you should combine methods to get the best results. If you are experienced with Agile and use experiments to validate your hypotheses, you can utilize the continuous change approach and grow as a great team and organization.

Roles & responsibilities

You probably already know which one is strict about roles and responsibilities and which lets you be more flexible.

The Kanban method advice is to respect all positions as they are. There’s no need to create new jobs in a company that wants to use this method. However, two roles were described based on common practices and field experience – the service request manager and the service delivery manager. The first one focuses on the product side, with understanding customers’ needs and ordering work items. The second one is responsible for the flow of work in delivering selected items.

The second contender in Kanban vs Scrum is concrete – how a team should be composed. It puts a strong emphasis on self-organization and cross-functionality. There are 3 roles defined by Scrum. The product owner is the sole person responsible for the product backlog. In theory, it means that they have the power to make decisions that can’t be changed by anyone. The scrum master is a servant leader of the team. They help everyone involved in a project to understand and follow the rules described in the Scrum Guide. The last role is different than the previous ones. It describes a whole group, not a single person. The development team is a group of professionals that have all the skills needed to change product backlog items into an increment. No one can tell them how to do that, not even the scrum master.

I appreciate the flexibility of Kanban, but in that case, one point goes to Scrum. I’ve witnessed many times that unclear roles and responsibilities can put a project in jeopardy. It’s good to know who has the last word when it comes to difficult decisions or conflicting priorities. Having a product owner in your team can resolve those problems, and with the help of a scrum master, everyone should respect the way of work.

So far it’s a draw. Let’s move to the next round of the Kanban vs Scrum clash.

Cadences & events

See the comparison of Kanban vs Scrum.

Scrum is a strongly scheduled process. All events described there are time-boxed and mandatory. Starting from a high level, a team works in sprints. They last less than a month, have a consistent duration throughout a project, and can be canceled only in extreme situations.

The goal of a sprint is to provide a potentially shippable product increment. Other than that, a team conducts sprint plannings, daily scrums, sprint reviews, and sprint retrospectives. These are also limited in time but can be finished sooner, as long as their goal is achieved.

One of the six essential Kanban practices is the implementation of feedback loops. It can be achieved by using some of the opportunities that the method suggests. They are optional and context-dependent, and choosing the right ones is crucial for good outcomes.

On the organizational level, we can use the strategy review and operations review meetings. When you want to improve the delivery flow in your team, you should use service delivery review and risk review. Everyday work can be organized around the replenishment meeting, the Kanban meeting and the delivery planning meeting. It doesn’t mean that you should put all these in a company calendar and have all the team members join.

I can see the reason why Scrum founders decided to work in sprints. However, nowadays we have tools that allow us to deploy applications in no-time and in a risk-free manner, from continuous integration through continuous delivery to continuous deployment.

Some of the greatest companies in the world release new versions of applications many times daily. Minimizing the time needed to expose your customers to changes and new features and learning how to drive your product from them can be a critical factor between success and failure. Having said that, I must add one point to the Kanban method and put it in the lead in Kanban vs Scrum duel.

Kanban vs Scrum winner

It’s difficult to find an answer to this question. Usually, writers try to stay neutral and leave it open-ended. Since this article is based only on my personal experience and opinions, I won’t follow that trend.

I’ve worked on many projects using a variety of Agile frameworks. After all my years in IT, the only common denominator of every project is they are different and special to some extent. Whether it’s external and internal team composition, dependencies, project phase, or an uncommon domain, you must be able to adapt the way you work to the point where fit-for-purpose is at maximum.

My personal winner is the Kanban Method. I love the way it pushes you to should pursue never-ending improvements and become a better team and organization each day. There are some risks related to this flexibility though.

I’ve seen a team struggling with Scrum and deciding to move to the Kanban method but never agreeing to evolutionary change and seeking perfection. Instead, the only change that happened was getting rid of all Scrum events and rules because they didn’t work. This approach is called proto-kanban and can be dangerous.

Does that mean that we should give Scrum the ax? Certainly not. It’s still the most popular Agile framework on the market. I’ve witnessed many teams running Scrum successfully. Scrum itself claims it’s easy to understand and difficult to master. That means if you are new to Agile, it might be a good starting point. In order to help you achieve success in Scrum, there are many resources online, experienced scrum masters and certification programs that can help you set the first steps in the world of Agile.

Patryk Bielecki

Patryk Bielecki is a Delivery Manager at Brainhub (a software house building awesome Node.js, web and mobile apps).