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GuidesProduct developmentKanban vs scrum: Which agile methodology is right for your company?

Kanban vs scrum: Which agile methodology is right for your company?

Last updated

11 January 2024

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Mary Mikhail

Choosing the right framework is crucial as companies look to streamline work processes and boost productivity. Kanban and scrum are two popular agile project management work systems. 

While they’re similar, they’re not identical. It's important to understand the key differences between the two frameworks when choosing the right system for your company.

While people often pit kanban and scrum against each other, they can be complementary approaches and work in parallel. 

Let’s get into the difference between scrum and kanban and everything else you need to know.

What is kanban?

Kanban is a visual project management method that tracks tasks while reducing inefficiencies. 

It increases project transparency by visually representing the tasks to do, in progress, and complete.

This project management system focuses on efficiency, effectiveness, and predictability. 

Kanban is a flow-based approach to completing projects. The framework allows the continuous release of features/products as you complete tasks. 

How does kanban work?

Kanban has three main steps:

  1. A developer pulls an item from the company's to-do list.

  2. Removing the item from the to-do list adds it to the project’s work-in-progress (WIP) list.

  3. Once the item is complete, it moves to the done category. 

The kanban process repeats with a new item from the to-do list.

Kanban’s contemporary board format is the heart of this project management methodology. 

The physical or digital board divides project phases into columns, visually showing the tasks needed to complete a project from beginning to end. 

With kanban, cards and columns represent work items and their progress. Teams break project steps into to-do, in-progress, in-review, and done. 

Cards move across columns as you complete tasks, with the first column being a spot for new requests. 

A simple example of kanban is using sticky notes for to-dos and moving them to the done column on completion. 

How to measure kanban

You can measure kanban project management methodology by looking at lead and cycle time: 

  • Lead time calculates how long it takes for a task to move across the board. 

  • Cycle time is a lead time component that calculates how long it takes to deliver a task.

Teams use these averages as metrics while continuously focusing on reducing the average. These metrics can determine how and where to optimize the process. 

Pros of kanban

  • Reduces inefficiencies 

  • Improves visibility and project flow

  • Increases speed of delivery

  • Improves project predictability

  • Improves alignment between business objectives, key results, and work delivery

  • Allows adding new items/tasks when capacity is available

  • Enables multiple team members to work on various tasks throughout the project's timeline

  • Project managers gain visibility into task statuses, so they don’t have to ask for updates

Cons of kanban

  • Doesn’t align well with projects without process stability

  • Not deadline-driven: Does not show when the team should complete tasks

  • Requires daily board updates

  • Simplifies task categories too much to easily tell the exact status of an in-progress task

  • Not ideal for large teams that handle several different task types

  • Doesn’t force team member commitment

  • Prioritization is not key to kanban, so teams may not tackle important tasks first 

Example of kanban

While kanban is prevalent in software development, other disciplines can also use it. 

Marketing manager Maria could use kanban to manage a content marketing initiative for a particular quarter. The kanban board could show each content piece needed, represented by a card in the to-do list. 

The team discusses how the board will work, and each member assigns themselves a card. This allows the team and Maria to see who is working on what at any given time. 

Maria can also calculate the average cycle time per content piece (i.e., how long a writer takes to finish an article) and eliminate any roadblocks to efficiency. 

Implementing kanban ensures Maria’s marketing team consistently creates high-quality content that aligns with the company's overall content strategy. 

From the above example, we see kanban is a helpful project management tool for managers and team members to complete work more efficiently and increase productivity. 

What companies use kanban?

Manufacturing was one of the first industries to use kanban. Now, several industries use this project management process for improved workflow and increased team productivity. 

Well-known companies that use kanban for business operations include: 

Toyota

An industrial engineer for Toyota invented the method in the 1940s by creating a simple planning system to manage and control work throughout each production stage. 

Toyota still uses kanban today to manage and improve its car production process by optimizing workflow and reducing the time required to complete tasks. 

Apple

Apple uses a modified version of kanban called Dynamic Kanban to effectively manage workflow while helping employees prioritize tasks based on current needs. The process aligns with the company's culture of collaboration. 

Spotify

Spotify uses a simple version of kanban to execute projects, allowing management and team members more time to focus on creativity. 

Pixar

Pixar uses kanban to manage workflow across all its departments. 

What is scrum?

Scrum is an iterative project management approach to completing projects. It aims to deliver high-quality products quickly and at value.

Businesses working on complex projects often use scrum when it's necessary to adapt to change frequently. 

Scrum includes short development cycles known as sprints, usually lasting one to four weeks. The goal of sprints is to complete project phases or goals. 

How does scrum work?

Scrum is a project management tool ideal for a self-organized, small team of often no more than nine people. It uses an iterative approach for completing projects. 

An agile guide (group facilitator/coach), one product owner, and a development team comprise a scrum team. 

Scrum is a well-defined project management process that ensures teams complete and deliver tasks in sprints instead of delivering an entire project at once. 

The team also focuses on continuous improvement by reflecting on the successes and opportunities of each sprint, applying changes to the next sprint.

How to measure scrum

To measure scrum project management methodology, look at the number of tasks completed within each sprint. 

You assign each task points for relative effort. Total the point value for each completed task to determine how much your team achieved during the sprint.

Knowing this can provide a baseline for future projects. The average points per sprint will determine the ideal sprint time frame and amount of tasks. 

Pros of scrum

  • Easier to adapt to evolving priorities and project changes

  • Increased productivity

  • Lower project costs

  • Faster delivery 

  • Higher quality 

  • Divides complex projects into smaller, more manageable tasks

  • Stakeholders clearly see the project's progress

Cons of scrum

  • Requires an experienced and committed team

  • An inexperienced agile guide can introduce more friction than efficiency

  • Changing priorities mid-sprint disrupts the entire sprint’s completed and planned work 

  • Demands precise resource and task planning 

  • Past metrics and planning tools become outdated as the team changes

Examples of scrum

In the fast-paced, continually evolving world of social media, marketing teams can benefit from using scrum. 

Scrum’s short sprints allow marketing teams to focus on specific goals and tasks, such as content creation. These short, focused periods allow marketing teams to capitalize on trends and quickly respond to changing customer sentiment.

After a sprint, the team reviews the results and determines ways to improve for the next sprint. 

Software development is one of the main industries using scrum. Teams must rapidly develop and deliver new software and features to meet customers' changing needs. 

Scrum allows software development teams to break projects into smaller, manageable tasks. The team prioritizes and develops these tasks over sprints, allowing them to deliver features faster. 

What companies use scrum?

Many industries use scrum for streamlining projects and team collaboration. Some of the most notable are the technology sector, healthcare, and automotive industry. 

Well-known companies that have implemented scrum include:

  • Tesla used scrum with its autonomous driving project to speed up development. 

  • Google's marketing team has used scrum to increase campaign effectiveness and improve teamwork. 

  • Amazon has used scrum to deliver better software for customers while saving on costs. 

Kanban vs. scrum

Since kanban and scrum often go hand-in-hand, you don’t have to choose one over the other. Incorporating both methods can be very beneficial. 

However, it's essential to understand the similarities and differences between kanban and scrum to organize a team properly and ensure projects run smoothly. 

Similarities between kanban and scrum

  • Kanban and scrum help teams adapt projects to changing scenarios.

  • Both project management processes encourage engagement from all team members.

  • Kanban and scrum increase project transparency.

  • Both methodologies are agile and use self-organized, cross-functional teams. 

  • Scrum and kanban are great for project collaboration among team members. 

Differences between kanban and scrum

  • Kanban focuses on visualizing tasks.

  • Scrum structures workflow and assigns tasks to ensure quick project completion.

  • Scrum provides tasks to team members up front by breaking a project into sprints.

  • Kanban uses continuous task assignments throughout the project. 

  • Kanban does not have any defined roles. 

  • You can make changes at any time with kanban.

  • Teams using scrum generally avoid making changes during sprints. 

  • Scrum offers less ambiguity over project tasks and timelines than kanban. 

  • Kanban is a less structured approach than scrum. 

  • Kanban is event-driven, whereas scrum is time-boxed.

  • Kanban allows for new tasks or changes to deliverables throughout the process. 

When to use kanban

Since kanban fits established processes, you can use it with other project management frameworks. It can improve project visibility, increase productivity, and encourage a culture of continuous improvement. 

Kanban is ideal for providing the benefits of agile to project management work processes without needing to change the entire process. 

Kanban works in nearly all project-based situations, but it’s best for teams tackling multiple requests with different priority levels. 

When to use scrum

Scrum is ideal for industries with frequent changes, projects requiring adjustments due to feedback, or when creating new products. 

Most project managers believe scrum is an effective method for completing complex projects. 

Software development teams or teams working on similar tasks or projects simultaneously often use scrum.

Can you use scrum and kanban together?

Yes, you can use scrum and kanban together. Companies often use the two project management frameworks in a hybrid process called Scrumban

Kanban provides a visual aid for tasks, while scrum provides team structure and defines a project’s schedule. This practical project management tool helps teams accelerate development. 

Allowing self-managed teams to choose what works best for them can improve a company's project management approaches. 

FAQs

What is kanban not good for?

Complex projects with strict deadlines and those requiring stakeholder or customer feedback are often not the best fit for kanban. 

Is kanban lean or agile?

Kanban uses agile and lean principles. 

As a pull system, kanban prevents work from backing up by ensuring team members don’t start more work before completing other work. 

Like lean project management, kanban outlines what teams need to do, reducing waste throughout the project. 

Like agile, kanban focuses on collaboration across teams and process improvement. 

Can a scrum team use kanban?

Yes, many scrum teams use kanban to visualize processes. 

What are the key concepts of kanban?

The three concepts in kanban are:

  • Definition of workflow (DoW) includes what started and finished means, how long a card should take to progress through columns, and the units moving through the board.

  • Work-in-progress (WIP) limits on columns ensure teams don’t start new tasks until current ones move to the next stage. 

  • Kaizen is Japanese for "improvement," encouraging all team members to share insights to continually improve the process.

What are the three pillars of scrum?

Scrum's three pillars are:

  • Adaptation: Scrum embraces change and accommodates project changes. 

  • Transparency: Scrum ensures the entire team knows what's happening throughout every part of the project and why. 

  • Inspection: Thorough and consistent inspection by stakeholders and team members encourages improvement for teams using scrum. 

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