Embracing Agile: Kanban and Scrum
Kanban and Scrum stand as two of the most widely recognized Agile methodologies in the field of project management. With roots tracing back to manufacturing and software development respectively, these methodologies have revolutionized the way projects are managed across various industries.
Kanban: A Glimpse
Kanban, derived from Japanese, means ‘visual card’. Originally used in Toyota’s manufacturing system, Kanban has emerged as a popular project management methodology that focuses on visually managing work and limiting work in progress. It employs a simple, flexible approach, with the workflow displayed on a Kanban board divided into different stages, enhancing transparency and efficiency.
Scrum: An Overview
On the other hand, Scrum, inspired by a 1986 Harvard Business Review article, is a framework that thrives on iterative progress and feedback. It breaks down complex projects into manageable ‘Sprints’, which are short, time-boxed periods designed to produce a shippable increment of the project. Roles are clearly defined in Scrum, with a Product Owner, Scrum Master, and the Development Team collaboratively driving project progress.
The Importance of Project Management Methodologies
Project management methodologies like Kanban and Scrum are crucial in today’s business environment. They provide the structural guidance needed to efficiently navigate projects from inception to completion. They also promote collaboration, enhance transparency, and manage risks effectively. Importantly, these methodologies instill a continual improvement mindset, encouraging teams to learn from their experiences and adapt their practices for better outcomes.
Objective of the Article
The primary objective of this article is to provide an in-depth comparison of Kanban and Scrum for project managers, particularly those who aren’t beginners in the field. It aims to demystify the principles, practices, strengths, and potential challenges of each methodology. By examining the unique aspects of Kanban and Scrum, this article seeks to equip project managers with the knowledge necessary to select the methodology best suited to their project’s needs.
The Genesis of Kanban
Kanban has its origins in the mid-20th century when Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota, sought ways to improve the company’s manufacturing and engineering processes. Ohno was inspired by the supermarkets of America, where shelf stocking was directly related to consumer demand. From this observation sprang the idea for a new type of production system – the just-in-time system, known today as Kanban.
The Fundamental Principles and Practices of Kanban
Kanban operates on four fundamental principles:
- Start with what you do now: Kanban does not mandate a specific setup. Instead, it encourages you to start with your existing process and evolve from there.
- Agree to pursue incremental change: Rather than making drastic changes that might disrupt the workflow, Kanban advocates for small, incremental changes for continual improvement.
- Respect the current process, roles, responsibilities, and titles: Change can be difficult. Kanban respects the existing roles and processes, which can reduce resistance to its implementation.
- Encourage acts of leadership at all levels: Kanban empowers everyone in the team to become a leader by actively contributing to process improvements.
These principles are put into practice through six core practices:
- Visualize the workflow: This is typically done using a Kanban board, making it easy to see the status of tasks.
- Limit work in progress (WIP): This is a key aspect of Kanban that prevents team members from being overloaded with tasks.
- Manage flow: This involves tracking and analyzing the movement of tasks to improve efficiency continually.
- Make policies explicit: The team establishes and documents guidelines for how tasks move within the workflow.
- Implement feedback loops: Regular team meetings are held for planning, reviewing, and improving the workflow.
- Improve collaboratively, evolve experimentally: Everyone in the team is encouraged to suggest improvements, which are then tested and implemented if effective.
The Functioning of Kanban
Kanban works by visualizing the entire workflow on a Kanban board. Each task or work item is represented by a card that moves from one column to the next, representing its progress, such as ‘To Do’, ‘In Progress’, and ‘Done’. This visualization allows teams to better understand their work and how it flows. By limiting the amount of work in progress, teams can focus more effectively on tasks, which can help to identify bottlenecks and improve efficiency.
Roles in a Kanban Team
In contrast to Scrum, Kanban does not have predefined roles. The existing roles in the team are maintained when Kanban is introduced. However, it is common to have a ‘service delivery manager’ or a ‘flow manager’ who helps the team manage the flow of work.
The Kanban Board
The Kanban board is the centerpiece of any Kanban system. It is divided into different columns, each representing a stage in the workflow. The most simple version of a Kanban board has three columns: ‘To Do’, ‘In Progress’, and ‘Done’. However, these can be customized based on the needs of the team or the project.
By moving cards across the board, teams can visualize their work, track progress, and spot bottlenecks in real-time. This visibility promotes transparency and accountability, fostering better communication and efficiency among the team.
Here’s a basic visual representation of a Kanban board:
- The Backlog column, shown in light gray, is where all tasks that need to be done are listed.
- The To Do column, shown in light blue, is for tasks that are scheduled to be worked on next.
- The In Progress column, shown in light green, represents tasks that are currently being worked on.
- The Review column (optional in some boards), shown in yellow, is for tasks that have been completed and are under review.
- The Done column, shown in light coral, is for tasks that have been completed and reviewed.
Each color helps differentiate the status of tasks at a glance, making the board more visually intuitive.
The Origins of Scrum
Scrum, an iterative and incremental Agile software development framework, originated in the early 1990s. The term was first introduced by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka in their 1986 Harvard Business Review article, “The New New Product Development Game”. Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber later formalized the Scrum framework for software development at the 1995 OOPSLA conference. Today, Scrum is widely used for managing and controlling complex software and product development using iterative and incremental practices.
Scrum: Principles and Values
Scrum is based on the core principles of transparency, inspection, and adaptation, which are accomplished through the implementation of Scrum roles, events, artifacts, and rules.
The Scrum values of focus, courage, openness, commitment, and respect form the bedrock of Scrum. They guide the decisions, actions, and behavior of everyone involved in a Scrum project.
The Scrum Framework
In Scrum, work is structured in cycles of work called Sprints, typically lasting one to four weeks. The product owner (the stakeholder in Scrum) and the development team agree upon the work to be accomplished during a Sprint in a meeting known as Sprint Planning. This work is then detailed in the Sprint Backlog.
Throughout the Sprint, the team holds a daily meeting known as the Daily Scrum, wherein they update each other on their progress and discuss any obstacles that could impede their work. At the end of the Sprint, the team reviews the work they have completed in the Sprint Review, and they inspect and adapt the product and process in the Sprint Retrospective..
There are three key roles in a Scrum project:
- Product Owner: The Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the development team. They manage the product backlog and are the liaison between the team and the stakeholders.
- Scrum Master: The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum team, helping everyone understand Scrum theory, practices, rules, and values. The Scrum Master ensures that the team follows Scrum practices and rules and helps the team stay productive.
- Development Team: The Development Team consists of professionals who do the work of delivering a potentially releasable increment of “Done” product at the end of each Sprint.
Scrum defines four events (ceremonies) to create regularity and minimize the need for meetings not defined in Scrum:
- Sprint Planning: This meeting defines the work and strategy for the upcoming Sprint.
- Daily Scrum: A 15-minute meeting for the development team to synchronize activities and create a plan for the next 24 hours.
- Sprint Review: A review of the work that was done and the planned work that didn’t get done.
- Sprint Retrospective: A reflection by the team for continuous process improvement, occurring after the Sprint Review and prior to the next Sprint Planning.
On the whole, Scrum provides a framework that helps teams work together to develop, deliver, and sustain complex products. It encourages open communication, flexibility, and quick response to changes.
Comparing Kanban and Scrum
Principles and Practices: The Distinction
At their cores, both Scrum and Kanban aim to improve workflow efficiency and quality of output, but they approach this goal differently. Scrum operates on a time-boxed, iterative cycle known as Sprints, which usually lasts between two to four weeks. The focus is on delivering potentially releasable increments of work at the end of each Sprint. In contrast, Kanban revolves around continuous flow, with an emphasis on minimizing the time it takes for a single task to move through the whole workflow from start to finish.
In terms of practices, Scrum stipulates a set of prescribed roles and ceremonies that must be adhered to. It also places a significant emphasis on the self-organization of teams. Kanban, on the other hand, is less prescriptive. It doesn’t require changes in the team’s structure or roles, focusing more on visualizing workflow, limiting work-in-progress, and managing flow for continual improvement.
Roles Comparison: Kanban vs. Scrum Teams
Roles within Kanban and Scrum teams also significantly differ. Scrum defines three roles: The Product Owner, the Scrum Master, and the Development Team. The Product Owner prioritizes the work to be done, the Scrum Master ensures that the team is productive and follows the Scrum process, and the Development Team does the work.
In contrast, Kanban does not prescribe any specific roles. Existing roles and responsibilities are respected and maintained. However, similar to Scrum, Kanban can have a person (like a service delivery manager) who helps optimize the flow of work and remove obstacles.
Workflow Comparison: Backlog to Product Delivery
In Scrum, work begins with the creation of a prioritized Product Backlog, which is then used to plan Sprints. Each Sprint involves a set amount of work taken from the top of the backlog. The goal is to produce a potentially releasable increment by the end of the Sprint. Once the Sprint is over, a review is conducted, and a new Sprint begins with a new selection of backlog items. This offers regularity and predictability of releases, but changes cannot be introduced mid-Sprint.
On the other hand, Kanban operates on a single, prioritized backlog. Work is pulled as capacity permits, without waiting for the completion of the entire batch of work. Kanban focuses on reducing the time a piece of work spends in the system (lead time), thus delivering value to the customer quickly. It enables changes at any time if there is a capacity to pull new work.
Flexibility and Adaptability: Agile in Nature
Scrum provides a robust framework for managing complex projects, offering predictability and control through its time-boxed structure. It is well suited for projects with defined deliverables that are expected to change over time due to its iterative nature and the adaptability it brings after each Sprint.
Kanban, on the other hand, provides more flexibility due to its focus on continuous delivery. It makes the process highly visible and allows changes to be made on-the-go, making it suitable for projects with a continuous flow of incoming requests, like support or maintenance tasks.
In terms of adaptability, both Scrum and Kanban advocate for continuous improvement. Scrum’s Retrospective meeting encourages teams to reflect on their performance and find ways to improve for the next Sprint. Similarly, the principle of ‘Improve Collaboratively, Evolve Experimentally’ in Kanban encourages teams to continuously experiment, learn, and improve their workflow.
While Scrum and Kanban share an Agile pedigree, they each have unique approaches to improving efficiency and productivity. The choice between Scrum and Kanban should not be about which is superior. Instead, the decision should be based on the specific context, requirements, and goals of the team and the project at hand.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Kanban and Scrum
Kanban: Strengths and Potential Challenges
- Flexibility: One of the key strengths of Kanban is its flexibility. Work items can be added to the backlog as they arise, allowing teams to respond to change quickly.
- Visualization: Kanban’s visual nature allows teams to understand the state of the work at a glance, identify bottlenecks, and determine where improvement is needed.
- Focus on Continuous Delivery: By limiting work in progress (WIP), Kanban emphasizes continuous flow, which can lead to faster detection and resolution of issues, resulting in improved quality and delivery speed.
- Absence of Time-boxing: Without the time-boxing that exists in Scrum, there’s a risk that tasks may drag on indefinitely, leading to potential delays in the overall project.
- Requires Discipline: Kanban’s simplicity requires a high level of discipline from team members. Maintaining the board and adhering to WIP limits may be challenging for teams new to the concept.
- Less Predictable: Kanban doesn’t provide a clear structure for predictability that you get with Scrum Sprints, which could make it challenging to forecast delivery times.
Scrum: Strengths and Potential Challenges
- Predictability and Control: Scrum’s time-boxed nature means stakeholders have a clear idea of when work will be completed. This predictability can be advantageous in planning.
- Built-in Reflection and Adjustment: Scrum’s iterative process includes regular reviews and retrospectives, promoting continuous learning and adjustment.
- Role Clarity: Clear roles (Scrum Master, Product Owner, Development Team) help to define responsibilities and expectations, fostering a productive working environment.
- Commitment Requirement: The success of Scrum depends on the complete buy-in from the entire team and stakeholders. Half-hearted implementation can result in failure to reap Scrum’s benefits.
- Difficulty with Large Teams: Scrum works best with small, cross-functional teams. For larger teams or more hierarchical organizations, coordinating and communication can become a challenge.
- Limited Flexibility during Sprints: Once a Sprint is underway, its scope is generally not changed. This lack of flexibility can be problematic if urgent issues or changes arise mid-Sprint.
Ultimately, both Kanban and Scrum offer compelling advantages and face potential challenges. Choosing the right one depends largely on the team’s size, the nature of the project, and the specific needs of the organization. It’s also worth noting that teams can opt for a hybrid approach, known as Scrumban, to leverage the strengths of both methodologies.
Choosing between Kanban and Scrum
When choosing a project management methodology, several factors should be taken into account. These include the nature of the project, the size and composition of the team, the expectations around deliverables, and the company’s broader culture and organizational structure.
When to use Kanban
Kanban is ideal in scenarios where work arrives in an unpredictable manner and needs to be handled promptly, as in support or maintenance tasks. Its continuous flow mechanism is beneficial for projects where priority shifts are frequent, and for teams that require flexibility over strict planning.
Kanban is also excellent for improving efficiency in processes that have become too complicated or cumbersome. By visualizing the work, it becomes easier to identify bottlenecks and implement improvements.
When to use Scrum
Scrum is particularly suitable for complex projects where requirements are expected to change or evolve. Its iterative approach makes it easy to incorporate feedback and make necessary adjustments after each Sprint. If the project requires deliverables at regular intervals, and these can be planned in advance, Scrum’s time-boxed nature can be advantageous.
Moreover, Scrum works well for small, cross-functional teams, where the structure and defined roles can help maintain focus and coordination. It is also beneficial in an environment that supports its principles of openness, focus, courage, commitment, and respect.
The decision between Kanban and Scrum isn’t about which methodology is better universally but about which one better suits your specific situation. Teams may also explore hybrid models like Scrumban, combining elements of both to meet their unique needs. Remember, the goal of any project management methodology is to help the team work more efficiently and effectively, ensuring the successful delivery of quality products.
Hybrid Approaches: Scrumban
Scrumban is a project management methodology that blends the structured framework of Scrum with the flexibility and visualization of Kanban. Conceived as a way to transition from Scrum to Kanban, Scrumban has evolved into a standalone methodology that offers the best of both worlds, making it an attractive option for many teams.
In Scrumban, work is organized in Sprints as in Scrum, but there are no predefined roles. Like Kanban, work is visualized on a board, and WIP (Work-In-Progress) limits are set to ensure that the team is not overburdened.
Scrumban uses the pull system from Kanban, allowing tasks to be pulled into the ‘Doing’ column when there is capacity, rather than being pushed based on the start of the Sprint. This pull system fosters a steady, continuous workflow.
Moreover, Scrumban incorporates the review and retrospective meetings from Scrum, enabling teams to reflect on their work and make necessary improvements. It also incorporates Scrum’s concept of a prioritized backlog, with the added flexibility that it can be updated as new tasks come in.
Scrumban can be particularly beneficial for teams that find Scrum too rigid but Kanban too loose. It is also a great choice for teams handling many unplanned tasks, and it can serve as a stepping stone for teams transitioning from a traditional, plan-driven approach to a more Agile approach.
As project managers, your choice between Scrum, Kanban, or even a hybrid model like Scrumban, should hinge on what will best facilitate your team’s efficiency and productivity. Use this comparison as a guide, but remember that your final decision should align with your project goals and team dynamics.
References and Further Reading
- Anderson, D. J. (2010). “Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business.” Blue Hole Press.
- Schwaber, K., & Sutherland, J. (2017). “Scrum Guide.”
- Ladas, C. (2009). “Scrumban: Essays on Kanban Systems for Lean Software Development.” Modus Cooperandi Press.
These resources provide a deeper understanding of the Kanban and Scrum methodologies and can guide you on your journey in project management. Consider also joining relevant forums, attending webinars, and subscribing to project management blogs for continuous learning and sharing experiences with a community of professionals.