Agile project management’s rise has brought a new meaning to the terms Kanban and Scrum.
Every team works differently when mapping out project stages. It helps to play to the strengths of each member and consider what each project demands. Often, this leads to the age-old comparison (which isn’t actually that old): Scrum vs. Kanban.
Both are valid ways of managing a project, but each presents its own pros and cons. While Kanban methodologies tend to be more fluid, Scrum systems are fast, furious, and slightly more rigid.
So, how do you know which one is best for you, your team, and your projects? Let's break the two styles down.
What is Kanban?
Kanban is a visual management system for projects. In this system, cards representing each project, task, or related item go on a board based on status so teams can better manage the overall workflow. The board captures the project as a whole, and each task moves from one column to the next before completion.
The Kanban method originated in Japan in the 1940s. Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer for Toyota, realized the inefficiencies of the car manufacturer compared to its American rivals. Ohno created a simple planning system to control and manage the work at every production stage in the most efficient way possible.
Today, you probably recognize Kanban project management in its contemporary “board” format, where tasks are dragged from one column to the next as they move through the pipeline. Kanban’s key concepts center around limiting work in progress (WIP), definition of workflow (DoW), visual indicators, Kaizen, and continuous improvement.
The workflow stages you’ll most commonly see are:
Done (or Completed)
What Kanban looks like in action
For example, if you’re carrying out a web design project for a client, you might have various tasks in each stage of the workflow. The wireframes might be Done, while the visual assets are In Review, and the copy could still be In Progress. Having each task mapped out on a board gives a better overview of what’s finished, potential bottlenecks, and what needs action.
A simplified version of a Kanban board can look like this:
Kanban teams add columns specific to their processes and workflows, and expand each section to their unique project needs. For example, you could add columns for This Month, Paused, and This Week to get an even more granular view of what’s happening at any given time.
The fluidity of the Kanban approach makes it easy to continuously pull in new work items or refine completed deliverables — when capacity allows for it.
Using the example above, once the website copy moves to In Review, designing the About page and other outstanding tasks go to the In Progress column. If it turns out the team needs to revisit the completed website copy needed for the wireframes, the task simply goes back to the To Do column with the new requests.
How to measure Kanban
Like any project management methodology, you can improve and optimize the Kanban method. However, you need to measure it in the first place to effectively streamline your workflow.
The most important metrics are lead time and cycle time. Each of these measures the average amount of time it takes for tasks to move through the board.
Knowing the average time per task smooths out the flow of work. Also, improving those cycle times means your team completes projects quicker and more efficiently.
Where does the Kanban method work best?
The Kanban method can work in pretty much every project-based situation, but it’s effective in some scenarios more than others.
For example, Kanban works great for teams receiving numerous incoming requests that are weighted differently in urgency and priority. Users can add and move new cards sequentially based on priority levels, urgency, and project specifications.
The functionality of Kanban boards is also great for marketers who need to manage various pieces of content through each stage. For example, we use Teamwork.com's Board View to move content to each stage to monitor the lifecycle of a given task.
Teamwork.com offers flexible and agile project management views to help different teams get work done. We make it easy to streamline your process, share assets, and monitor assignments from start to finish.
What is Scrum?
Scrum is a project management method that allows teams to use strict periods of time to focus on specific tasks. A Scrum is broken up into sprints that last anywhere from a day to four weeks — depending on their scope.
The most impactful concepts in Scrum are:
The idea behind Scrum is that it’s fast-paced and allows for uninterrupted periods of productivity. There are set start and finish dates. With the short timeframes, Scrum teams must break up complex tasks into smaller, more actionable activities.
Sprints have a few different stages, including sprint planning, sprint review, and sprint retrospective meetings. Each phase typically occurs with daily Scrum meetings to go over roadblocks, daily to-dos, or quick wins.
The key difference between Kanban and Scrum is that Scrum is less flexible in terms of adding tasks halfway through a sprint. Instead, completing an entire sprint is necessary before moving on to the next sprint task or activity.
What Scrum looks like in action
Let’s use the web design example again for simplicity. A Scrum might involve two weeks of the entire team researching to map out wireframes. Only when that sprint is complete can the entire team move on to designing the visual assets.
There are three roles in the Scrum framework: development team, product owner, and Scrum master.
Each activity becomes the focus of that sprint, with all members taking a defined role in the process. Whereas the Kanban method allows multiple people to work on various tasks throughout a given timeframe, the Scrum methodology requires that everyone come together to intensely work on a small section of a bigger project.
At the start of each sprint, the team plans the Scrum timeline, including the outcomes that will happen, who will do what, and when tasks need to be completed. The dedicated Scrum Master then breaks down each task into smaller activities and supervises the sprint from start to finish.
Teams will use aScrum board to create a project visual. Organized by sprints, Scrum boards help groups stay on track and organized throughout the project. Scrum boards are easy to adapt to different needs. They may be simple. with only three columns (usually To Do, In Progress, and Done), or they may be complex with many notes and sections.
At the start of a project, the Scrum Master will estimate how much time it will take to finish everything on the list, ensuring everyone agrees on the sprint’s length ahead of time. If priorities change in the middle of a sprint, the entire sprint must stop, and the planning process starts again.
How to measure Scrum
You can measure Scrums in velocity, which is the number of tasks you can complete in a given sprint.
Essentially, each task is assigned a point(s). These are added up and used to measure how long the sprint needs to be and how much should be completed during that time.
If a team completes an average of 40 points per sprint, the velocity of the sprint is 40. A sprint that has more than 40 points will need to take place over a longer period of time — or vice versa if there are fewer points.
Where does the Scrum method work best?
Software development teams or groups that are working on a similar project, task, or activity at the same time often use Scrum.
Each sprint is an increment dedicated to a specific set of tasks, where each team member has their own role but is also part of a bigger ecosystem.
Kanban vs. Scrum: What are the real differences in these agile methodologies?
When set up head-to-head, Kanban vs. Scrum starts to become an easier decision based on your specific project, team, or workflow.
The pros and cons of any project management system vary depending on your team’s needs and the tasks you plan to complete. However, there are some key benefits that each method brings to the table.
Kanban pros and cons
Visualizes the workflow to plan what’s in progress at any time
Ensures quality with WIP limits
Manages the project’s flow
Establishes feedback loops
Improves team collaboration
Flexibly pivots depending on priority
No set strict responsibilities, making it difficult for teams to focus on priorities
Can become very complex and confusing
No timing parameters
Scrum pros and cons
Helps team members focus and complete tasks with short sprints
Divides complex assignments into smaller, manageable activities
Achieves quick wins to drive team motivation
Provides clear insight so every stakeholder knows what’s happening
Helps create a goal-oriented workflow
Requires a lot of focus
Tends to have pacing issues if there are slower team members
Demands lots of planning and resources to measure, track, and manage
Not flexible for teams if priorities change mid-sprint
Which is the best method for your team?
Use Kanban if your team:
Has a continuous flow of work
Works on one thing after another
Handles projects that don’t require inspection and adaptation
Works on projects with many elements and repetitive tasks
Doesn’t require accountability tools
Doesn’t demand frequent stakeholder engagement
Use Scrum if your team:
Works on tasks that continuously evolve
Needs requirements to be tracked separately from the WIP (with product backlog and sprint backlog)
Needs disciplined planning at regular intervals
Must be highly focused on one action
Works on projects requiring consistent stakeholder and/or client engagement and feedback
Or, you can use both! Scrumban is a hybrid method that combines Scrum’s processes with Kanban’s visualization tools.
Project management software like Teamwork.com provides users with Scrum and Kanban to help manage tasks, collaborate, proactively minimize obstacles, and stay on track to deliver high-quality work on time.
Teamwork.com lets you choose the method that works best for you and your team
Both Scrum and Kanban methods are great ways to tackle big projects. They allow for improved collaboration and ensure all team members are on the same page.
When choosing which method is right for you, consider the project, the people involved, and the desired outcomes.
As one of the best project management tools on the market, Teamwork.com lets you visualize tasks in a Kanban format and plan and manage sprints as part of the Scrum method. Choosing the best approach for your team, depending on the project, is an effective way to ensure you manage the right way, every time.
Teamwork.com offers the best of both worlds — helping groups stay agile with different methodologies for each unique team in your agency. Get started for free today!