Kanban vs. Scrum: A simple breakdown of each complex methodology
The rise of agile project management has brought a new meaning to the terms Kanban and Scrum. These terms are thrown around a lot, but there are still a lot of people who are unsure about what each framework means and what are the main differences between them.
Every team works differently when mapping out the stages of a project. It helps to play to the strengths of each member and consider what each individual project demands.
Often, this leads to the age-old debate (which isn’t actually that old): Kanban or Scrum?
Both are valid ways of managing a project, but they each come with their own pros, cons, and unique challenges. 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 even further to understand what would work best for you:
What is Kanban?
Kanban is a visual management system where projects, tasks, or items are represented by cards and organized on a board to better manage the overall workflow. The board captures the project as a whole and each task is moved from one column to the next as it gets completed.
Kanban method was born in the 1940s in Japan when Taiichi Ohno, a Toyota industrial engineer, realized the inefficiencies of the car manufacturer compared to its American rivals. Ohno created a simple planning system aimed to control and manage the work at every stage of production in the most efficient way possible.
Today, you probably recognize Kanban in its contemporary “board” format, where tasks are dragged from one column to the next as they make their way through the pipeline.
The workflow stages you’ll most commonly see are To Do, In Progress, In Review, and Done (or Completed).
What Kanban looks like in action
If you’re carrying out a web design project for a client, you might have various different 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 roadblocks, and what needs action.
A simplified version of a Kanban board can look like this:
The great thing is, you can add columns specific to your team’s processes and workflows and expand each section to your unique project needs. For example, you could add columns for This Month, Paused, and This Week to get an even more granular-level 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 has moved to In Review, designing the about page and other outstanding tasks are then moved to the In Progress column. If it turns out the completed website copy needed for the wireframes has to be revisited, the task is simply moved back to the To-Do column with the new requests.
How Kanban is measured
Like any project management approach, the Kanban method can be improved and optimized. However, you need to measure it in the first place to effectively optimize your workflow.
The most important metrics are lead time and cycle time. Each of these metrics measures the average amount of time it takes for tasks to move through the board.
Once you know the average time per task, the workflow becomes smoother and more streamlined. 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 be implemented in pretty much every project-based situation. But there are some scenarios where it's better suited.
For example, the Kanban method is ideal for teams receiving a lot of incoming requests that are weighted differently in terms of urgency and priority. New cards can be added and moved sequentially based on priority levels, urgency, and project specifications.
Kanban boards are also great for content marketers who need to manage various pieces of content through each stage. For example, we use Teamwork's Board View to move content to each stage to monitor the lifecycle of each task.
Teamwork 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 projects from start to finish.
Try Teamwork for free today!
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 the scope of the tasks.
The idea behind Scrum is that it’s fast-paced and allows for uninterrupted periods of productivity. There are set start and finish dates, and with the short timeframes, teams are forced to break up complex tasks into smaller, more actionable activities.
Sprints are made up of a few different stages including sprint planning, sprint review, and retrospective meetings. Each phase is typically monitored with daily Scrum meetings to go over roadblocks, daily to-dos, or quick wins.
The biggest difference between Kanban vs. Scrum is that Scrum is less flexible in terms of adding tasks halfway through a sprint. Instead, an entire sprint must be completed before moving on to the next task or activity.
What a Scrum looks like in action
Again, let’s use the web design for simplicity. A Scrum might involve two weeks of the entire team carrying out research to map out wireframes. Only when that sprint is complete can the entire team move on to designing the visual assets.
Each activity becomes the main focus of that sprint, with all team members taking a defined role in the process. Whereas the Kanban method allows multiple team members to work on various tasks throughout a given timeframe, the idea behind Scrum is that everyone comes together to intensely work on a small section of a bigger project.
At the start of each sprint, the team plans the Scrum, including the outcomes that will happen and who will do what, and when. The dedicated Scrum Master will break down each task into smaller activities and supervise the sprint from start to finish.
The length of the sprint is agreed upon before it begins, with the Scrum Master estimating how much time it will take to finish everything on the list. If priorities change in the middle of a sprint, the entire sprint must stop and the planning process starts again.
How the Scrum method is measured
Scrums are often measured in velocity, or more simply, the number of tasks that can be completed in any given sprint. Essentially, each task is assigned a point(s), which are then added up and used to measure how long a 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?
The Scrum method is often used by software development teams or teams that are working on a similar project, task, or activity at the same time. Each sprint is 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?
When set up head-to-head, Kanban vs. Scrum starts to become an easier decision based on your specific project, team, or workflow.
Of course, the pros and cons of any project management system will vary depending on your team’s needs and the projects you’re undertaking. However, there are some key benefits that the Kanban method can bring to the table.
Easy to visualize the workflow and see what tasks are in progress at any time
Limits the amount of work in progress to ensure quality
Manages the flow of a project
Establishes feedback loops
Improves team collaboration
Flexible so projects can pivot depending on priorities
No set strict responsibilities, making it difficult for teams to focus on priorities
Boards can become very complex and confusing
There are no timing parameters
Just like with the Kanban method, there are plenty of pros and cons of the Scrum method. Again, it depends on your team’s needs and the kinds of projects you’re carrying out.
Short sprints can lead to periods of extreme focus and task completion
Divides complex tasks up into smaller, manageable activities
Easy to achieve quick wins to drive team motivation
Every team member has clear insight into what’s happening
Team members have to be highly focused during a sprint
Tends to have pacing issues if there are slower team members
Requires a lot of planning and resources to measure, track, and manage sprints
Not flexible for teams if priorities change mid-sprint
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 at the same time.
When choosing which method is right for you, consider the project you’re undertaking, the team members that need to be involved, and what the outcomes of the project are.
For unilateral projects that require a lot of focus on one factor, the Scrum method is best. But for projects with many different elements and repetitive tasks, the Kanban method might be better suited.
Luckily, Teamwork offers the best of both worlds—helping teams stay agile with different methodologies for each unique team in your organization.
Our all-in-one-tool lets you visualize project tasks in a Kanban format and plan and manage sprints as part of the Scrum method. Having the ability to choose the best approach for your team depending on the project is an effective way to ensure your projects are managed the right way every single time.