Should you use kanban or scrum when managing a project? Well, it’s a trick question, because it depends on what that project is, the nature of your organization and which path is best for your team. And certainly both methodologies have their value.
In fact, there are lots of methodologies you can use for your projects, but kanban and scrum are often debated. So for the sake of argument, let’s put them together in the squared ring, and may the best methodology win!
In This Corner: Scrum!
Scrum methodology has been around since the mid-1980s, and has been a core sub-methodology of agile since 2001, when Ken Schwaber and Mike Beedle literally wrote the book on it: Agile Software Development with Scrum.
Scrum is a well-defined process framework to structure work, often used by smaller teams in what they call sprints, made up of tasks of a shorter duration, to make the project more flexible and adaptable to change. The cycles are roughly two-weeks long and led by a scrum master, which can be, but doesn’t have to be, a certified CSM (Certified Scrum Master) position.
The scrum master is the team expert on the process, and they are instrumental in guiding the team to optimize the use of scrum in the project. This can be through scrum meetings, which are held daily in scrum, but they act almost as a teacher throughout the project to support the team and give them direction.
While scrum has been scaled to apply to bigger projects and organizations, its roots are in agile software development, and has come to work seamlessly in that smaller, nimble environment. That hasn’t stopped practitioners from using scrum in varying industries, from retail logistics to event planning.
And in This Corner: Kanban!
Kanban is from Japan, originating in the factories of the Toyota car company. It’s a visual way to manage workflow. The name means billboard in Japanese, and you can see why, as the process involves placing tasks on a kanban board. That way the project’s progress is clear and simply delineated for all involved.
Less structured than scrum, there is no real process framework, only the model of the kanban board and the cards on it that visual represent some aspect the project. Work is organized on the kanban board as testing, ready for release and released columns. It’s used to manage work in progress.
One value of using this method is that it’s easier to see the inefficiencies in the project schedule and address them before they create slack. Such advantages have seen kanban used in visual planning apps, where it can help with like storyboarding user stories and sprint backlog planning.
Kanban, like scrum, is used by agile teams (and the issue of whether agile is right for your teams is a discussion for another time), but the method is open to any number of applications. In fact, almost any organization, or individual for that matter, can benefit from using a kanban board. The cards can represent any project phase, task deadline, team members, even ideas or whatever you can imagine.
Scrum vs. Kanban: Are You Ready to Rumble?!
This should be an interesting contest, as there are many similarities between scrum and kanban that make them evenly matched. For one, both are ideal for lean and agile projects, limiting work in process and favor a continuous scheduling flow as opposed to pushing through a schedule.
Both are focused on delivering fast and often, work within a transparent culture to help with improving process and like to break the project into smaller, more manageable pieces. They are embraced by self-organizing teams who are continuously optimizing based on the project data.
Why Scrum Process Is Better
Scrum is structured. If you’re working in a project that requires more specific roles and procedures, then scrum is going to fit that bill. It has advantages because of this framework.
For example, there is more transparency and visibility in scrum than even in kanban, and certainly more than in most other methodologies. That works to your benefit when you want to get everyone on the same page so they can collaborate and work as a fully integrated team.
Another advantage scrum has going for it is that scrum increases team accountability. Because you’re moving quickly, you’re meeting often, at least daily. This adds to the transparency of the project, naturally, but also keeps scrum team members accountable for their work. That means you can reward those that are performing and help those that aren’t.
Change is often a problem in big projects, which are like tanker ships, in that they take time and effort to turn. But not with scrum. It was designed to stay as a nimbler process that can pivot whenever that is called for. In fact, it wants change, or at least it can easily accommodate change.
Because of its makeup, speed and tendency for small teams, scrum is also a money-saver. That’s a huge boon to startups and other institutions where the bottom line is being scrutinized (and, honestly, when isn’t it?)
Problems with Scrum
Scrum has come out of its corner fighting, and it looks strong, but there are some openings where it might suffer some damage. First off, it’s that scrum master. You need to have experience, and at a high level, to get scrum working. If not, you’re going to risk scope creep.
Not only must the scrum master live up to their name, but the team requires a level of experience, too. If your scrum master or team are not up to snuff, there’s going to be trouble. Likewise, if the tasks are not well-defined, then you’re going to have inaccuracies. Of course, that’s true in any project, but it’ll come fast and furious in a scrum environment.
Secondly, the daily those daily scrum meetings might pose a bit of a problem to your team, especially if you have remote team members or an especially large team. It can be hard to keep scrum meetings efficient over a webcam or with dozens of people, which is why scrum is usually best used by a small, local team. This is key in the scrum vs. kanban, debate, as kanban doesn’t have any team size limitations.
Why Using Kanban is Better
Okay, scrum has had a good round, but here comes kanban, and it’s looking good. One advantage is that kanban doesn’t require the training and experience of scrum. It’s easy to learn and understand. That’s a big plus. You can hit the ground running.
Kanban is great for improving workflow and minimizing the time cycle, but it also increases the process flexibility. If you’re looking for a methodology that can bend, not break, with the winds of change, then kanban is for you.
Related: Kanban Board Software
You’re going to have less waste from the process of running your project, because you’re going to see it sooner and can trim what you don’t need. It also improves the delivery flow, so you get what you want from the project, faster.
One way it does that is by reducing the time cycles of the project, which again speaks to its workflow efficiencies. Kanban can be used by anyone in the project, both general team members and more skilled ones can all work on the same kanban board.
Speaking of the kanban board, there are no required time boxes. So, no sprint. You don’t have to reset the kanban board as you move through the project. It flows as long as the project needs it to.
Problems with Kanban
Kanban is simple, so the problems that do arise tend to be associated with using the kanban board incorrectly. For example, an outdated kanban board creates problems in the development process of your project.
Another issue is when teams make the board overly complex. Kanban is known for its simplicity, so to add complexity goes against the very logic for using kanban, and your project will suffer for it.
The advantage of not having a timeframe can also be disadvantage. Without a hard deadline, it’s more likely that a task or phase will stagnant and take longer than it needs to.
And the Winner Is…
Um. There is no clear winner of the kanban vs. scrum fight. Sorry. It’s really a case-by-case contest, and even a case of potentially using both methodologies to suit different projects or different aspects of the same project. Both of these methodologies are champions of continuous improvement and as such are well-suited to tackle any kind of work. It’s up you to decide which one is best for the needs of your project and team. Now, no punching below the belt. Let’s keep this a clean project!
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