Agile 101: Scrum vs. Kanban - Is There a Winner?

  • Agile
  • Software Development

16 November 2020


One of the questions usually raised in any software development project is: what is the method that works best to organize and prioritize tasks in an Agile work environment?

Is it Scrum or is it Kanban? Is one better than the other? And how are they different from each other?

And the reason for these questions is that the implementation of any of these Agile methodologies represents not only the work process itself, but also a set of tools to improve adaptability, risk management, and innovation.

For this reason, in order to fully understand why is there a debate between Scrum and Kanban when it comes to software development methodologies, we first have to compare them to be able to analyze their differences as well as their strengths:

What is Scrum?

In a nutshell, Scrum is a predefined and recurring set of actions and processes that are used to shorten the development time of a specific project, while providing the best possible quality.

By following the Scrum methodology, teams are committed to generating software results at the end of their established intervals that are also called “Sprints”.

If you want to learn more in-depth about the Scrum methodology, and how it works in an Agile environment, check our article Agile 101: An Intro to Agile Software Development.

How does Scrum work?

  • Backlog refinement (task list): The Sprint Planning meeting is preceded by the refinement of the Backlog, where the Product Owner and the Scrum team collaborate on the details and estimates of the Backlog elements. The goal of this process is to ensure that user stories and tasks are “ready to go” so that the team can immediately execute them when placed in a Sprint.
  • Sprint Planning meeting: The goal of the Sprint planning meeting is to prioritize which Backlog tasks will be added to the Sprint Backlog, how they will be executed, and to achieve a shared commitment to this goal by the team. Each item in the Sprint Backlog must be deliverable and divided into tasks, generally no more than 2 business days.
  • Daily meeting: As the name suggests, the daily standing meeting is a daily periodic meeting of no more than 15 minutes, which is generally held at the beginning of each day. The objective of the daily standing meeting is to synchronize the Scrum Team, the Scrum Master, and the Product Owner and free up the work team’s agenda in order to be able to focus on the tasks in progress.
  • Sprint Review meeting: The Sprint Review meeting is held at the end of each Sprint to review what was delivered, how it was delivered, and what was not delivered. This meeting begins with a demonstration of the functionality of the product to obtain feedback and approval from the Product Owner and to establish whether business requirements are met. The approved tasks are delivered and the others are moved back to the Backlog to plan them in future sprints.
  • Sprint Retrospective Meeting: Retrospective Sprint meetings typically last 20 minutes in which the Scrum team meets to reflect on the previous Sprint and discover how to improve the overall process by asking what went well, what didn’t and what can be improved. It enables the team to focus on their overall performance and identify ways to continually improve.

What is Kanban?

On the other hand, Kanban is an Agile methodology that consists of managing a project while continuously improving the process which is always carried out through visual workflows.

Basically this means that this methodology uses a Kanban board as a visual tool to display each project on a different card, and moves those cards through columns representing progressive stages of completion.

How does Kanban work?

  • It allows teams to visualize the workflow: To visualize a production process with the Kanban system, a board with cards and columns is needed. Each column on the Kanban board represents a step in the workflow, and each Kanban card represents a task or work item.
  • It limits the work in progress: The Kanban methodology sets the maximum elements per stage (in the column) to ensure multiple tasks are not hampering the team’s productivity. Limiting work in progress will quickly illuminate problem areas in the workflow so that they can be identified and resolved.
  • It manages the workflow: Kanban manages the movement of work items through the production process. Therefore, instead of micro-managing people and trying to keep them busy all the time, this methodology focuses on managing and understanding work processes. The final goal is to get that work through the system as fast as possible by adjusting the workflow.
  • It makes process policies explicit: The rules for moving the cards from one column to another should be defined. Everyone on the team should be on the same page and understand the rules in order to know when to change the tasks from one column to another.
  • Feedback interval meetings are implemented: Regular meetings should be held for the exchange of knowledge and comments in order to improve performance. A good start is to do daily standing meetings for team synchronization.
  • It collaboratively improves, experiments, and adapts: The Kanban method is a process of evolutionary improvement. It helps development teams make small changes and gradually improve at a pace and size that they can handle.

So, is Kanban an alternative to Scrum, and vice versa?

At first glance, it might seem as this is true, however, these are just two different ways to get to the same place: organizational agility.

Scrum is the most complex, strict, and difficult out of the 2 methodologies. At its core are Scrum sprints that set clear goals and deadlines, give full control to the Project Manager, and work well for large, fast-moving projects. However, adding unexpected elements can turn out to be a monster, and Scrum requires an experienced team to conduct many meetings that may take a little time.

What is the Scrum verdict? Therefore, the Scrum framework is a good choice for experienced or business teams working on a product or on a project that lasts for more than a year.

Scrum is highly efficient if the goal is to acquire commitment from the team with the delivery of constant and continuous value, as well as executing development projects that handle short delivery times (between one week and one month), and in which iterative approaches can be made and incremental starting from a Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

Kanban, on the other side, is the simplest and easiest method to adopt. It enables the possibility to visualize work and work processes on a board that ensures all team members are on the same page and reveals bottlenecks in the workflow while staying flexible in production. However, Kanban is less effective in resource-sharing situations, uncompromising in managing multiple products or large projects, and it is difficult to track individual team contributions. Also, an outdated Kanban board can cause problems.

What is the Kanban verdict? Kanban is a good choice for support and maintenance teams, continuous product manufacturing, and product or service delivery teams with a stable workflow.

Kanban gives good results when detecting and eliminating bottlenecks in the execution of processes, as well as executing maintenance projects, particularly in SLAs (Service Level Agreements), where the response time in processes and Critical operations is vital.

So, what is the conclusion?

More than Scrum vs Kanban, the question we believe is the most important asking is what aspects of Scrum and Kanban can be used in each project to effectively develop products and services. For this, it is necessary to know the advantages of both approaches:

  • The Scrum approach enables better transparency, meanwhile, the Kanban approach provides more flexibility.
  • Scrum allows for better improvement of the credibility of the company towards the client, and Kanban prioritizes the ability to carry out deliveries continuously.
  • High product quality is characteristic for Scrum as well as increased productivity, and Product Stability is characteristic for Kanban alongside increased efficiency.
  • The Scrum methodology allows for a better sustainable development rate and Kanban favors an increase in concentration capacity.
  • Scrum allows software development teams to adapt quickly to changes in priorities and customer needs, and Kanban enables the reduction of time wastage.

Based on these comparison points, it should be up to the development and product teams to choose which framework works best for them. The best synergies and highest levels of productivity have been achieved by combining both frameworks, something that is entirely possible thanks to the flexibility of the two approaches.

In conclusion, not everything has to be black or white. You must choose the best option for your project. At Teravision, we collaborate with our clients during the project kickoff meeting and the onboarding week to define what is the best approach for them.

  • Scrum
  • Kanban
  • Minimum Viable Product
  • Agile Development.

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