Kanban vs. Scrum: What are the differences?

Many Scrum teams also use Kanban as a visual process and project management tool. While some teams prefer to use only Scrum because of its prescriptive nature (there is less ambiguity), many Scrum teams have adopted select principles of Kanban that are useful in adding an extra layer of visibility to their projects. When choosing between Kanban or Scrum, the individual distinction doesn’t always have to be made because Kanban and Scrum can go hand-in-hand.

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The question of which work method(s) works best isn’t easy, however many Scrum and non-Scrum teams have adopted the Kanban method as a way to visualize their work.

Kanban vs. Scrum

Scrum and Kanban are both iterative work systems that rely on process flows and aim to reduce waste. However; there are a few main differences between the two:

Kanban Scrum
Roles & Responsibilities There are no pre-defined roles for a team. Although there may still be a Project Manager, the team is encouraged to collaborate and chip in when any one person becomes overwhelmed. Each team member has a predefined role, where the Scrum master dictates timelines, Product owner defines goals and objectives and team members execute the work.
Due Dates / Delivery Timelines Products and processes are delivered continuously on an as-needed basis (with due dates determined by the business as needed). Deliverables are determined by sprints, or set periods of time in which a set of work must be completed and ready for review.
Delegation & Prioritization Uses a “pull system,” or a systematic workflow that allows team members to only “pull” new tasks once the previous task is complete. Also uses a “pull system” however an entire batch is pulled for each iteration.
Modifications / Changes Allows for changes to be made to a project mid-stream, allowing for iterations and continuous improvement prior to the completion of a project. Changes during the sprint are strongly discouraged.
Measurement of Productivity Measures production using “cycle time,” or the amount of time it takes to complete one full piece of a project from beginning to end. Measures production using velocity through sprints. Each sprint is laid out back-to-back and/or concurrently so that each additional sprint relies on the success of the one before it.
Best Applications Best for projects with widely-varying priorities. Best for teams with stable priorities that may not change as much over time.

In IT Scrum, all activities happen on the same cadence according to the project plan. Everyone agrees on a larger plan, which is broken up into smaller segments. The team does the same set of activities in cycles, or iterations performed in a prescribed manner. This is good at times, but if there is a delay, the entire project may come to a halt.

In Kanban, activities are not usually tied together in such a way. Scrum teams using Kanban as a visual management tool can get work delivered faster and more often. Prioritized tasks are completed first as the team collectively decides what is best using visual cues from the kanban board. The best part is that Scrum teams can use Kanban and Scrum at the same time. When considering Kanban vs. Scrum, there are similarities, but there are many differences between Kanban and Scrum to consider as well.

Is Kanban Scrum?

Kanban is not Scrum, and there are several distinctions between Kanban and Scrum,though they are both work methods. Kanban is a visual management method that was developed by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka in the “New New Product Development Game.” The 1986 product development strategy was a way toward “organizational knowledge creation,” according to Takeuchi and Nonaka. Today, the study and evolution of Kanban continues, and business teams are constantly finding new ways of leveraging it as a useful tool.

Today, knowledge workers use the Kanban method to improve many areas including productivity, efficiency, cycle time and quality. Kanban works well when used along side Scrum or any other Agile method. Basically, Kanban can be applied to visualize and improve the flow of work, regardless of the methodology being used to do the work.

Scrum is an iterative, incremental work method that provides a highly prescriptive way in which work gets completed. Scrum teams have defined processes, roles, ceremonies and artifacts. Work is broken up into Sprints, or set amounts of time in which a body of work must be completed before the next Sprint can begin. A sprint can be any length of time, although two-week and 30-day sprints are among the most common. Scrum status updates and prioritization meetings are led by Scrum Masters. A Scrum Master is a person on a Scrum team who is responsible for ensuring the team live by the standards set by Scrum.

Kanban can be customized to fit the processes and work systems your team and/or company already has in place. Once a work method has been either adopted or developed based on Agile principles, your team can begin using Agile tools like kanban boards and project forecasting tools to help manage projects, workflows and processes in a way that works best for everyone.

Get more information about how to apply visual management using Scrum with Kanban.

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