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Plutora Blog - Agile Release Management, DevOps, Release Management

Kanban vs Scrum: Which One is Right for You?

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Kanban vs Scrum is a question often debated by teams looking to switch from a waterfall development process to an agile solution. Both of these project management methodologies are agile frameworks with the same goal: a product development process that determines how your team works together to learn from and accomplish tasks.

And while Kanban and Scrum are sometimes used interchangeably, they couldn’t be any more different. Both frameworks are tried and true but it’s highly likely one of them will prove to be a better fit for the needs of your own unique audience, team, and products.

A lot of the challenges facing product development strategy today revolve around the liquid expectations of our consumers. Languishing in theoretical product creation is a luxury of the past; high intensity output of perfect (or near-perfect) product is the new norm. And, to make matters even more high stakes, competitors are also now releasing products in less than half the time it used to take.

As many companies find themselves in perpetual development mode, simplifying the delivery cycle and limiting WIP (work in progress) become more and more important. Systems like Kanban and Scrum are attractive solutions because they help users get feedback sooner since the speed and efficiency of the process gets the product in the hands of customers faster, allowing companies to react to their feedback. This also creates a more steady cycle of delivery, propelling product success through a clean and measurable track.

Kanban Definition

Kanban is an agile framework that focuses on continuous development and delivery. This process achieves a flow state by taking on a number of small tasks simultaneously while also limiting work in progress. End results are achieved and delivered at the discretion of the development team, whose workflow typically involves a continuous stream of requests.

In the Kanban process, change is a given. An example of a successful Kanban structure includes the following series of events: Backlog, On deck, Doing, Validating, and Done. But no matter what steps users choose to include, Kanban systems are most commonly managed using a whiteboard layout, with tasks written on sticky notes that move from column to column. Overall, the system can be molded into a structure that is as flexible as it is unpredictable, making Kanban a highly customizable option.

In order to bring a little more precision to the system, Kanban methodology puts limitations on the number of tasks included in any given project area. If tasks start to bottleneck, teams work together to troubleshoot and clear the way for more work to be added.

And, in terms of continued education and improvements, both Kanban and Scrum include meetings to discuss process changes. For Kanban especially, these check-ins usually manifest as daily standups. Their purpose is to quickly discuss the work day ahead. Checking in regularly for short bursts of time propels forward motion on each and every project.

Scrum Definition

Scrum is also an agile framework but its main focus is to provide a uniform system or set of stages (Backlog, In Progress, and Accepted) for breaking down complex tasks into intervals known as sprints. Sprints are any set period of time (typically one to three weeks) during which the entire development process of a product is completed.

This strict methodology provides consistent releases to customers expecting frequent updates. The visual workflow uses individual use stories to illustrate tasks. Because of its fixed nature, a Scrum development process highly discourages change, especially if it threatens the delivery timeline for that sprint. This makes Scrum predictable and consistent, allowing work to be completed much faster.

Process analyzation and assessments are made daily and at other regular intervals. And while Kanban relies on the team’s self-regulating, the Scrum process appoints separate but equal positions to oversee the big picture (Product Owner), conduct daily operations (Scrum Master), and work on the product itself (the Development Team).

Kanban vs Scrum: Which One is Better?

While no one can truly determine which methodology has greater value, the decision should be made based on the individual needs of your team. Both Kanban and Scrum efficiently reduce WIP and simplify the delivery cycle, helping teams get feedback sooner through a more steady cycle of delivery. They also provide visual assets that allow for greater optimization and progress tracking. Not to mention, Kanban and Scrum have built-in mechanisms for evaluating and learning from each project iteration, so development processes continue to improve regardless of the chosen structure.

These commonalities are what usually confuse project managers about the Kanban vs Scrum topic, but there are certain defining characteristics of teams who use one over the other that should bring even more clarity to the decision-making process.

Kanban vs Scrum: Which One Should You Choose for Software Delivery?

Kanban might be right for your team if you agree with any of the following statements:

  • Your team deals with a variety of projects. Competing priorities and differing project scopes fuse nicely with Kanban’s flexible nature, so large changes mid-process do not ultimately have a negative impact on the outcome.
  • Your team thrives within a highly customizable workflow. One of Kanban’s greatest strengths is the ability to play to the specialities of your team members. Loose timeframes and tasks make for a more creative environment where developers get to focus on using their best skill sets to their fullest potential.
  • You value collaboration above all else.  Because teams aren’t bogged down by concrete deadlines, it is their collective responsibility to keep things flowing in the right direction. The end result is usually higher quality, with more focus on the end-user experience than similar products created using Scrum.
  • You don’t have time or interest in additional training. Scrum requires users to have education and experience with its best practices. Kanban lets you figure it out as you go since inefficiencies can be addressed and redirected to create new stages of the process when and where needed.

Scrum might be right for your team if you identify with one or more of the following:

  • You have a dedicated team whose attention is solely focused on a singular development process. One of the most common pitfalls of first-time Scrum users is leaving the option open for team members to take on additional work or outside projects. Given the fast-paced nature of Scrum, sharing resources or personnel is really not an option.
  • You favor project delivery dates that are set in stone. The all-or-nothing nature of Scrum is appealing to its users. Either the product is released on time or it isn’t released at all; there is no in-between.
  • Your audience requires fast and consistent product releases. At the end of the day, your customers determine your deadlines.
  • Your team works best in a highly structured environment. Scrum’s systematic nature makes it easy to analyze and learn from products quickly. Breakneck product development speeds offer a highly educational experience for employees motivated by this management style. If you choose Scrum, it’s likely that your team is comprised of talented and nimble coders. Though Kanban users have them too, Scrum absolutely requires high speed and a low percentage of errors across the board.
  • Your team is dependent on other teams and vice versa. You may also conform to a structure with built-in dependency on other teams. This makes it especially vital for iterations to align for a larger release.

Kanban vs Scrum: Which Tools Should I Use?

Managing Agile comes with a lot of challenges regardless of which agile methodology you choose. Even if you’re not ready to decide on Kanban vs Scrum today, the good news is you can get a jump start on implementing tools since most programs work for both.

When selecting the right tools, make sure they provide end-to-end visibility. For both Kanban and Scrum, their visual components are what keep teams on track and alert for any possible obstacles. You’ll also want to choose an option with unlimited workflow controls which is important for Scrum but especially useful when using Kanban since changes are inevitable.

And finally, neither methodology is worth its weight without a tool that allows for excellent team and resource collaboration. Agile methods are all about creating and releasing higher caliber products in a more efficient way, so it makes sense that teams who adopt these structures will need to acquire a tool for managing multiple pipelines of delivery at the same time. Industry leaders like Plutora include these features and more, so be sure to check out the full selection here.

When choosing between Kanban vs Scrum, be sure to experiment to see what best suits your style and preferences. It’s vital that you empower yourself and your team to make decisions about what tools and methodologies are right for your products. No matter what you choose, finding a tool like Plutora to interconnect the systems that provide alignment and visibility into the development effort goes a long way towards making your efforts successful. Leading systems like Plutora also add features like compliance gates into every delivery cycle. When cycle visibility is maximized in these ways, companies can better align IT with their most important business objectives.