Scrum vs. Agile vs Kanban
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Project management has evolved significantly in recent years, and there are plenty of project management tools to help facilitate those changes, too. But anybody following project management trends will know that technology is only half the discussion. Project management methodologies like Agile, Scrum and Kanban dominate the conversation. In this article, we explore these terms with the help of industry experts.

What is the Difference Between Agile, Scrum and Kanban?

Agile is an umbrella term used to describe a project management methodology which breaks down large complex projects into smaller manageable chunks. Agile project management has been used in software development to speed up the completion of projects, but now, we see these practices being applied in a multitude of industries. "Agile is a set of guiding principles developed in 2001 published as the Agile Manifesto. Scrum and Kanban, on the other hand, are two methodologies which are considered to be Agile. Or to put it another way, if you want to work in an agile fashion, Scrum and Kanban are two ways to do it.” said Nicholas Carrier, Associate Partner at London-based Prophet.

Both Scrum and Kanban are two different agile project management methodologies with “subtle" differences. But Carrier noted how both methodologies share similarities. “Both methods use a physical board, or digital replication of one, where people move work between roughly three categories: 1) work [that needs to be done], 2)  work that is in progress, and 3) work that has been completed.”

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So What is Difference Between Scrum and Kanban?

Even though both Scrum and Kanban share similar traits, it is often mistaken that both methodologies are two sides of the same coin. But that’s far from it since both agile methodologies are entirely different. Scrum methodology breaks down the development cycle time-limited work periods, called sprints, which usually lasts for two weeks, said Jessica D’Amato, VP of Project Management at Atlanta, GA.-based Dragon Army.

"Project managers plan what initiatives will be done within the two-week sprints, as well as hold daily meetings (aka stand-ups) to check in with the team on how the project is moving along. Managers also use these stand-ups to demo new releases to the client prior to launch," said D’Amato.

In Scrum, there are at-least three prescribed roles:

  • The Product Owner - the occupier of this role is responsible for initial planning, prioritization of task and communication
  • The Scrum Master - the occupier of this role is responsible for overseeing the process during the sprint.
  • Team Members - individuals who carry out the tasks in the sprint.

Scrum has a more pre-defined structured framework, whereas Kanban is less so as D’Amato continues. "Kanban is less structured and is based on a list (aka backlog) of items to do. Kanban doesn't have a set timeframe for when items need to be done. Instead, this methodology is managed by priority of items (i.e. tickets/cards) on a Kanban Board. The board has different columns which let managers know the status of an item being worked on, including to-do's, in-progress and complete tasks.”

Joe Garner, Project Manager at Teterboro, NJ.-based Computer Design & Integration LLC, added how Kanban focuses on improving the entire process. “Kanban is a method to manage the creation of products with the vision of continual delivery while not oversubscribing development teams. Kanban is meant to be an enhancement to existing organizational processes for continued improvement while not totally changing organization's existing systems.”

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Agile Pros and Cons

Garner explains how agile methodologies, like Scrum and Kanban, provide an incremental and iterative approach to completing a project, as opposed to the traditional project management methods which follow a linear approach (aka waterfall delivery). “ [Agile] focuses on the fact there are ever-changing business requirements and needs to create a product to be consumed and shipped in smaller releasable units. [In addition], it focuses on strong teamwork, accountability and transparent [communication channels] to ensure the product aligns to client and company goals.”

But as Garner highlights how the agile management provides flexibility and room for continuous improvement, he added that this benefit could impact the final delivery date and the final product due to all the changes. "The problem that arises for digital transformation teams is that executives often believe in the benefits of agile [be it customer focused or work iteratively, etc.], but they don’t have enough resources [to carry out the work]. What often results from this disconnect between skills and expectations is stressed out teams trying to work cheaper, and faster by using the same non-agile methods as before, and therefore end up delivering low quality work,” said Carrier.

Scrum Pros and Cons

Brijmohan Bhavsar, Delivery Manager at Oak Brook, IL.-based Indusa, commented on how Scrum can provide “high transparency and visibility of the projects” and allows for greater flexibility to accommodate change. Garner added to this by mentioning how Scrums can help to “clearly define roles”, promote “better collaboration” and can help to get a project completed much quicker. “We use Scrum, even in pure strategy projects. This gets business stakeholders from multiple [department such as] marketing, operations and technology [to be] accustomed to more frequent contact, more collaborative decision making and more shared ownership of outcomes,” said Carrier.

On the contrary, Bhavsar noted how the breakdown of complicated tasks into smaller chunks could lead to "poorly defined tasks” and "risk of scope creep” (i.e. where project requirement increases due to lack of direction).

Kanban Pros and Cons

"Kanban is more of a model for presenting change through additional improvements. The process [provides] a visual of what you are doing now. The Kanban Board plays a major role in displaying the workflow, but assists with optimizing tasks between different teams” said Bhavsar.

However, Carrier explains how the lack of a structured framework found in Kanban can lead to poorer productivity. “Kanban isn’t necessarily focused on cross-functional teams and it doesn’t use sprints. We find the time-framing of sprints to be an excellent driver of increased speed, which is important in digital transformation." 

Which One Should You Choose?

To decide between these two agile methodologies, or whether you should invest in an agile framework in the first place, you need to look at your business requirements.

Bhavsar suggests to decide whether you want your projects to be completed quicker or if you want to improve the overall process. "I would suggest trying Scrum, if you just want to produce work faster. If you would like to improve your production process, use Kanban. If your projects demand a more linear workflow, implement Waterfall,”said Bhavsar.