Scrum vs Kanban: The great debate

Michael Betine
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November 13, 2021
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Scrum vs Kanban: The great debate

In any tech team, you inevitably wind up in debates about Scrum and Kanban. Both of these popular software methods help workers to self-organize, collaborate with others, and solve problems. While they might seem to have similar outcomes, Scrum and Kanban can actually be very different. Depending on your workplace and your goals, one method might work better than another. To find the best agile practices for your company, you need to fully understand the differences between Scrum and Kanban.

How Scrum and Kanban Work

To fully explore the differences between Scrum and Kanban, it's helpful to see how each framework functions.

The Scrum Method

Scrum uses clearly defined team roles and work processes to get work done. First, the Product Owner creates a Product Backlog with all the work for a problem. Next, a team is assigned to a specific work selection and given a set amount of time, called a Sprint, to work on it. The project is broken down into smaller chunks, and each Scrum Team member takes on a task. One employee on each team is designated to be the Scrum Master who helps keep the team up to speed and conducts daily Scrum meetings to update everyone. After the Sprint is finished, the whole Team reviews the results and sees if they need to make any adjustments to their approach.

The Kanban Method

Kanban encourages heavy visualization. Employees create a board with columns that represent workflow steps and individual cards that represent tasks. As employees work, they move items from a "To Do" column into a "Done" column. Individual tasks are meant to be divided into very small categories, so you do not end up with multiple items labeled as works in progress. Though not required, companies are encouraged to have a Team Kanban Meeting each day. Members talk about what they have completed and what tasks they will be working on for the day.

The Main Differences Between the Two Methods

The primary difference between Kanban and Scrum is simply that Kanban tends to have fluid, continuous methodologies while Scrum uses short, structured sprints. In Kanban, workers are constantly in motion, cycling tasks through the to-do, work in progress, and done phases. Meanwhile, Scrum involves fast bursts of work divided by meetings, reviews, and planning stages. Due to the way each methodology is set up, there are many other things that set these two methods apart.

Implementation Methods

A key difference is that Kanban is always visual. The Kanban board is an essential part of how the methodology works. While Scrum can incorporate visual guidelines, it is not strictly necessary. Instead, Scrum focuses on verbal communication, including emails and spoken conversations.

Workplace Hierarchy

An important distinction between the two styles is that Scrum always calls for clear roles. There is a Product Owner who oversees everything, a Scrum Master who manages individual teams, and all the other team members underneath the Scrum Master. Kanban can involve management, but using the method doesn't require employees to fit into a rigid hierarchy.

Method of Software Release

Due to the intrinsically different ways they are run, Scrum and Kanban tend to result in different software release models. Scrum tends to encourage regular updates, with software only being released at the end of a Sprint. Meanwhile, Kanban allows for continuous delivery, where new changes are constantly integrated into the central repository.

Approach to Change

Kanban is often called a more versatile method, since you can add new work items to your backlog at any time. The workflow constantly adjusts due to changing priorities, new team members, and feedback. In Scrum, this sort of change is inadvisable. Instead, team members are encouraged to continue working a task within the original parameters and only make scope changes during the end of a sprint review.

Pros and Cons of Scrum and Kanban

As you can see, these two methods are fairly different. To choose between them, take a look at the pros and cons of each methodology.

The Pros and Cons of Scrum

There are many advantages to Scrum, including:

  • Scrum is fairly simple, so it doesn't require lengthy training to understand.
  • The heuristic approach makes it easy to deal with unexpected problems that arise.
  • Each employee's agency and particular skill set is respected.
  • The Scrum Team encourages people to work together and focus on a single goal.
  • The Team gets clear feedback on their tasks and recognition when they do well.
  • Code is integrated and tested during each review, resulting in a more seamless transition.

However, Scrum isn't for everyone. Some potential downsides can include:

  • The lack of a specific end date can end up leading to scope creep.
  • Less-committed individuals have less incentive to get work done.
  • The focus on communication and social problem-solving can be challenging for more introverted employees.
  • If employees leave during the project, it can be tricky to integrate newcomers onto the team.
  • Scrum might not work well for exceptionally large teams

The Pros and Cons of Kanban

For many workplaces, Kanban is highly advantageous. It comes with perks such as:

  • The written records of items reduce workplace misunderstandings.
  • Kanban is extremely versatile, making it easy to add tasks or whole new steps to the project.
  • Since there is less need for supervision, Kanban saves time and prevents micromanagement.
  • Kanban is focused on event completion, not deadlines, so it works well for certain types of software development.
  • Employees are not restricted to rigid roles.

Despite all these benefits, there are also some potential issues to be aware of.

  • The lack of specific timeframes may be problematic in some workplaces.
  • Kanban doesn't work well when companies want to build software in iterations. They might need to incorporate other frameworks like Scrum.
  • It can take a little time to set-up the visual framework in the first place.
  • Staff members who aren't willing to update the Kanban board promptly can cause confusion.

Which Methodology Is Right for You?

Ultimately, Scrum and Kanban can both be highly effective. It really just depends on the type of team you have and the type of work you want to accomplish. Remember that both methods can be adjusted to suit your workplace. Many companies like to follow the basic outline of Scrum while incorporating the visual boards of Kanban. Here are some questions to ask yourself when trying to choose a methodology.

Is the Task Time Oriented?

If you have a strict deadline in time, Scrum is almost always the better choice. Being able to break a project up into small pieces that have to be done in a set amount of time is very useful. Furthermore, all the feedback and discussion of Scrum let you get an idea of your team's capabilities. This allows you to set a more accurate deadline in the future.

Does Your Team Prefer Flexibility?

In some workplaces, structure and micromanagement can actually get in the way of getting work done. Whether or not you need flexibility will depend on both the type of work you do and your individual team member's personalities. In cases where you can benefit from flexibility, Kanban is a great option.

Are You Working With Other Teams?

Since Scrum divides work into small, clearly definable segments, it can be useful when you are working alongside other teams. The communication involved in Scrum meetings and reviews makes it easy to ensure various teams understand each other full and get necessary work done on deadlines. One exception to this rule is if you work with other, unpredictable teams. The flexibility of Kanban helps with things like delayed hardware installations or sudden new projects.

Do You Struggle With Distractions and Bottlenecks?

Unlike Scrum, Kanban actively works to minimize the amount of tasks that are labeled as "Works in Progress." Ideally, people should not be taking on new products while there are still in progress items that need work. This can cut back on distractions among staff members. It also helps to reveal when a task has become a bottleneck that keeps others from getting work done.

Eminent Is Here to Help

Whichever work method you prefer, Eminent is happy to assist you with making your workplace more efficient. Our team is fully trained in both approaches. This makes it easy to find an engineer who seamlessly fits into your company's work process.

To learn more about our services or hire a software engineer for your team, sign up with Eminent today.

Michael Betine
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