Scrum vs. Kanban: The Ultimate Breakdown Guide

Six Sigma, Lean, PMBOK, Scrum vs. Kanban — there’s a lot of project management jargon and methodology debates thrown around that you may find confusing or unclear. However, there are a few methodologies that come to mind when you’re looking to create an effective project plan.

Project management methodologies are meant to provide teams with a framework or theory to base their project planning around. Every project management methodology has its advantages and disadvantages, but a couple of methodologies provide an advantageous way to visualize your project plan.

Both Scrum and Kanban fall under the Agile methodology umbrella, making them good frameworks for breaking down larger, complex projects into manageable chunks. Let’s take a look at the differences between the two and get to the bottom of the Scrum vs. Kanban debate.

What is Scrum?

Scrum is a project framework for implementing the Agile project management methodology. It’s a popular method for managing projects that require quick development, testing, and release of products. 

The Scrum framework breaks a project down into short one- to four-week iterations, called sprints. A Scrum team, generally led by a Scrum master, works to deliver an iteration or version of the final project at the end of each sprint. Scrum teams also have daily standup meetings to discuss progress and boost team collaboration. 

To learn more about Scrum, check out our guide on Scrum for Newbies: How To Use Scrum to Tame Chaos.

What is a Scrum Board?

A Scrum Board is a tool that helps you manage and monitor your Scrum project. It helps you visually track what work is remaining on your product backlog, what items are assigned to your sprint backlog, and how work is progressing within your active sprint.

While a Scrum Board can be a physical board with notes or cards attached, they tend to be digital, online boards included in many project management platforms.

Procurify, a purchasing software startup in Canada, found that they saved 70% of their time by planning their sprints using a collaboration tool. They now have visibility into one another's work and can collaborate across different teams. 

Here are some pros and cons of using the Scrum method and Scrum Boards to manage your projects: 

Pros:

  • Mistakes can be rectified and potential problems avoided
  • Changes are easily accommodated due to short sprints with constant feedback
  • You can change development at any stage as the process increases in flexibility
  • Clients get access to a transparent process, which allows them to trace the entire procedure and measure individual productivity
  • Scrum methodology is often budget-friendly due to its simplicity

Cons:

  • It’s iterative in nature, so it requires continuous feedback from the team to improve the process
  • This process requires a lot of trust within the team. If governance is too strict, the entire project can fail
  • It’s not easy for a team member to leave during the process
  • Scope creep might occur if no deadline is provided
  • It doesn’t come with any predicted time limit and cost valuations, which can result in several sprints
  • There is greater pressure on team members, and they have to spend a large amount of time on project development

What is Kanban?

Kanban is another popular Agile framework. But, unlike Scrum, Kanban is less time-based and more focused on managing the volume of work in process (WIP). 

The Kanban framework was designed to help maintain a continuous flow of productivity while ensuring no one on the team is overworked or overwhelmed. It helps project teams reduce bottlenecks, improve efficiencies, increase quality, and boost overall output.

To learn more about Kanban and Kanban software development, check out The Ultimate Guide To Kanban Methodology.

What is a Kanban Board?

Traditionally, Kanban involves a planning whiteboard or chalkboard, where statuses such as “Planned,” “In Progress,” “In Review,” etc., are all listed out. 

Each deliverable is then written down on a Post-It and placed under the proper status. As the deliverable moves through the stages, the Post-It moves on the project status whiteboard.

Scrum vs. Kanban: The Ultimate Breakdown Guide 2

Here are some pros and cons of using Kanban and Kanban boards to manage your projects:

Pros:

  • It helps push work that often gets “stuck” through to completion
  • It’s great for separating work based on the assignee
  • It’s ideal for deliverables highly dependent on their status
  • It’s easy to set up and implement anywhere
  • Workloads are visible and easily malleable (especially with Wrike’s drag-and-drop feature!)
  • You can quickly check and evaluate productivity across your team

Cons:

  • Since there are no time constraints, deliverables can move slower
  • Outdated Kanban boards can derail productivity
  • If you’re using the traditional whiteboard organization system, it’s difficult to associate actual work with the board itself. (Wrike can help with that.)

Kanban vs. Scrum: What are the differences?

Kanban and Scrum are both project frameworks built to help teams embrace the Agile methodology, values, and principles. As such, they have a number of similarities. Both frameworks encourage process improvement, team collaboration, and breaking projects down into smaller and more manageable chunks. 

But, Kanban and Scrum have significantly different approaches in how they choose to implement these principles. Here are five essential areas where Kanban and Scrum vary:  

Roles and responsibilities

Scrum has three specific roles, each with its own pre-defined responsibilities:

  1. Scrum master: Acts as a facilitator and coach. Their job is to help remove bottlenecks and keep the team moving forward in the right direction. 
  2. Product owner: Creates the product roadmap and is in charge of ensuring the customer’s needs and wants are correctly translated into working product features. 
  3. Team member: The Scrum team members do the bulk of the project work. They’re a self-managed team involved in planning, executing, and reviewing project sprints and their outcomes. 

Kanban doesn’t prescribe roles like Scrum does. In fact, one of the four principles of Kanban states that teams should maintain their current roles and responsibilities. The belief behind this principle is that teams will adopt the framework more easily if they don’t have to worry about changing job titles and descriptions. 

Delegation and prioritization

Scrum is based around the idea of self-managed teams working together to complete a project. The product owner may ultimately have the final say over what features or tasks take priority on the product backlog (a list of all the features, tasks, and work to be completed on the project), as they’re acting as a representative for the client’s needs. But, the entire team provides input into which tasks will be tackled in a sprint. 

Scrum team members also typically have full autonomy when it comes to completing work within the sprint. They can select which items they work on when, as long as it’s all accomplished by the end of the sprint. 

Kanban encourages collaboration and leadership at all levels, but it doesn’t embrace the self-managed team the same way Scrum does. Since Kanban promotes teams maintaining their old roles, past team structures tend to dictate how delegation is handled. 

Commonly, the manager will be in charge of prioritizing work and actively managing the workflow. They may delegate specific tasks to certain individuals or allow them to be tackled as "first come, first served." 

Modifications and changes

Scrum and Kanban handle modifications and changes in very different ways. 

In Scrum, a sprint is planned prior to its start, the team executes its work, and the sprint ends with product delivery and review. Any customer feedback, issues, bugs, or requested changes are then added to the overall product backlog and worked into future sprints based on priority. 

Changes that are identified mid-sprint will not be tackled until future sprints unless an issue is significant enough that it must be addressed right away. This approach means that the sprint timelines do not change, but additional sprints may need to be added to the overall project if enough change requests occur. 

In Kanban, changes can be made at any point in time, and immediate modifications are actively encouraged. This may impact the project timeline, depending on the severity of the change. 

Kanban was originally created by Toyota for car manufacturing, and it is often used for tackling a lot of the same tasks or pieces of work. In this type of scenario, where products are interchangeable, the emphasis is on delivering a certain volume rather than a certain piece. So, when a product is found to be damaged, defective, or in need of rework, it’s usually pulled out of the workflow to be scrapped or modified.  

Productivity measurement

Scrum relies on metrics such as velocity and burndown rates to measure productivity. 

  • Velocity tracks the amount of work a team is completing during a sprint.
  • Burndown charts show how much work is remaining to be completed. 

Together, these tools help illustrate how productive the team has been so far and how productive they must continue to be in order to complete the project on time.

Kanban tends to monitor cycle time, lead time, and work in progress to assess productivity. 

  • Cycle time measures how long it takes for a task to be completed. This measurement usually takes an average of how long work is in progress. 
  • Lead time is a broader metric that measures how long from when a task was identified or added to your Kanban board until it was completed. 

Imagine you were assigned a task Monday morning, you started working on it Wednesday morning, and you completed it by the end of the day on Friday. In this scenario, your lead time was five days (Monday to Friday), and your cycle time was three days (Wednesday to Friday). 

  • Work in progress measures the average volume of tasks in the ‘in progress’ stage on your Kanban board. 

Due dates and delivery timelines

In Scrum, sprints are typically one to four weeks in length, and a product increment, or a version of the product, is delivered at the end of each sprint. Any supporting documentation, such as training materials, would also be delivered at this time. There are rarely mid-sprint due dates or deliveries. 

The exception would be when interdependent tasks are both assigned to the same sprint. If task B cannot start until task A is completed, then task A may be given an early enough due date to ensure both get done in time for delivery. However, often there is no formal due date assigned, and the team simply manages these dependencies in their daily standup meetings. 

Kanban is based around the idea of continuous deliveries. Kanban teams often work on independent tasks, products, or deliverables. So, once a piece of work is completed, it can be delivered to the customer right away. 

Teams may choose to group deliveries, so they’re not constantly sending one item at a time, but the way they do this is up to them. For instance, you may choose to ship every Friday or each time you hit 20 completed pieces. 

As for due dates, Kanban’s primary focus tends to be on cycle time and lead time rather than which piece of work is due when. This means that due dates tend to be based on target turnaround times rather than on when customers expect deliveries.

For example, if the goal is an average cycle time of five days, then each card may have a due date of five days from when work is assigned, even if it's not being delivered to the customer until the end of the month. 

Which project plan board and framework is better for organizing a project?

The answer to when to use Kanban vs Scrum depends on the type of project you’re planning. Scrum and Kanban are best suited for different projects.

But here’s a brief analysis:

  • For one-off projects that have many variables and uncertainties, are more deadline-oriented, and involve a larger team, Scrum is a better framework and project plan board.
  • For projects that you’ve done before or are recurring, involve many deliverables, and require keeping a close eye on individual capacity, Kanban is a better framework and project plan board.

Scrum vs. Kanban: Does it have to be either-or? 

There is a third option, called Scrumban. It’s a combination of the two frameworks that attempts to provide a middle ground for teams who find Kanban too flexible and Scrum too rigid. 

If you’d like to know more, check out our article What You Need to Know About Scrumban.

Regardless of the project you’re tasked with, change is inevitable. Embracing an Agile methodology is the first step to improving collaboration, refining consistent processes, and having that flexibility built in, so you and your team are equipped for whatever is thrown your way.

Now that you've landed on the right methodology for the job, learn how to write a project plan here. Or sign up for a free two-week trial of Wrike project management software and discover how our Kanban and Scrum templates can help you use whichever framework you desire.

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