What to know about kanban vs scrum

If you’re reading this article, you’ve probably come to a crossroads in your goal to get your team to work more efficiently. Maybe you’ve researched different workflow methodologies and management strategies. Maybe your peers have highly recommended kanban and scrum. Maybe you have two factions in your office, each demanding you implement one workflow or the other.

Regardless, if it’s come down to kanban vs scrum for you, how do you choose? Both methods help teams self-organize, collaborate, and speed up product deliveries. However, they each follow different processes and vary in fundamental ways. Let’s dive in to learn more about these workflows.

Kanban vs scrum: 2 members of the agile family

During your research on kanban vs scrum, you’ve probably heard about the agile methodology. Most project management software on the market operates with this overarching framework in mind. Kanban and scrum are both under its umbrella.

Agile is a family of methodologies that focuses on iterative (repetitive or cyclical) processes to speed up development or production, improve workflows, reduce stress, and achieve higher-quality work with greater predictability. Agile primarily addresses the challenges of ongoing change, especially in software development.

Since the late 2000s and the proliferation of workflow management software, agile has influenced manufacturing, marketing, sales, and other industries dealing with knowledge work, gradually replacing the waterfall approach to project management. Agile helps teams overcome issues by encouraging collaboration, creating processes to deal with uncertainty or change, and forming new metrics for new and intangible success indicators.

How kanban works

Kanban is a Japanese word that means “signboard.” It came about as a workflow methodology at Toyota in the 1950s, transforming the organization into the auto juggernaut we know it as today. From there, software developers adopted it for their own workflow needs, and it has since migrated to many other industries as a part of the agile framework.

Kanban is a complete workflow management methodology designed to improve systems and processes over time. Companies can implement it without interrupting ongoing workflows, hierarchies, or other structures. As team members work in this new framework, it gradually reveals inefficiencies and other issues so workers can easily address and streamline them.

One of kanban’s defining features is the kanban board, which visualizes workflows as multiple stages in columns, each populated with cards representing tasks and showing where they are in the workflow.

Teams using the kanban method follow these four principles.

  1. Visualize the workflow. The kanban board divides work into three or more columns to represent stages of production — usually “to do,” “in progress,” and “done.” Businesses customize these stages specifically to project needs. Each task in the process is represented by a card, which includes the task’s assignee and other relevant information. A card’s location on the board indicates what stage it’s in.
  2. Limit work in progress. A team assigns a limit to the number of items each column or stage can contain. This prevents teams from being overwhelmed and signals when more items should be pulled into the workflow from the backlog.
  3. Focus on the process. The team pays attention to how cards move through the kanban board and how they’re distributed across the different stages of production. This will help them identify bottlenecks and work together to improve workflows.
  4. Aim for continuous improvement. The team needs to respond quickly to work in progress limits so new items are always entering the workflow as the team completes others. Remaining in perpetual flow will speed production and also highlight issues or stumbling blocks in the process that slow things down.

How scrum works

Scrum is another framework in the agile family that helps teams complete complex projects. The goal is to build a functional deliverable within a certain time frame, or sprint, that adds value for stakeholders — whether a revenue-generating product or an update that improves user experience.

In the scrum framework, teams break large projects into shorter, time-limited sprints (usually lasting two weeks). They meet daily in short gatherings called daily scrums to discuss progress and potential pivots.

Teams following the scrum framework must adopt these six principles.

  1. Iterative development: Scrum operates as a perpetual building and learning cycle, where most new projects are in some way improving upon the one that came before them, based on customer feedback and team members’ experiments or observations.
  2. Self-organization: Each individual must own their part of the project. So it’s important they focus on areas they are most skilled in or passionate about.
  3. Timeboxed work: Time is always of the essence, but in scrum’s sprint format, time management is more important than usual. To maximize efficiency, the team “timeboxes” everything — meaning they set a fixed amount of time for each activity — including daily meetings, planning meetings, review meetings, and the actual sprints.
  4. Empirical process control: In scrum, decisions are based on observations and insight. To make the best decisions, each team member must work transparently, be open to assessment, and be prepared to adapt to change.
  5. Collaboration: In scrum, teams follow a shared-value creation model, so working closely with others is paramount to achieving success.
  6. Value-based prioritization: Priorities often change — sometimes after each meeting. In scrum, however, reprioritization is always a result of insight that reveals an opportunity to create more value. This ensures teams deliver the best work at the end of each sprint.

When you can’t decide: “Scrumban”

Still undecided about which one you should implement for your team? Don’t worry — there’s actually a hybrid of the two methods called scrumban, and many workflow software platforms use it without explicitly acknowledging it.

Scrumban combines kanban’s emphasis on visualization with scrum’s structure to boost adaptability and help organizations refine their processes. Teams complete projects in short sprints and display status on a kanban board to enhance communication.

The choice between kanban vs scrum boils down to your workflow needs. Scrum is best for developing new products, while kanban is best for handling repetitive and recurring projects. But scrumban allows teams to adopt the best of both practices and use them interchangeably as they tackle different projects.

Build the best workflow with Jotform

Whether or not you’ve chosen a side in your kanban vs scrum decision, you can explore Jotform Approvals as a project management solution.

The intuitive platform makes it easy to manage tasks. You can assign work to specific team members and be automatically notified about task completion and status changes. You can also set up conditional logic rules to build robust workflows based on forms.

Even better, Jotform’s customizable forms integrate directly with kanban- and scrum-friendly workflow applications like Trello and Asana, as well as Zapier for seamless integration with platforms like Jira and KanbanFlow.

This article is originally published on Apr 11, 2022, and updated on May 09, 2022.

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