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Kanban vs. Scrum: The Key Differences

Kanban and scrum are probably words that you’ve heard a lot if you’re a project manager. Both are effective methods of agile project management, and each have their pros and cons. While both methodologies follow the same basic principle of improving efficiency of workflows, there are many things that set them apart. 

In this article we’re discussing the major differences between the Kanban method and Scrum, to help you decide which one works best for you. 

What is Kanban?

Kanban is a method of workflow management that was originally invented in Japan’s automotive industry. It consists of a visual display of your workflow, with individual tasks segmented into stages of progress. This display is known as a Kanban Board.

One of the key principles of the Kanban method is limiting your work in progress. This means keeping the amount of ongoing work at a manageable level, as to not overwork your teams. Utilising a Kanban board enables teams to visualise all ongoing and upcoming tasks, and measure average task completion times. 

Kanban is intended to allow project managers to constantly review their processes, and measure their KPIs. This helps to identify which elements of your workflow need extra attention and improvement. 

What is Scrum?

The Scrum method consists of working to sprints, which are short, iterative bursts of work. Most often utilised in software development, it is designed to be fast and flexible, with each sprint typically lasting from 2 to 4 weeks. 

The sprint process involves quickly gathering customer feedback and getting it ready to play a role in the next sprint. The method was named after a formation in Rugby where each team member plays a role. It emphasises teamwork and accountability as a Scrum team pushes towards their goal.

What is the Difference Between Kanban & Scrum?

As we’ve mentioned, both methods are designed to maximise the efficiency of a team, create value and reduce waste. So what are the major differences between Kanban and Scrum?

1) A Scrum Team has set roles, a Kanban team does not

The Kanban method does not have any rigid, predefined roles. It emphasises collaboration and flexibility, so a Kanban team is best equipped if every member has the skills needed to help each other out. 

The Scrum method utilises three main roles:

  • Scrum Master
  • Scrum Team
  • Product Owner

The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring the team keeps to the pre-established Scrum framework. They facilitate the planning of sprints, the collection of feedback from all parties and the management of stakeholders. 

The Scrum Team is the team of individuals that work together on their sprints and define the exact tasks that need to be completed. A Scrum Team does not have a direct manager, and will organise their own tasks based on the shared goal of delivering value. 

The Product Owner acts as the intermediary between the Scrum Team and the customer. They advocate on the customer’s behalf and liaise with the Scrum Master regarding their feedback. 

2) Workflows and timelines are managed differently

In the Kanban method, workflow is designed to be smooth and consistent. When tasks are completed, new ones are started. This effectively mimics a conveyor belt style of productivity. Each task is typically given an individual due date, which is determined by their need and dependencies.

Scrum workflows are centred around sprints. These are set periods of time in which a predefined bulk of work will be completed and delivered to the customer. These sprints are decided between the Scrum Master and the Product Owner. The Scrum Team determines the specific tasks to be done within the sprint that match the delivery expectations of the customer. 

3) Tasks are assigned using a different principle

When a team uses the Kanban method, tasks are assigned based on a ‘pull system’. This means team members can only pull in a new task after completing their previous task. This avoids individual workers from taking on too much work at once. 

Scrum Teams also use a similar system, however multiple tasks may be assigned to each team member for each sprint. Typically each Scrum Team member will have a set capacity per sprint, which is then filled by a per-sprint workload.

4) Task management in Scrum is more rigid than with Kanban

Because Kanban is designed to be flexible, changes can easily be made to the work stream if it improves efficiency. For instance, a task’s deadline can be rethought, or a task can be returned to the ‘TO DO’ column if more information is needed than initially thought. This allows for the workflow to be consistent, and to avoid tasks being held up.

In Scrum, tasks to be completed within a set sprint are agreed before the sprint begins, between all parties. This means that changes to the plan mid-sprint is discouraged. Before the sprint begins is the time to be reactive and flexible, but when the sprint begins, tasks should be carried out as planned.

5) Each method measures performance differently

A Kanban team measures their performance using two main metrics:

  • Lead Time – How long a task waits to be started after being planned
  • Cycle Time – How long a task takes to be completed after being started

Measuring these metrics allows a Kanban team to determine if there are any pain points in their production line. This data can then be used to continually improve the flow of the work stream.

A Scrum Team measures their performance through the velocity of each sprint. Essentially how long each sprint takes to be completed and signed off. Because sprints are planned out in advance, each one is dependent on the successful completion of the one before it. Measuring the speed of a sprint helps the team plan timelines for future sprints.

6) Kanban and Scrum are best suited for different applications

Because of how flexible Kanban has been designed to be, it can be applied to a wide variety of projects. Its range of benefits are best utilised for projects that have a wide range of deliverables or priorities that are likely to change over time. The way Kanban is designed is perfect for keeping track of changes like this. 

Scrum is a slightly more rigid way of working, and because of that it is best suited for projects that have one predefined goal. It is perhaps most commonly used in software development, where the desired end result of the project is defined from the very beginning.

Last Thoughts

While Kanban and Scrum are different in practice, they are both rooted in the goal of making workflows more effective. They both have their merits for different situations, and it is even possible to merge the two, perhaps working in Scrum-style sprints but keeping track of tasks on a Kanban style-board.

Verto 365 offers a powerful Kanban functionality designed to be flexible and dynamic, perfect for a team of collaborators. Available as a cloud-based tool or embedded within Microsoft Teams, our Kanban system is able to seamlessly integrate into your internal workflow. Learn more about our Kanban boards today!

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About the author – Laura Watts

Laura is the Marketing Manager at TMI Systems Ltd., working predominantly on Verto 365 and closely on the Microsoft partnership enabling the platform to be used in its entirety from Microsoft Teams. Laura and her family moved from London in 2021 and now live and work in Gloucestershire.