Kanban vs. Scrum – How to Choose?
Kanban vs. Scrum – Which is Right for my Team?
Clients frequently ask us when they should use Kanban and when they should use Scrum. To form a recommendation, these are some of the questions we ask:
What best describes the nature of your team’s work? Is it complex, risky, and/or new feature-oriented or is it well-defined, fluid, and/or more service-oriented?
If you answered yes to complex, risky, and/or new feature-oriented, score 1 for Scrum. If you answered yes to well-defined, fluid, and/or more service-oriented, score 1 for Kanban. The Scrum framework is designed to address complex, adaptive problems. Kanban is a Lean method applied to a team’s process in order to improve flow.
Do your priorities change often? Do you have trouble locking scope for 1-2 weeks at a time? Do you have more than 25% scope churn during a 2 week period?
If you answered yes to these questions, score 1 for Kanban. By dropping the fixed timebox, it may allow your team to adapt more easily to the quickly changing priorities of your business.
Do your teams struggle to break features into incremental pieces of value to be delivered in less than a week?
If you answered yes, score 1 for Scrum. Both approaches work best when you break your work down into small incremental pieces. The Scrum Sprint timebox can help teams new to the practice recognize their deficiency (work not completed at the end of the sprint) and adapt (retrospective).
Can teams break work down to reasonably small, similarly sized chunks?
If yes to these, score 1 for Kanban. Kanban removes the overhead of estimation in favor of measuring cycle time for like-sized items.
Do your teams have a strong culture of continuous improvement and self-organization?
If so, score 1 for Kanban. The lightweight framework method that Kanban provides works very well in a culture of continuous improvement. They will determine the right times to hold a retrospective. For teams new to this practice, a regular cadence of a retrospective ceremony will help teams establish this practice.
Do your teams need to improve their discipline with technical practices and craftsmanship, such as TDD, Continuous Integration/Delivery, Shared Ownership, etc.?
If you answered yes, score 1 for Scrum. Both approaches excel in an environment of strong technical practices. Scrum can help teams iterate through improving their technical practices and delivery, by focusing on production worthy increments, as well as Sprint Reviews and Retrospectives.
Is your team’s top priority to optimize responsiveness to customer needs?
If so, score 1 for Kanban. Kanban has a strong focus on optimizing flow, while Scrum has a stronger focus on incremental delivery. Both can be tuned to provide similar outcomes, but Kanban offers the flexibility to lower batch size to reduce cycle time at the potential cost of productivity.
Is your team’s top priority to focus on predictability and productivity for larger projects?
If so, score 1 for Scrum. Again, you can achieve predictability and a high level of productivity with both approaches. For new teams, Scrum provides more guidance and resources for how to handle release planning and progress tracking.
What is the team’s appetite for process change?
If low, then score 1 for Kanban. Kanban is a method we apply to our existing process, whereas Scrum introduces a few events that may be new to the team. So, Kanban may be easier to introduce into your organization.
Does your organization / culture demand a higher degree of ceremony and artifact?
If so, score 1 for Scrum. Not that Scrum has a high level of ceremony, but it can integrate well into a culture requiring more structure and documentation. From a Lean perspective, we may question the need for these as potential waste. The reality is that sometimes we have to fit within a certain culture and incrementally work ourselves out of it.
Both Kanban and Scrum require strong discipline and rigor to be sustainably effective. Kanban doesn’t have as many rules, which is good, but it also can be ineffective with an undisciplined team. For example, undisciplined teams may constantly carry over unfinished work with Scrum or ignore WiP (work in progress) limits with Kanban. Scrum’s Sprint time box and Kanban’s WiP Limit both challenge teams to figure out how to break work down into smaller pieces to get them to a true state of ‘done’.
Teams most commonly successful with Kanban fit into two areas:
- Support or Shared Services teams – These teams are focused on serving the organization to keep the production systems running or other critical business services. Their priorities can change on a daily basis. These teams need to be ultra-responsive. Kanban can enable these teams to optimize flow.
- Mature, disciplined, self-organizing teams. They are engaged, have well-defined processes, understand how to break down work, and are constantly swarming to solve problems and get things done.