Kanban vs Scrum

What is Kanban vs Scrum?
Definition of Kanban vs Scrum
Kanban methodology focuses on constraining work queues, managing and improving end-to-end flow, optimizing underlying processes to eliminate waste through principles of small continual capability delivery, incremental evolution and just-in time planning. Scrum framework iterates fixed timeboxed sprints towards building a potentially releasable product increment each one using bundled rituals, artifacts and team specific roles allowing structured flexibility balancing certainty with uncertainty each iteration through cadence.

In the world of product management and operations, two methodologies have emerged as popular choices for teams seeking to improve efficiency and productivity: Kanban and Scrum. Both are subsets of Agile methodology, a broader approach to project management that emphasizes flexibility, collaboration, and customer satisfaction. However, despite their shared roots, Kanban and Scrum each have unique characteristics and are best suited to different types of projects and teams.

This glossary entry will delve into the intricacies of both Kanban and Scrum, providing a comprehensive comparison of the two methodologies. We will explore their origins, key principles, and implementation strategies, as well as the benefits and potential drawbacks of each. By the end of this entry, you should have a clear understanding of how Kanban and Scrum can be used in product management and operations, and which might be the best fit for your team.

Overview of Kanban

Kanban is a visual workflow management method originally developed by Toyota in the 1940s as a means to improve manufacturing efficiency. The term "Kanban" is Japanese for "billboard" or "signboard", reflecting the method's emphasis on visual cues. In the context of product management and operations, Kanban involves visualizing the entire workflow on a board, with each task represented by a card that moves from one column to the next as it progresses through the workflow.

The primary goal of Kanban is to identify potential bottlenecks in your process and fix them, so work can flow through it cost-effectively at an optimal speed or throughput. It promotes continuous collaboration and encourages active, ongoing learning and improving by defining the best possible team workflow.

Key Principles of Kanban

The Kanban method is built on four core principles: start with what you do now, agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change, respect the current process, roles, responsibilities, and titles, and encourage acts of leadership at all levels. These principles are designed to promote gradual improvement without disrupting current workflows, and to foster a culture of shared responsibility and continuous learning.

Alongside these principles, Kanban utilizes a set of six general practices: visualize, limit work in progress, manage flow, make policies explicit, implement feedback loops, and improve collaboratively, evolve experimentally. These practices provide a framework for implementing Kanban at the team level, and are designed to be flexible and adaptable to the unique needs of each team.

Implementing Kanban

Implementing Kanban involves creating a Kanban board, which can be a physical board with sticky notes or a digital tool, and mapping out your team's workflow. Each task or work item is represented by a card, which moves from left to right across the board as it progresses through the workflow. This visual representation allows teams to easily see the status of work and identify any bottlenecks or areas of congestion.

One of the key aspects of Kanban is limiting work in progress (WIP). This means that a limit is set on the number of work items that can be in a particular stage of the workflow at any one time. By limiting WIP, teams can reduce multitasking, focus on completing tasks, and ultimately improve efficiency and throughput.

Overview of Scrum

Scrum, on the other hand, is a framework for project management that emphasizes teamwork, accountability, and iterative progress towards a well-defined goal. It was first defined as a "framework for managing and controlling iterative work at the project level" in 1986 by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka. Scrum is best suited for projects with rapidly changing or highly emergent requirements.

Scrum divides projects into small, manageable chunks called sprints, which typically last between one and four weeks. The team sets a goal for each sprint, and work items are prioritized and added to a sprint backlog. At the end of each sprint, the work is reviewed and the next sprint is planned.

Key Principles of Scrum

Scrum is built on the principles of transparency, inspection, and adaptation. Transparency requires all aspects of the process to be visible to everyone involved, inspection involves regularly checking the progress and quality of work, and adaptation means adjusting plans and processes in response to inspection results. These principles are designed to ensure that the team is always moving towards the project goal and that any issues or obstacles are addressed promptly.

Scrum also utilizes a set of roles, events, and artifacts to provide structure and facilitate the implementation of these principles. The roles include the Product Owner, who is responsible for maximizing the value of the product, the Scrum Master, who facilitates the Scrum process, and the Development Team, who do the work. The events include the Sprint, Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, and Sprint Retrospective. The artifacts include the Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog, and Increment.

Implementing Scrum

Implementing Scrum involves assembling a Scrum team and defining a product backlog, which is a prioritized list of work items or features. The team then plans the first sprint, selecting a set of items from the product backlog to work on. During the sprint, the team holds daily Scrum meetings to discuss progress and plan work for the next 24 hours.

At the end of the sprint, the team holds a Sprint Review to demonstrate the work completed during the sprint and get feedback from stakeholders. This is followed by a Sprint Retrospective, where the team reflects on the sprint and identifies areas for improvement. The process then begins again with the next sprint.

Comparing Kanban and Scrum

While both Kanban and Scrum are Agile methodologies and share some similarities, they also have key differences. The main difference lies in how they approach work. Scrum works in sprints, providing a structured, time-boxed framework, while Kanban focuses on continuous flow, with work being pulled as capacity allows.

Another key difference is in roles and responsibilities. Scrum has defined roles for Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Development Team, while Kanban does not prescribe any specific roles. The Scrum framework includes specific events and artifacts, while Kanban is less prescriptive and more flexible.

When to Use Kanban

Kanban is best suited for teams that require flexibility and have a continuous flow of new work, such as support or maintenance teams. It's also a good fit for projects where priorities can change frequently, as it allows for new work items to be added to the board at any time.

Kanban can also be beneficial for teams that are new to Agile methodologies, as it is less prescriptive and easier to adopt incrementally. It's also a good choice for teams that need to manage work across multiple teams or departments, as the visual nature of the Kanban board makes it easy to see the status of work at a glance.

When to Use Scrum

Scrum is best suited for projects with defined goals and a stable set of requirements. It's a good fit for teams that can dedicate a set amount of time to each sprint, and for projects that benefit from regular reviews and adaptations.

Scrum can also be beneficial for teams that need a structured framework to manage complex projects, as it provides clear roles and responsibilities, and a set of events and artifacts to guide the process. It's also a good choice for teams that need to deliver regular, incremental updates to a product, as the sprint structure facilitates this.


In conclusion, both Kanban and Scrum offer valuable approaches to managing work and improving efficiency in product management and operations. The best choice depends on the specific needs and context of your team and project. By understanding the principles and practices of both methodologies, you can make an informed decision and choose the approach that will best support your team's success.

Remember, Agile methodologies like Kanban and Scrum are not a one-size-fits-all solution. They are frameworks that can be adapted and tailored to fit your team's unique needs and circumstances. The key is to embrace the Agile values of collaboration, flexibility, and continuous improvement, and to always keep the needs of your customers at the forefront of your work.