Adapting Project Management Approaches: When And How To Use Scrum Vs. Kanban

Comparing Scrum and Kanban Methodologies

Scrum and Kanban are two popular agile project management frameworks that share some similarities but also have distinct differences. Both Scrum and Kanban aim to deliver work iteratively in small batches, encourage transparency through visualization, and promote continuous improvement.

However, Scrum provides a structured framework with specific roles, events, artifacts, and rules to follow, while Kanban is more flexible with no formal prescribed roles or procedures. Scrum uses fixed-length timeboxed sprints to deliver predefined scope and prioritize based on business value. In contrast, Kanban focuses on limiting work-in-progress (WIP) through continuous flow without timeboxed iterations.

Therefore, Scrum lends itself better to complex projects with rapidly changing requirements that need more rigor and coordination between teams. Kanban’s flexibility suits established teams with steady workflows that require improving efficiency and reducing bottlenecks.

Key Differences in Approaches

Some key differences between the Scrum and Kanban approaches include:

  • Cadences – Scrum has consistent timeboxed sprints while Kanban has continuous delivery without strict iterations
  • Roles – Scrum has distinct roles like Scrum Master and Product Owner while Kanban has no formal roles
  • Planning – Scrum requires sprint planning meetings to define upcoming work while Kanban continuously pulls work into progress
  • Commitment – Scrum commits to scope for each sprint while Kanban limits WIP without sprint commitments
  • Tracking – Scrum uses burn-downs and velocity to measure progress while Kanban relies on work flow and cycle times
  • Improvement – Scrum retrospects on sprints and plans changes for next while Kanban improves process as you go

In summary, Scrum provides a lightweight but prescriptive framework suited for complex work while Kanban offers greater process flexibility through simplicity.

When to Use Scrum Framework

The Scrum framework works well in situations with fast-changing, complex projects that require cross-functional collaboration and flexibility to adapt as requirements evolve.

Scrum Best Suited for Complex Projects Requiring Flexibility

Specifically, Scrum enables flexibility through fixed-length sprints that plan just enough work for each timeframe. After each sprint, teams can assess progress, adjust based on learnings, and continue rapid iterations to deliver the most complex projects.

For example, research initiatives, innovative software products, AI/ML models, and advanced technology platforms often have fluid requirements as discoveries emerge. Scrum sprints foster agility so teams can inspect, adapt, and incorporate new learnings through transparency and continuous improvement.

Implementing Timeboxed Sprints

Scrum delivers complex projects by dividing work into month-long or shorter timeboxed sprints. All team members commit to the sprint goal and work collaboratively to complete prioritized user stories.

Timeboxing work encourages focus, incrementally builds capabilities, and establishes cadence through fixed-length iterations. At the end of each sprint, Scrum teams create an increment of product functionality that could be potentially shippable for users to evaluate.

Daily Standups to Track Progress

To track progress through each sprint, Scrum teams start each day with lightning-fast daily standup meetings of 15 minutes or less. Standups provide visibility into work completed, next tasks planned, and any blocking issues teams need to resolve.

Daily synchronizations through active standups promote swarming as issues arise to rapidly adapt and keep sprints on track. Standups foster self-organization, collaboration, and collective ownership needed for agility with complex projects.

Retrospectives to Continuously Improve

At the close of each sprint, Scrum teams conduct sprint retrospective meetings to discuss what went well, areas for improvement, and actions to try in the next sprint.

Retrospectives enable continuous process improvements, increasing effectiveness over time. As complex projects evolve, teams identify better ways to work through inspecting their practices and adapting based on empirical data and collaboration.

When to Use Kanban System

In contrast, Kanban project management system suits established teams with predictable workflows that need to optimize delivery, reduce bottlenecks, and improve cycle times incrementally versus making radical process changes.

Kanban Effective for Established Processes

Kanban aims to map out an existing value stream and uncover opportunities to achieve smoother flow versus prescribe specific roles or ceremonies like Scrum.

By visualizing workflows on a board with columns marking stages and work items as cards, teams can limit work-in-progress to focus on finishing items before starting new ones. This lean approach increases efficiency for teams with established processes by eliminating excess partially-done work waiting in queues.

Visualizing Workflow with Kanban Boards

Kanban boards provide an information radiator to see bottlenecks clearly. Teams typically start with three columns: To Do, In Progress, and Done. Additional columns can separate stages like Code, Test, and Deploy based on the workflows.

Seeing all pending work items on cards that move across Kanban board columns gives the entire team shared understanding. Cards with key metrics like cycle times and work item age flag areas needing attention to continuously improve.

Limiting Work-In-Progress for Increased Efficiency

A core practice in Kanban is to limit how much incomplete work sits in any stage at a given time by setting work-in-progress (WIP) limits. Like reducing bottleneck on a freeway, restricting WIP enhances flow.

Too much unfinished work causes waste and delays. Teams adjust WIP limits based on metrics, available staff, and learnings to optimize efficiency. Smoothing workflows and concentrating on finishing current work before allowing more to start prevents overburdening team members.

Evolving Processes with Continuous Delivery

Rather than timeboxing work into sprints, Kanban focuses on continuous delivery by pulling work into progress only when capacity exists to handle more items.

New work gets prioritized in the backlog but won’t start and overwhelm teams. As work items finished, teams pull the next item into flow. Little by little, processes evolve by making small enhancements regularly versus big batch changes after each sprint.

Hybrid Approaches

While Scrum and Kanban present contrasting approaches, real-world project management often combines aspects of both frameworks.

Hybrid models blend Scrum events, artifacts, and roles with Kanban’s focus on visualizing workflow and limiting WIP for flexible yet structured agile project management.

Combining Scrum and Kanban Strategies

Integrating Scrum and Kanban strategies balances the structure and agility from Scrum with continuous process improvements from Kanban.

For example, some product teams institute Scrum rituals like sprint planning, standups, sprint reviews for stakeholders, and retrospectives to inspect and adapt.

At the same time, they incorporate Kanban practices like limiting work-in-progress between key stages, visualizing workflow constraints, and focusing on finishing work rather than starting new features.

Sprint Planning with Kanban Workflows

Hybrid teams often introduce Kanban workflow analysis and metrics into sprint planning discussions to optimize commitments for the upcoming iteration.

Scrum sprint planning determines team capacity based on historical velocity, leaving room for unpredictable issues. Meanwhile, Kanban metrics around cycle times, throughput, and WIP constraints guide more accurate forecasting and priority-setting.

The outputs integrate into a Scrum sprint backlog with acceptance criteria and story points while factoring in Kanban aspects such as blocking dependencies to pull in work only when there is capacity.

Limiting Sprint Scope with WIP Limits

Even within sprints, instituting WIP limits promotes focus on finishing current work before pulling in additional user stories to match capacity.

For example, if analysis or testing become bottlenecks, teams restrict how much work enters those columns to prevent too much unfinished work overflowing across stages of the workflow.

WIP limits contain scope creep and infeasible commitments while encouraging greater throughput of work incrementally moving to done each day of the sprint.

Blending Retrospectives and Process Evolution

Scrum retrospectives can integrate Kanban metrics into reflections on what went well or posed challenges in the sprint. Cycle time, throughput trends, cumulative flow, and other analytics quantify opportunities to streamline workflows.

Just as Scrum retrospectives inspect and adapt sprint execution, Kanban focuses on evolving processes incrementally between iterations. Blending these practices fuels data-driven continuous improvements tied to Scrum sprints rather than only at milestone project transitions.

Choosing Right Approach for Each Project and Team

In the end, project and team dynamics should guide whether to apply pure Scrum, integrated Scrum/Kanban hybrid, or standalone Kanban system for optimal agility.

Complex projects with lots of unknowns and learning benefit from Scrum sprints to incrementally gain clarity. But established teams working on predictable enhancements to live systems thrive with Kanban to optimize efficiency.

Choose the best practices from both frameworks to tailor a lightweight agile approach that fits each project’s complexity and evolves team collaboration through greater transparency.

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