The Most Popular Agile Methods for Project Management

Get to know the top 3 Agile methods for project management and how they differ from each other.

Introduction

The Agile movement was born in 2001 and its initial purpose was to offer guiding principles and values that will help software teams to improve development processes, be more adaptive and responsive to the ever-changing customers’ needs.

Indeed, the deeper idea of Agile was to get rid of heavyweight software development processes and suggest alternatives that will help teams manage their projects in a more flexible way. After this, different methods and frameworks were born or re-created led by the main Agile values and principles.

As Agile became a hot topic at the beginning of the 21st century, many frameworks took advantage of the rising hype and rapidly became famous (Scrum, SAFe, etc.). However, many companies seeking true business agility realized that highly prescriptive frameworks and agility are kinds of opposite things. This is why many organizations today are looking into methodologies that create and support a stable workflow and tailor the processes to their own needs, instead of adopting highly prescriptive frameworks.

Today, the most popular Agile methods or frameworks for project management are Kanban, Scrum, and Scrumban.

So, let’s start with Kanban.

Kanban

Kanban is a method formulated a decade ago. It focuses on evolutionary change and continuous process improvements.

The method has 6 core practices:

  • visualize work
  • limit work-in-progress
  • manage flow
  • make process policies explicit
  • implement feedback loops
  • improve collaboratively

Teams visualize their work on a Kanban board that serves as a central information hub where all tasks should be placed. This will allow people to exchange information much faster and collaborate more effectively while working on different projects.

Agile Kanban

A Kanban board is divided into columns which represent different stages of the workflow. This helps project managers and teams organize and manage work much better, keep track of different projects and acquire a better overview of the whole process.

One of the most important Kanban practices is limiting work-in-progress. The WIP limit is the amount of work that’s allowed to exist in each of the board columns. This is one of the most effective tools you can use to create a massive focus on your team. It will help your team focus on finishing work and improve overall efficiency.

On the other hand, we all know that projects, teams, and individuals are unique. Different teams have a different set of skills, level of experience, expertise. Different projects may have different scope, budget and so on.

This is why Kanban suggests that you should start with what you do now and evolve gradually. No drastic changes, no revolutions. This is what makes Kanban one of most adaptive Agile project management methods.

As a matter of fact, Kanban can be applied by any team in your organization from IT to marketing. The main reason is that Kanban:

  • respects the current processes and roles
  • doesn’t require revolutionary, but evolutionary changes
  • suggests you should pursue incremental, evolutionary change and try to improve continuously

If you want to use Kanban just put it on top of your current processes and start improving step by step.

Learn more about Kanban.

Scrum

Many believe that Scrum is a method, but actually, it is a prescriptive framework. By nature, it is an iterative approach that uses time-boxed intervals and split projects into fixed periods called sprints. The main purpose is to support teams to productively and creatively deliver products of the highest possible value.

There are 3 immutable roles:

  • the Product Owner
  • The Scrum Master
  • the Team

The product owner represents customers and other stakeholders. He/she organizes and manages the product backlog, which is a prioritized task list of all the work items needed for the product. On the other hand, the Scrum master is a servant-leader of the team and helps everyone understand and apply the rules correctly.

Agile Scrum

The Sprint backlog should be filled with items selected from the product backlog until the capacity for the Sprint is reached. The work itself is done by a self-organizing team during the Sprint, which may be considered as projects with a fixed length of no more than one month.

There are 4 major Scrum events:

  • Sprint Planning
  • Daily Stand Up
  • Sprint Review
  • Sprint Retrospective

An interesting fact is that in the original paper that formulates the framework and later the Scrum guide, the authors never mention the usage of a task board.

However, nowadays you can observe that all teams or organizations use a task board while practicing Scrum, which is a borrowed practice from Kanban.

After all, the board increases transparency and supports the Agile project management values.

Scrumban

As Kanban was becoming more and more popular, some people of the Agile community saw an opportunity to develop a method which makes it easy for Scrum teams to move forward and focus on continuous improvement and evolutionary change. And this is how Scrumban was born.

An interesting fact is that 81% of the Scrum masters use Kanban along with Scrum.

Scrumban takes the Kanban philosophy and practices and lays them on top of Scrum as well as it eliminates some rules.

Let’s see what Scrumban takes from Kanban.

Visualize work. This is the first thing that Scrumban prescribes as mandatory. This is very important because Scrum doesn’t mandate a board, while in Kanban the board is a must.

Limit Work in Progress (WIP). If you know anything about Kanban, you will know that limiting WIP is the game-changer. One of the most important Agile metrics. Scrumban takes this practice and applies it successfully as it makes it possible for teams to focus on finishing work. Limiting WIP is a good prerequisite for creating a pull system, where the tasks enter naturally into the workflow, instead of being pushed.

Extend the board. In other words, add more columns to the board. This is typical for Kanban and it is a great way to visualize the different workflow steps on the board. This way, your team can have a better overview of the process and it will help you discover where exactly in the process bottlenecks appear.

Prioritizing. Scrumban applies another technique from Kanban – prioritizing. It is pretty simple. You order the cards in the Requested (To Do) column and there is one simple rule: the top one is the most important. Having in mind this rule, the team starts pulling the cards one by one.

(Stop) Estimating. This is probably where Scrumban cheats on Scrum. Why is that? Scrumban states that you don’t need to estimate work. Here is the thing. According to Lean every activity which doesn’t add value to the end result is considered waste. In this sense, estimating is a wasteful activity. Here is why in Scrumban the planning sessions are relatively short and they are focused on prioritizing, instead of estimating.

Planning on demand. This is one of the main differences between Scrum and Scrumban. Scrumban eliminates Sprint planning in its initial form. Instead, the team plans if there is a need for this. In other words, the team pulls work items from the backlog until it gets empty, which is a trigger that the team should plan more tasks.

Agile Scrumban

As you can see Scrumban takes Scrum to the next level by applying the Kanban principles and practices. This allows teams to increase output and decrease waste while providing visibility and higher productivity. It also lets teams apply Agile planning in its full potential.

Other Honorable Mentions

There are other Agile project management methods that had a positive impact on developing the Agile community, but during the years they were slowly pushed aside. This is why we won’t dedicate separate paragraphs to them. However, we have to mention that some of them are: XP, Crystal, FDD, DSDM, and others.

In the beginning, Scrum was accepted pretty well (and still is) and it became mainstream in the software development industry. However, through the years, Kanban, Scrumban and the usage of hybrid models grew in popularity and it helped Agile spread across various industries. After all, Kanban, Scrum, and Scrumban are the top 3 that successfully crossed the chasm and spread across other industries such as product development, architecture, marketing, financial services, healthcare, insurance, education, and others.

In Summary

In the beginning, there were many different Agile project management methods and approaches, but during the years three of them successfully spread across various industries and became mainstream:

  • Kanban - a method that focuses on continuous improvement and helps you find the weak spots of your workflow
  • Scrum - a prescriptive framework employs an iterative, incremental approach to optimize predictability and control risk
  • Scrumban - a combination of both, that actually put the Kanban practices on top of Scrum and makes it easy for Scrum teams to focus on continuous improvement

Step 2

Agile Project Management Principles – the Foundation of Agile

Back to Previous Article
Step 4

What is Agile Planning?

Continue to Next Article