Brief Introduction to Kanban and Scrum
Kanban is a method for optimizing and managing workflows, which lets you visualize processes on a Kanban board and continuously process work items. The work in progress limits at each stage of the workflow allow your team to use its capacity in an optimal way. In other words, Kanban helps you optimize your existing process with a set of principles.
On the other hand, Scrum is a framework that is highly prescriptive, compared to Kanban. Scrum requires detailed and restrictive planning, has predefined processes and roles.
In Scrum, the work is divided into a set of smaller tasks that have to be completed in a predefined period of time (sprint). Also, adding new work items during a sprint is highly discouraged, making new work wait for a new sprint and thus reducing the ability of a team to react to change.
Now that we know the fundamental differences between the two concepts, let’s dig in a little bit deeper and see what are the similarities and the differences of between Kanban and Scrum software solutions. Or can we say Kanban vs Sprint?
Visualization: Scrum Board vs Kanban Board
Just like the Kanban method itself, Kanban software relies heavily on Kanban boards where your team would map all its processes and all of the work items. This allows for unprecedented work visibility and full transparency into its progress.
Each work unit becomes a card on a board that has columns that help visually communicate work stages and swimlanes that could visualize the priority or type of work inside of each lane.
Scrum software used to focus more on largely text-centered interfaces, turning work epics function into something more like folders with items inside. Recently, popular Scrum tools started integrating boards similar to such in Kanban software to visually display work stages and work items themselves.
However, on a Scrum board, your team would have to add all stories (units of work) at the beginning of each sprint and keep the list intact until the end of a sprint.
Only when all of them are completed, the sprint is considered as a successful one and any new work can be reviewed and started. After each sprint, there is a retrospective meeting and the board should be reset and prepared for a new sprint. Additionally, the Scrum board is usually owned by a cross-functional team that has all the skills required for the completion of the sprint.
Last but not least, in Scrum, the work in progress limits are predefined for each sprint. This is because the team commits to accomplish an exact number of tasks during the sprint. Respectively, the total predefined number of tasks is their WIP limit.
On the other hand, a Kanban board doesn’t have to be owned by a specific cross-functional team. Kanban is more about the efficiency of a workflow. Moreover, in Kanban, WIP limits are set per workflow stage. This ensures that bottlenecks won’t appear in the work process or if they do you can easily identify them and take actions.
In a good Kanban software tool, the columns on the board are not only labeled to show workflow states but also allow you set a WIP limit for each column that restricts the maximum amount of work that can enter each work stage.
Additionally, on a Kanban board, there are no time restrictions (such as sprint length in Scrum tools) and new cards (work items) can be added at any time if WIP limits (which represent team’s optimal capacity) allow it. Therefore, a Kanban board doesn’t need to be reset periodically.
In other words, Kanban software tools are based on and actively support the continuous flow of work. Advanced Kanban boards also let you collect data for each piece of work that appears on your Kanban board and use it for locating bottlenecks, improving cycle times and else.
Planning and Remaining Work
In a Scrum software tool, there is a backlog where all future activities for the sprint are placed. In order to keep the pace of work on the right track, Scrum software tools are equipped with a Burndown Chart.
It is a fundamental performance indicator of a Scrum system that illustrates how much work remains to be completed in the project.
Generally, Burndown Charts might be good for a short overview of current progress relative to the plan, but if there is a gap in the process, it is hard to be identified through the chart. After all, it simply displays a summary of work for all team members. In other words, when something goes wrong, you’ll see it as a drop in total work finished.
However, deducting the reason of that drop is up to you alone – most Scrum tools won’t help discover the true roadblock of your project.
On the other hand, Kanban software doesn’t have a Burndown chart at all, because there is no predefined length of time in which a backlog should be finished.
Instead, digital Kanban boards usually have a Cumulative Flow Diagram, which automatically collects data for every task that enters the workflow.
This data is then used to analyze the cycle time of all assignments.
As a result, CFD can visualize both work items along with the time they’ve spent in specific work stages. This lets the team immediately see when a specific work stage starts blocking cards – the longer each card’s stay at a specific stage is, the wider the section of this stage on the diagram will get.
This means you can directly locate problematic parts of your workflow and take action, instead of simply being notified that things are not going according to the plan.
In Scrum software solutions, estimation is an essential part of the process and it is done by the entire team during the sprint planning meeting.
During the planning stage, your team agrees on the levels of difficulty for each user story. Afterward, the user stories have to be prioritized.
The main purpose of estimation process is to determine, how many work items can be executed by your team within the predefined period of the sprint. The Scrum-based software lets you assign story points to each story and keep track of them.
The estimation process is a time-consuming activity and it is often of questionable value. This is due to the fact that teams can rarely forecast the exact amount of work that can be finished for a sprint and the initial estimation often turns to be wrong.
In a typical Kanban software solution, there isn’t a predetermined estimation of work tasks, but only a task size field. The value that you enter there corresponds to the relative amount of effort needed to complete a given task. However, it is up to your team to decide whether to estimate sizes of their work tasks or not.
In Kanban, it is recommended to break down large assignments into smaller tasks. The idea is to keep tasks as small as they can be without decreasing the value of the final deliverable. This helps during the execution of the tasks and supports a steadier flow that is much more reliable than bursts of work.
Instead of estimation, good Kanban software solutions offer workflow forecasts. Because it uses historical data of actual work items, an advanced Kanban board analytics can forecast what amount of work can be completed within a predefined period of time in the future.
For example, analytics module in Kanbanize features Monte Carlo simulation. This tool can provide you with a statistically correct approximate number of tasks that your team is likely to complete within a specified time frame. All of this is mathematically calculated based on the previous history of work of a specific team.
Unlike Scrum tools, Kanban software gives you predictions based on historical data and not based on team’s unreliable assumptions.
So, Kanban or Scrum. Who Wins?
Both, Kanban and Scrum were created in order to help teams to increase their efficiency and productivity.
Picking the winner, however, is individually up to each team as both types of tools obviously come with a method or a framework attached to them.
Scrum software is helpful for the teams that decided to undergo a full Scrum transformation, with the adoption of roles, practices, and frameworks that it implies. The problem is that Scrum software won’t help you become better at work estimation and will only make it easier to document your estimations.
Kanban software, just like Kanban method itself, is significantly easier to adopt and get started with. With no process requirements or team structure changes needed, Kanban software lets you start with what you have right now and build on top.
Kanban software is in a way much more flexible, adaptable to different environments, and helpful while visualizing and optimizing any workflow despite the context.