You and your team are preparing to start a new project. But you don’t just want to finish this project. You want to make the most of it. Namely, you want to maximize your team’s productivity while creating a solid product and crushing deadlines. To do this, you’ll need an approach that does more than your usual to-do lists. Enter scrum and kanban. 

Both scrum and kanban have helped notable teams improve their workflows. Below, you’ll learn about these methods and how to compare scrum vs. kanban so you can choose the approach that will help your team excel.

What is scrum?

Scrum is a set of rules, roles, and meetings designed to help your team work through a complex project. In the scrum process, your team works through a series of development cycles, or “sprints,” to develop or improve a product. Though software development teams frequently use this framework, it can be beneficial for agile project management in many other industries.

As a framework of the agile methodology, scrum has a “learn as you go” structure. You start with a broad vision and work toward achieving it. In the process, your teams learn what is and isn’t productive for accomplishing the goal. They also gradually start making the necessary changes.

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Scrum roles

There are three roles involved in scrum. You get to determine the particular responsibilities that come with each one.

  1. Product owner. This member of the scrum team focuses on the overall project and its outcome. They manage the product backlog and make sure the team is making the most valuable product possible. They’re also the bridge between the client and the development team – they tell the latter what the former wants and needs.
  2. Scrum master. This team member oversees the scrum team members and keeps their work aligned with the overall vision. They guide everyone through sprint planning meetings and brainstorming sessions. They also facilitate sprint retrospective sessions and product demos – all while tracking the team’s progress.
  3. Development team. The development team creates a plan for accomplishing the product owner’s vision. Typically, the team includes three to nine people (and never the product owner or scrum master). It sets the quality standard for the whole team’s work. The people on the development team conduct daily product inspections and make important changes.

Scrum metrics

Scrum metrics help teams track and improve their productivity and efficiency. They primarily measure deliverables, effectiveness, and the scrum team’s performance.

There are several scrum metrics. A few include sprint goals, continuous improvement, agile velocity (the average amount of work completed during a sprint), and net promoter score (customer satisfaction).

Free scrum meeting agenda template

What is kanban?

Kanban is a project management method that helps your team visualize the project development process. It gives members a big-picture view of their tasks and how far they are from the finish line. It’s a lean management style that maximizes your team’s efficiency through highly effective workflows.

Tracy Paye CPO, a professional organizer, has said that deep work supports this system. “Deep work is best achieved when the brain gets into a state of flow,” she said. “The more clear and calm your workspace, the fewer distractions, and the faster you can achieve flow.” The kanban system can help your team get into this highly productive rhythm. 

A focal point of this process is the kanban board. It divides your team’s work into columns. Each column represents a phase in the development process. You’ll write tasks on physical or digital cards and move them from one column to another as your team works through them.

Kanban roles

Roles aren’t necessary in kanban, but some teams do have two kanban roles. The first role, the service delivery manager, has the same responsibilities as the scrum master. The service request manager is basically the product owner. But that’s about as much as any scrum vs. kanban roles overlap.

Kanban’s greatest focus is completing tasks, not defining specific roles. Because of its structure, this method emphasizes collaboration. When one member’s plate is overloaded, other members can more easily step in to assist. All members work to keep each other on track, catch bottlenecks, and find solutions. The team then makes adjustments and continues onward.

This collaboration works best if you host regular kanban meetings. Here, your team members can update each other on their progress and each task’s status. These meetings are a great time to discuss how the current workflow is working and make changes. 

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Kanban metrics

The kanban method involves a few key metrics that can help your team assess their workflow. Two important metrics are lead time and cycle time. Lead time measures the time between a customer making a request and the development team delivering the finished product. Cycle time is the amount of time it takes the team to start and finish a task.

A huge part of kanban is identifying and addressing bottlenecks. That’s where a diagram called the Cumulative Flow Diagram comes in. This visual, which combines a bunch of metrics, helps teams clearly view where tasks are stacking up in the process. If you do it right, though, you won’t see too many stacks. Kanban’s work-in-progress limits should prevent bottlenecks in the first place. They limit the number of work items that can be in a kanban column in the first place.

Free kanban meeting agenda template

Scrum vs. kanban: what are the differences?

Scrum and kanban both help your team tackle big projects. But as you’ve surely noticed, they’re pretty different. Below are some of the biggest differences so you can understand exactly what sets the two apart – and choose the right one.

1Roles

With scrum, you’ll assign specific roles to certain team members who will guide the rest of the team through development. But with kanban, there typically aren’t defined roles. That doesn’t mean your project will be chaotic. It just means that your team will get less caught up in carrying out specific roles and more focused on getting things done.

2Delivery cycle

Scrum teams work in sprint cycles, typically between one and four weeks. During each cycle, your team focuses on one part of the product. On the other hand, kanban boards show a continuous cycle rather than short periods of time. Your team will keep working to move tasks through the columns until they’ve done them all.

3Change 

In scrum, your team will find a method that works for them and stick with it through an entire sprint period. This way, members spend time doing the actual work rather than figuring out how and when to do it. Kanban is a bit different: its priority is efficiency. That means your team members should always find issues – and solutions – to keep getting more efficient.

4Goalposts

Within each management method are focal points that help teams figure out how to best move through their chosen frameworks. With scrum, there’s the product backlog (project tasks) and sprint backlog (tasks specific to a sprint period). There are also product increments (the updated product at the end of each sprint). 

The kanban method relies heavily on the kanban board instead. This board allows your team to look at all the tasks together. Your team can then identify development phases where tasks are sitting and accumulating. They can then figure out how to change that.

5Tools

Several tools can help you do great things whether you choose scrum or kanban. Scrum teams often use Jira Software, a platform that helps teams visualize and customize their workflows. Axosoft, VivifyScrum, and Targetprocess also promote cross-functional collaboration and task organization for scrum teams.

Some of these same tools are effective in kanban too. However, Kanbanize, SwiftKanban, Trello, and Asana might work a bit better here. These platforms focus on individual tasks, their deadlines, and statuses.

6Key concepts or pillars

Scrum divides processes into short periods so teams can zoom in on the fine. For this reason, scrum teams must closely inspect their work and be honest with each other about improvements. Scrum also requires members to adapt on the fly to meet product requirements throughout the process.

With kanban, efficiency is key. Kanban encourages teams to stick with effective, predictable workflows so everyone stays on the same page and moves between tasks without confusion.

Scrum vs. kanban: which one is right for my team?

Both scrum and kanban have helped teams effectively tackle some pretty hefty projects. So which method should your team use? Here’s some advice to help you decide.

When to choose scrum

Many project management teams have used scrum for products that might need to evolve along the way. For example, maybe you’re creating a new product. Naturally, you might have to tweak your original ideas as you look at your resources or test it out. Or maybe you have to work around software updates and innovative competitors – or with constant client feedback. 

In these cases, scrum might be the better approach for your team. Scrum can more easily help your team members see the changes they need to make – and do exactly that in the next sprint.

When to use kanban

If your project is task-heavy, kanban might be the perfect method to see your team to the end. This method cuts out most task-based confusion. With a kanban board, your team can clearly see every task it needs to complete and how close each task is to being done. This setup helps your team excel at collaboration and productivity. It also helps you figure out which tasks regularly hold your team up and brainstorm how to speed them up.

Choosing both: Scrumban

Here’s an idea you may not have been expecting: If both options sound right for you, try combining them! Scrumban uses the core concepts of each method to define your team’s process and maximize their efficiency. It works the visual, flexibility-first aspects of kanban into scrum’s sprint periods. With this approach, your team gets the best of both worlds.

Your next project, redefined

Scrum and kanban can give you new ways to approach your projects. With either (or both) of these methods, you can find the workflow that truly brings out your team’s potential. Organization, efficiency, productivity, collaboration: They’re all within reach with scrum and kanban. So don’t be afraid to dive into your next project head-on. You have all the strategies you need to achieve big goals for your team, your organization, and your customers.