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Kanban vs. Scrum: 7 key differences and similarities

Employees working to organize a scrum board

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This article has been reviewed by Kathryn Uhles, MIS, MSP, Dean, College of Business and IT

At a glance

This article was updated on December 12, 2023.

Understanding Agile, Kanban and Scrum

If you’re getting involved in Agile methodology and Agile project management, software development, sprint planning or any other facet of product development and cross-functional project planning, Scrum, or possibly Kanban, are probably on your radar.

Each is a useful project management methodology for Agile teams, product owners, or other groups working on projects in the corporate or small business world, and each can help with cycle time and clearing out product backlog. They both allow for two-week sprints with regular team stand-up meetings and other highly efficient methodologies to enable a speedy work process.

But which one is more popular, which one should you select for your company and team, and how do you learn to use it effectively? Let’s look at each.

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What is Agile?

Agile is a methodology that is increasingly used by companies worldwide to make their in-house/internal projects more efficient, which in turn helps teams advance projects to the completion stage faster.

In practical use, Agile project management can be used to improve the cycle time on a given internal process or clear out a product backlog, such as when customers are demanding more products than you can crank out in time to fulfill their orders, and your company needs to figure out a plan to speed things up and pursue continuous improvement.

Agile enables organizations to master continuous change,” writes Forbes. “It permits firms to flourish in a world that is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.”

Forbes also notes that when Agile was introduced, it was designed specifically to improve the process of developing new computer software, but it has since been applied to virtually every type of business out there, including healthcare companies, transportation, creative projects such as producing television shows, and so on.

What is Kanban?

Kanban is a type of Agile framework organized around the visual tool of a Kanban board. “Kanban is a popular framework used to implement agile and DevOps software development,” explains Atlassian.

“It requires real-time communication of capacity and full transparency of work. Work items are represented visually on a Kanban board, allowing team members to see the state of every piece of work at any time.”

Kanban board, translated from Japanese where “Kanban” means "visual," was introduced in the mid-20th century as a tool for Toyota’s assembly line in scheduling its manufacturing processes, although it wasn’t called a Kanban board until the Kanban method was introduced in 2007.

What is Scrum?

If you’ve ever tried to lead a group project, you’re probably familiar with just how challenging it can be. For as long as there have been project management problems, there have been attempts at solutions. Scrum is a time-based method growing in popularity due to its adaptability.

Scrum methodology or Scrum processes may help teams with self-organization while reducing stress, problems and the chances a collaborative project will fail.

That’s mainly because Scrum management is a specialized process that necessitates training, potentially from an accredited university (either with traditional, in-person classes or straightforward online workshops, certificate programs, and classes.)

Scrum management can come in handy, for example, when an issue you didn’t foresee stalls progress or the work being produced doesn’t meet the expected outcome. Problems can arise when the team and stakeholders aren’t on the same page.

The Scrum Master is the leader of a Scrum team and is responsible for championing a project,” says CIO, “providing guidance to the team and product owner, and ensuring all Agile practices are followed by team members.”

How Is Kanban different from Scrum?

One of the big differences between Scrum and Kanban is that Scrum involves dividing projects into pre-defined segments and then organizing segments into time-boxed sprints (e.g., you’re given 14 days to complete a project, so you’re doing “two-week sprints”) while Kanban is more open-ended.

As the Hive notes, the three main differences between the two are:

  • Scrum keeps an eye on the clock; Kanban focuses on progress overall and includes a hard deadline.
  • Scrum team members are assigned specific roles and possibly well-defined titles while Kanban is more flexible about what roles and tasks team members have and may shift people around to cover different facets of a project.
  • At the end of a sprint (e.g., 10 days, 20 days), a Scrum board concludes, and that project is hopefully completed; Kanban boards can vary wildly based on the project.

To further complicate matters, says Atlassian, “some teams [might] blend the ideals of Kanban and Scrum into ‘Scrumban.’” In a Scrumban, teams combine the usual sprints (of fixed lengths) and project roles/titles from the Scrum framework and “focus on work in progress limits and cycle time from Kanban.”

Atlassian says a product owner or team that are new to Agile methodology should be strongly encouraged to just pick one of the two main methodologies and run “with it for a while. You can always get fancy later on.”

Which should I choose: Kanban or Scrum?

Scrum is part of Agile project management, a framework that can help guide companies. Both Kanban and Scrum have been tested in the real world to make sure they work in most situations and for a wide variety of businesses. But why should you choose any Agile project management at all?

Writes Kissflow: “The benefits of Agile make the managers’ job easier and allows them to have greater control over their projects. What makes Agile project management truly unique is the fact that it focuses on both, delivering quality and value to the customer, and completing the project within the given project constraints.”

Kissflow also notes these reasons to choose Agile:

  • A great degree of quality control
  • Gives teams more flexibility during the project
  • Allows for more on-the-fly adjustments and improvements or changes
  • Easily trackable metrics
  • High-quality end result compared to ad hoc project management
  • More reliable/consistent outcomes
  • Higher rates of customer approval and retention
Style of project
Style of project
Style of project
“Sprints,” or specific time periods with fixed deadlines
Style of project
The workflow continues without a fixed deadline
Typically breaks down a project by to-dos, tasks in progress, and what has been completed.
Similarly, a queue, work in progress and a completed list
Project manager/higher-ups approve a product for release
Varies, depending on project goals (may be a release date; may work indefinitely on one piece of software or other products)
Key roles in project
Key roles in project
Key roles in project
Supervising product manager or company owner (or another higher-up), Scrum Master, Agile project management and development team
Key roles in project
Project workers do not have specific titles
Completion stage
Completion stage
Completion stage
Project one is completed, or time is up, the board is cleared, and project two can begin
Completion stage
Editing/proofreading, A/B testing, etc., may all occur after “completion” of the project, so a reset may not necessarily occur
Measure deliverables, effectiveness and turnover
Lead and cycle times, number of tasks in the works, and the amount and magnitude of issues
Success metrics
Success metrics
Success metrics
Speed and efficiency of a Scrum team
Success metrics
Quality and thoroughness over speed

Kanban vs. Scrum: Which is better?

Most Agile project teams should stick with Scrum. It helps keep people on task and focused on completing a project before a deadline. Often, Kanban can come across as too “loose,” with the project itself not feeling well-defined enough to seem important or a priority to team members, even when they are working on it full time.

ProofHub suggests four things to keep in mind when trying to decide which is the best approach:

  • Scrum is best for those who need to focus on one project or several crucial projects before a certain amount of time expires
  • Scrum is great for collaboration and quick feedback on processes and products
  • Kanban is good for visual learners or for those who like metrics
  • Kanban is more easygoing and flexible

“Another advantage Scrum has going for it,” says Project Manager, “is that Scrum increases team accountability. Because you’re moving quickly, you’re meeting often, at least daily. This adds to the transparency of the project, naturally, but also keeps Scrum team members accountable for their work. That means you can reward those that are performing and help those that aren’t.

The Project Manager blog also notes that because of the focus on productivity in the face of deadlines and the overall design of a Scrum team, Scrum can help save money on a project. “That’s a huge boon to startups and other institutions where the bottom line is being scrutinized (and, honestly, when isn’t it?).”

Where to learn Scrum

To build a successful, working, flexible Scrum team and manage it as a Scrum master, you’ll need to learn the fundamentals of Scrum.

University of Phoenix offers a Fundamentals of Scrum course entirely online.

As you make your way through the course materials in Scrum Fundamentals, you’ll potentially learn how concepts, principles and Scrum practices deliver value to organizations by improving the effectiveness of teams and projects.

In this course, you’ll specifically learn how to:

  • Use common Agile project management methodology and Scrum terms
  • Explain the common elements of the Agile framework to your co-workers or others
  • Execute a successful “sprint” as part of a Scrum project
  • Make the case for why a company should adopt the Agile methodology and, specifically, Scrum

During the course, you’ll work on and get to practice the execution of the following:

  • Sprint planning and goal development
  • Daily Scrum facilitation
  • Scrum and sprint management
  • Retrospective and review facilitation

You will also explore how three roles of an Agile team, five ceremonies and three artifacts at the heart of Scrum, come together to solve real-world problems.

To learn what these things are and how they can help your team, company or career, check out University of Phoenix’s online course, Scrum Fundamentals, a 30-hour, self-led class available for one year after purchase.


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