Kanban vs. Scrum: 7 Key Differences and Similarities
By Brian Fairbanks
August 26, 2021 • 6 minute read
At a Glance
Scrum and Kanban are functional parts of Agile project planning and can help organizations effectively manage projects.
The key differences between the two are the lengths of sprints and the way roles vary across teams.
Most Agile teams use Scrum.
University of Phoenix offers a self-paced Fundamentals of Scrum professional development course to help project managers deliver better outcomes for their organizations.
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, is probably on your radar.
Each is an excellent, useful methodology for project managers, an Agile team 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 and other highly efficient methodologies to enable a speedy work process and successful project management.
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.
What is Agile?
Agile is a type of project management increasingly used by companies worldwide to make their in-house/internal projects more efficient, which in turns gets the team and project 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.
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. “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” means “visual board” (translated from the Japanese) and 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 “Kanban” 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. And for as long as there have been project management problems, there have been attempts at solutions. Scrum is a solutions method growing in popularity due to its adaptability.
Scrum methodology or Scrum processes may help reduce stress, problems and chances a collaborative project will fail.
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.
One of the big differences between Scrum and Kanban is that Scrum can involve fixed-length 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.
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 titles; 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 teams new to Agile project management 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.”
Style of project
“Sprints,” or specific time periods with fixed deadlines
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 makes 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.”
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
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 important or a priority to team members, even when they are working on it full time.
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.
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 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.