When it comes to software development, there are many approaches that aim to increase efficiency and reduce mistakes. Agile development strategies are particularly popular, with more and more companies adopting agile development techniques and frameworks. This raises a question: Which agile development framework is the best for your organization?

Scrum and Kanban are the two most popular agile frameworks, and both frameworks specialize in handling different situations and problems. In order to choose the proper framework for your development project, you’ll want to have a solid understanding of both Scrum and Kanban. Let’s take a closer look at these two agile development frameworks. We’ll explore their features and compare them to develop a better appreciation for when they should be used.

What Is Agile?

Before jumping into our analysis of Scrum and Kanban, let’s take a moment to ensure we understand what agile development is.

The term “agile development” refers to a collection of software development philosophies, techniques, and approaches. These tools and techniques are intended to make the software development process less rigid and more flexible, allowing software developers to more quickly respond to changes in production goals and needs. Agile software development is incremental in nature, with development being carried out step by step amidst continuous feedback, planning, testing, and integration.

There are a variety of different agile development frameworks, but two of the most popular frameworks are Scrum and Kanban.

Scrum

The Scrum software development framework aims to make achieving large, complex goals easier by breaking them up into smaller, more manageable goals. Under the Scrum framework, work is divided into small chunks called sprints, which are constantly being completed and evaluated for the purposes of continuous feedback. Sprints are typically two, three or even up to four weeks in duration.

Scrum frameworks typically include four types of meetings. Sprint planning meetings are where the work that needs completion during the sprint is defined and the sprint’s goal is set. Daily Scrum meetings, also called stand-ups, are short daily meetings where developers keep the team up to date on their progress and any potential roadblocks they might be facing. At the end of a sprint, there’s a review session where the team reviews what work was and was not completed. Guidelines are also established for the next sprint. Finally, a sprint retrospective lets the team reflect on what was accomplished in the previous sprint and identifies ways the next sprint can improve.

Scrum teams usually consist of a product owner, a Scrum master, and members of the development and testing teams. The product owner is the key stakeholder who provides the team with a direction for every sprint. The development team is in charge of developing the software during the sprint, while the testing team works hard to find bugs or deficiencies in the code about to be delivered. The Scrum master is focused entirely on overseeing the development process during the sprint.

In a Scrum framework, progress is tracked and products are managed using various Scrum lists. The product backlog is where planned products are listed along with plans for creating the products. The sprint backlog tracks which products should be produced in the next sprint. Finally, the Scrum board is where team member tasks are listed and their current status is updated.

Kanban

Kanban is a software development framework often used in agile development. Kanban is also considered a project management tool, and it functions by placing tasks on a bulletin board, letting these tasks be shifted around as their status is updated.

A Kanban board lets developers manage the creation of products through fixed development steps. The board is composed of columns that show the stages of development, and tasks flow from stage to stage. Every task is represented by an individual card, and the task’s current stage must be resolved before it can move on to the next stage. The design of a Kanban board emphasizes continuous flow, aiming to reduce backlogs by balancing tasks and available capacity.

Unlike Scrum, which has defined rules and roles, Kanban is a much more flexible system based around three primary principles:

  • Visualize the workflow
  • Limit work in progress (WIP)
  • Optimize task flow

Beyond these three principles, the format of a Kanban is up to its users. Ultimately, Kanban is just a way of graphically monitoring progress while minimizing bottlenecks and communicating responsibilities.

Kanban Vs. Scrum: Pros and Cons

Let’s take a moment to compare Kanban and Scrum by looking at each framework’s strengths and weaknesses.

Scrum

Scrum is significantly more structured and prescriptive than Kanban, making it better suited for situations where uncertainty is high and requirements incomplete, as these situations benefit from structure.

Pros:

  • Short sprints and constant feedback allow teams to adjust plans easily.
  • Limited, time-boxed environments help ensure a team is constantly delivering during each sprint.
  • High transparency for the client, who can measure productivity more easily.
  • Daily Scrum meetings provide objective measures for productivity and facilitate the prediction of release dates.
  • Feedback and reviews help rectify mistakes and avoid pitfalls.
  • Shortest time-to-market duration of all Agile approaches.

Cons:

  • Often requires high levels of involvement from clients, and without constant communication the project can quickly fall behind schedule.
  • Relies on consistent performance from a few highly motivated and skilled team members.
  • Intended for long-term projects.
  • If not constrained, scope creep can occur and more sprints than necessary may occur.
  • A team can be set back significantly if a team member has to leave during the process.

Kanban

Kanban is less prescriptive and more flexible than Scrum, better suited for situations where goals and requirements are often changing.

Pros:

  • Highly flexible, letting individual project members alter the direction of development according to their needs.
  • Fewer meetings and structural processes than Scrum, meaning there is less idle time.
  • Better suited to larger teams.
  • Ideal for situations where changes are constantly being made, such as maintenance.
  • Lets team members work on one task at a time, and if a client changes priorities the team does not have to re-plan their work.
  • Team members can easily evaluate the progress of other team members.

Cons:

  • No time constraints mean deliverables may move through the pipeline slower than Scrum systems.
  • Lack of formalized sprints make it more difficult to measure progress and predict release dates.
  • Development team members may have difficulty prioritizing incoming tasks.
  • Easier to lose sight of the project’s final goal.

Which Should You Choose?

Both Scrum and Kanban are useful frameworks that have their own strengths and weaknesses. The best framework for you depends on the nature of your project.

In general, Scrum is suited to one-off projects with high degrees of uncertainty and numerous variables. These situations benefit from dividing work into smaller teams guided by stable priorities and strict deadlines.

Kanban is typically better suited to long-term projects with recurring deliverables and a variety of shifting priorities. These situations benefit from greater flexibility and the ability to monitor individual capacity and progress.

An Integrative Approach

Some clients choose to use Scrum and Kanban alongside each other in an integrated manner. Using the two frameworks together can provide development teams with a middle ground between the two agile frameworks, giving developers both flexibility and structure. Scrum techniques can be used to plan and prioritize work, while Kanban boards are used to help developers visualize workflow, see task progress, and identify bottlenecks.

Summing Up

To sum up, Scrum and Kanban both have their advantages. If your project requires more structure and has well-defined priorities, Scrum will likely benefit you the most. Meanwhile, if your project needs flexibility and has recurring, constant delivery, Kanban is a better choice. Both frameworks can also be used together to get the best of both worlds.