Scrum and Kanban

What is the Agile Scrum Framework? How is it different from the Kanban approach. If you are applying the Scrum framework and leveraging the Kanban board, you might be thinking that Scrum and Kanban are the same. In addition, you might be wondering which methodology is a better fit for your work.

In this article, I have listed the core differences between Scrum and Kanban. Moreover, I also covered which framework is best suited with different type of work or teams.


Scrum in a nutshell

Scrum is an iterative and incremental Agile process framework to build complex products of the highest possible value. In Scrum, the team always works on the highest priority items first. The work is performed in short, time-boxed iterations or sprints. Each sprint begins when the team commits to complete prioritized user-stories based on their available capacity in the sprint. An iteration ends when the team has delivered a potentially shippable product increment of the product. Therefore, the scrum development team delivers business value to users at the end of each sprint.

The three Scrum roles - Product Owner, Scrum Master, and the Development Team - are defined below: 

  • A Product Owner decides what needs to be built and in what order.
  • A Scrum Master acts as a servant leader and coaches the team to follow Agile Scrum principles.
  • A Development Team is a group of self-organizing individuals who develop a high-quality product.

Scrum requires the below ceremonies to be conducted on a regular cadence:

  • Product Backlog Refinement
  • Sprint Planning
  • Daily Stand-Up
  • Sprint Review
  • Sprint Retrospective

Above all, Scrum is most suited for complex projects where things are more unpredictable than they are predictable. In complex domains, there is a need to collaborate with others, have an innovative mindset to investigate, experiment with different ideas, and adapt based on the learnings.

To learn more about Scrum, you may read my book, The Basics Of Scrum – A Simple Handbook to the Most Popular Agile Scrum Framework. 


Kanban in a nutshell

Kanban is the most popular Lean framework. This approach works best for teams that have a continuous flow of incoming requests with different priorities. In the Kanban approach, each request or a work item is represented by a Kanban card that flows from one stage of the workflow to another until it is complete.

Kanban is very flexible in nature. New work items can be added to the backlog at any time. Even the workflow can change anytime. If team capacity changes, WIP limits get recalibrated. In addition, Kanban does not prescribe any roles or ceremonies. It optimizes an existing process by eliminating waste and improving time to market.

To learn more about Kanban, you may read my other book, The Basics Of Kanban - A Popular Lean Framework


Compare Scrum and Kanban

Below section lists the core differences between Scrum and Kanban:

  • Scrum was formulated for complex product development to mitigate the limitations with the traditional Waterfall approach. Kanban, on the contrary, originated to manage work and control inventory at Toyota with Just-In-Time and Lean principles.


  • Scrum prescribes product teams to manage work within time-boxed, short, and consistent length iterations or sprints. However, Kanban specifies a continuous flow of work across different states.


  • With Scrum, development teams create a potentially shippable product increment at the end of every sprint. Therefore, teams can release code at the end of every sprint if approved by the product owner. With Kanban, teams can release code anytime or on-demand. 


  • Scrum requires three roles - Product Owner, Scrum Master, the Development Team. Kanban, on the other hand, does not prescribe any specific role.


  • In Scrum, the smallest piece of business value that a team delivers is a user story. Each user story may then be broken down into smaller tasks or sub-tasks. However, in Kanban, each work item is represented as a Kanban card.


  • Scrum is best suited for complex product development efforts that are unpredicatable in nature. Such complex efforts require research, experimentation, and an emergent design. Kanban, on the contrary, is best suited for simple and complicated efforts where things are more predictable than they are unpredictable.


  • With Scrum, sprint review and retrospective ceremonies are conducted at the end of every sprint to inspect and adapt. Though Kanban does not prescribe any ceremonies, teams may conduct a review meeting on a monthly or a quarterly cadence to review cycle time, flow efficiency, etc.


  • Scrum prescribes user stories to be estimated in terms of story points. However, Kanban does not require work items or Kanban cards to be estimated. In Kanban, estimation is optional. Some teams choose to estimate their work to have more predictability while others prefer to split their cards such that each of the cards is of the same size.


  • With Scrum, the most popular metrics are sprint burndown and velocity. Other useful metrics are release burndown, release burnup, and sprint burnup. The most popular Kanban metrics is cycle time. Metrics such as lead time, throughput, cummulative flow diagram (CFD), and control charts are also leveraged.


  • Kanban has more flexibility than Scrum as new work items can be added to the workflow at any time. 


  • Scrum prescribes ceremonies to be conducted on a regular cadence. For instance, the sprint planning ceremony must be conducted at the start of each sprint. Sprint review and retrospective ceremonies must be conducted at the end of each sprint. In addition, the daily stand-up must be conducted each day of the sprint. However, Kanban does not prescribe any cadence or ceremonies to be conducted. In Kanban, meetings are held as needed.


  • With Scrum, additional or new user stories should not be added to the active or an ongoing sprint. However, in Kanban, new work items or cards can be added anytime, provided the WIP (Work-In-Progress) limit hasn't reached yet.


  • In Scrum, the sprint backlog is reset after every sprint. However, the Kanban board is continuous.


  • To adopt Scrum, enterprises need to develop an agile mindset. Scrum requires a considerable change to the existing organizational structure and processes. As a result, leaders invest into Scrum training and create new roles or positions to build the best Scrum teams. On the contrary, Kanban does not require any significant changes to onboard onto this framework.


Now that you understand the differences between the two frameworks, you can decide which approach works best for your team. For more on Agile, Lean, Scrum, or Kanban, you may read below books:

Posted in Agile Scrum and tagged , , , , .


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