Once you are ready to embrace the Agile wave, you may find out that it has multiple flavors and forms, with Scrum and Kanban possibly being the two most common. Know here when will be more convenient to using one or the other.
You have probably already heard a lot about Agile development, and you are sure that building products in small incremental parts is the way to go, so you plan to use this methodology in your next project.
But once you are ready to embrace the Agile wave, and after doing some research, you find out that it has multiple flavors and forms, with Scrum and Kanban possibly being the two most common. So, which one should you choose? As you can imagine, each of them has its advantages and disadvantages as well as their own characteristics and particularities.
Fortunately, we have already been there, so keep reading if you want to know the answer to this question.
This is one of the most – if not the most – popular Agile process framework. When using Scrum, you batch your work into fixed time periods (usually between two and four weeks long) known as Sprints. Those Sprints are planned, performed, and reviewed at the end of the iteration. The goal is to create learning loops to quickly collect and incorporate customer feedback.
When using Scrum, team members have regular ceremonies to keep things moving forward. They also have specific roles and create special artifacts.
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So, when can you use Scrum in your software projects? Scrum is a great starting point for teams that want to try Agile but do not know where to start, as it already provides a management framework. Also, as it is very flexible, it allows you to tweak the process in order to adapt to your very specific team needs.
However, there are some scenarios where it is better to avoid using Scrum. Once the Sprint has already started, Scrum discourages changes to the scope and planned work. In these cases, you should wait until the end of the iteration in order to modify direction, priorities, or simply add or remove some tasks from the Sprint backlog. Most of the time, waiting a maximum of two or three weeks is not a problem at all. In fact, it can be beneficial as it lets you calm down, analyze, and make sure that those changes are really needed instead of just suddenly shifting team direction. It will not be the first time that something that seemed like a top priority once was found not so critical or important later.
Even though the two-weeks wait time before being able to do those changes may not be an issue for teams that work on a product development, this waiting time is not an option for support teams whose priorities could change on a daily basis. It is in those cases when we need some other Agile option.
Kanban is a flow-based methodology which allows for continuous prioritization of work. By using this methodology, teams can respond and adapt to changes faster.
Kanban is all about visualizing the workflow, limiting Work in Progress (WIP), and maximizing flow. When using it, teams focus on reducing the time it takes to move a task from start to finish.
These are some of the principles of Kanban:
- Visualize the workflow: The Kanban board facilitates visualization of the team’s workflow and the state of each task as it moves. The board is split into categories or columns (e.g., To Do, In Progress, Done). Each task is represented on a card, which moves from column to column on the board. The board keeps team members on the same page and helps identify bottlenecks and process improvements.
- Limit Work in Progress (WIP): Kanban requires strict limits on the amount of Work in Progress at a given time. Based on their capacity, teams assign a limit to the number of tasks that can be placed in any active column. When that limit is reached, no new task can go into that column until another one is moved.
- Manage flow: It controls how tasks flow through each column. Are they moving fast and smoothly?
One of the advantages of Kanban is that it is quite simple to understand and to use. Thanks to its flexible nature, it can be integrated into existing processes for teams that are looking for ways to move into Agile easily.
When backlog priorities change very often, and when those changes cannot wait until the end of an iteration, this is when using Kanban is an excellent fit that lets teams respond faster than when using Scrum.
On the other hand, those same attributes described above as advantages could also be its greatest disadvantages. Being so flexible and its ability to change priorities at any time could both be abused, so it must be handled carefully. Additionally, when trying to move to Agile for the first time, some teams could get lost when using Kanban if they do not have their own processes in place.
Which one should you choose?
Unsurprisingly, that answer to this will depend on your particular team, the project itself, and the scenario.
If you are just moving into Agile and would like to have some direction, Scrum would probably be your best choice. Scrum will guide you about specific roles to use and the release methodology to follow. The regular cadence of fixed length Sprints, with their planning and review, is always helpful for teams that want to have some level of planning.
Alternatively, Kanban may be the best option when you find out that your priorities change very often and when you want to have the freedom to allow those frequent changes to happen. Using Kanban is also a great choice when your team already has its processes matured and well defined and you simply want a different way to manage the workflow.
Last but not least, it is more and more common for teams to choose a hybrid approach, influenced by both Kanban and Scrum, where they select the features that make more sense and work best for them. Many Scrum teams adopt some Kanban principles in order to visualize and improve the flow of work.
No matter which one you choose, just make sure to select one and give it a try for a while. Do not forget to review areas of improvement with your team, adapt, and iterate. That way, I am quite sure you will find the processes that work best for your team.
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