Best of Both Worlds: How to Use Kanban with Scrum

Published by Gavin Donnelly on

Kanban and scrum are both Agile project management methodologies that are used to reduce waste and improve development processes. There are several differences between the two methodologies, but they are not mutually exclusive. You can use kanban with scrum to get the best of both worlds.

How Can You Use Kanban with Scrum?

To understand how you can use kanban with scrum to make the most of both, it’s important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each method. Then, you’ll be able to see how you can use scrum with kanban to create a hybrid project management methodology that combines the strengths of both.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Kanban

Kanban is a visual work method that is based around the Kaizen philosophy of continuous improvement. It uses cards to represent work items, which are moved across a kanban board to track their progress in the workflow. In the kanban system projects are delivered continuously and the system allows changes to be made while work is in progress, so teams can quickly adapt and continuously improve their workflows to limit the amount of work in progress.

One of the main strengths of kanban is the flexibility of the continuous workflow; it is highly adaptable and can be applied to projects with varying priorities. However, its lack of structure can also be a weakness, as some teams will benefit from a more prescriptive methodology. The linear nature of kanban means that it’s often best suited to projects that have repetitive processes as opposed to highly-complex projects like software development, which is why many Agile IT development teams prefer to use scrum as their work methodology.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Scrum

Scrum is an iterative work methodology with a strict structure and set of guidelines that is most commonly used by software development teams. In scrum, there are defined roles and responsibilities for each team member, and work is broken up into strictly time-boxed sprints during which a certain set of work must be finished and ready for review. Changes to work processes are not generally allowed during the sprints, which makes scrum more suited to teams whose priorities do not change frequently.

An advantage of scrum is that the team has a working product after each sprint, which usually means about every two to four weeks . However, this also means that there is a high amount of pressure on teams who use scrum because they have to design, build, test, and demo a working product in a relatively short amount of time. This isn’t always doable and can lead to unresolved issues or shortcuts being taken that lead to issues later on. Although the strict structure of scrum can be challenging in the short term, it can also lead to improved team discipline and better processes and products in the long term.

Mixing Kanban with Scrum

Over the years, many agile development teams have begun to use a hybrid of scrum, which is sometimes referred to as Scrumban. Scrumban does not have a strict set of rules, and can be interpreted differently by different teams who use it. Teams can employ the aspects of both the methodologies that work best for them to come up with a hybrid work method that best suits their work style and priorities.

For example, some teams might choose to start with an iterative scrum framework, including defined team roles such as Scrum Master, but they may choose to ditch the time-boxed sprints or to only use them for certain types of projects. The team might then use a kanban board to visualize workflows, and allow changes to be made during the work processes to facilitate more rapid improvements to workflows, rather than only reviewing processes at the end of a certain period of time.

In other words, a team can use elements of scrum to provide a stricter structure for the team, but can also apply some of the flexibility of kanban so that the team is not so strictly limited in terms of timeframes and implementing changes. Another option would be to use kanban as the primary work method, but take elements of scrum such as strict time-boxed sprints to limit the amount of time that projects can be worked on and release working products with more consistency.

Who Should Use Kanban with Scrum?

Any team who uses Agile project management principles to guide their work can benefit from using kanban with scrum. Newer teams might want to start off using a more scrum-focused approach to provide a stricter structure for processes until the team is more established and disciplined. Over time, the team can loosen the structure and apply more elements of kanban, such as a continuous workflow rather than time-boxed work items, to allow for more flexibility and adaptability on the team. 

No matter what you start with, the important thing to know is that using scrum with kanban is something you can experiment with to find what works best for you and your team. Both are powerful methodologies with their own pros and cons that can be adopted and customized based around Agile principles to manage a wide variety of projects and improve workflows and processes.

Categories: Project management


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