Kanban Vs. Scrum: Key Differences & How To Choose

Source: The Digital Project Manager

Author: Ana Mayer

If you are a team with large projects to manage or looking for ways to simplify your project management methodologies, then this article is for you. With so many terms on project management methodologies out there, it’s essential to understand what they mean and how to choose the right methods for your team.

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Kanban and Scrum are methodologies that facilitate a team’s commitment to agile principles while executing a task.

Agile is an approach that is structured and can be applied to project management. It is also an approach that is useful for the development of any project. Agile recognizes the volatility of the product development process and provides a methodology that promotes adequate responses for self-organizing teams. It is flexible enough to allow changes without deviating from the original agenda of the organization.

Agile development is a set of ideas that serve as a guide to organizations, while Kanban and Scrum are methodologies that facilitate a team’s commitment to agile principles while executing a task.

It might seem straightforward to identify the differences between Scrum and Kanban; however, both frameworks are great tools an organization needs to make better products without hassle.

What Is Kanban Methodology?

The Toyota production system coined the term Kanban. In verbatim, “kan” means visual while “ban” means a card. Therefore, you can refer to Kanban as a visual board for executing projects. But more than that, it is a project management methodology that has lean manufacturing, continuous development, customer orientation as its basic principles.

Kanban, as a tool, monitors the progress of a team’s activity or an ongoing experiment. Its adoption makes the work of any team reasonably comfortable, especially when it comes to generating better codes within a short time. It also puts creates an agenda for the team,  providing clarity during the software development life cycle of an organization.

Agile Kanban methodology improves the activities of an organization in a gradual process, irrespective of the nature of the activity. It can be applied in software development, IT/ Ops, Staffing, Recruitment, Marketing and Sales, Procurement, and so on.

This methodology aims to ensure that potential bottlenecks are identified within an organization. This way, they can attempt to fix the problem areas using a cost-effective workflow at an optimal speed. To this end, several Agile Kanban tools are available to facilitate this process.

What Is Scrum Methodology?

The Scrum methodology is an agile framework that employed for the management of tasks with complicated details. Its original aim was to emphasize on software development. But currently, the Scrum method is being explored for other complex tasks, such as research and advanced technology.

Scrum project management methodology is effective for teams with a maximum of 10 members. They can then breakdown the assigned task into goals set to be achieved in a time-boxed fashion. These time-boxed iterations are known as sprints, which cannot be more than one(1) month or two(2) weeks, allowing them to track progress and re-plan on daily Scrums (15 minutes time-boxed stand up minutes).

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Key Differences Between Kanban And Scrum

These two terms are used in agile methodologies interchangeably and can be often confused one for another. Many people think they are two sides of the same coin, which is why understanding the significant differences between Kanban and Scrum is of importance. This will guide an organization or an individual in choosing the best agile method suitable for a particular business environment.

Scrum software is a useful tool that relies on three roles when it comes to planning, organizing, administering, and optimizing the project management process.

  • The Product Owner – this person is in charge of the initial planning, prioritizing, and communication with the rest of the company)
  • The Scrum Master – this person has the responsibility of overseeing the process during each sprint)
  • The Team Members – they are responsible for carrying out the purpose of each sprint, such as the production of software code)

Also, the Scrum board is a standard tool used by Scrum teams as a visual board. It is a visual representation of the workflow breakdown structure into manageable work packages that are otherwise called “stories.”

Scrum focuses mainly on activity-iterations. An iteration is defined as a small fixed unit of time. Under Scrum, these iterations are called “sprints,” which are two, three, or four weeks long. The sprint of an organization all has to the same length. Applying the same sprint length within an organization helps to avoid cheating and improves predictable patterns of delivering an assigned work.

Besides, Scrum is an excellent framework to consider when it comes to feature development work. It is beneficial when the work has a bunch of features to build, requiring you to estimate the duration needed to build to completion. Scrum uses fixed sprints to measure your progress and determine your velocity or speed. The usefulness of the speed is to ensure that you adequately plan the time it will take to finish the work. Note that velocity or speed is not for the measurement of productivity. Instead, it helps a team carry out internal planning to meet a deadline and deliver a quality job.

On the other hand, Kanban is focused on work in progress. There are no sprints in Kanban. It pays less attention to time and predictability and focuses more on the execution of a task. It is mainly interested in breaking up and visualizing small pieces of a task. After this, you then identify the work items about specific work packages.

Kanban enables you to acquire a few work items in no particular order and get a few items as possible blocked. You can go further to impose Work in Progress limits (WIP limits) on each work package. The primary objective of Kanban is to ensure a smooth workflow across these work packages.

Also, Kanban is better suited for tasks that have no significant backlog of features to go through. It does, however, focus on how to quickly burn through small pieces of work as they come up.

The differences between Kanban and Scrum are summarized in the following table:

How Kanban And Scrum Are Similar

Agile and Scrum methodologies accommodate the breakdown of tasks that are complex to be efficiently executed. They both place a high value on continuous improvement, work optimization, and process. On the other hand, Scrum and Kanban have a similar focus on a visible workflow that has the capacity to keep team members together on Work in Progress (WIP) and things an organization is looking forward to in the future.

Below are the highlighted similarities of Kanban and Scrum methodology:

  • They are Lean and Agile
  • The limit WIP
  • They use “pull scheduling”
  • They focus on delivering the releasable software often and early
  • They use transparency to drive process improvement
  • They need breaking the work into pieces
  • They are based on self-organizing teams
  • They release plan is continuously optimized and based on the empirical data (lead time/velocity).

When To Use Kanban Vs. Scrum

It is essential to know what you want to do before deciding on which methodology (Kanban or Scrum) to use. When the task is time-sensitive, it is advisable to use Scrum, but consider using Kanban when it is focused on workflow. Consider using Scrum for feature-driven tasks with big publicity goals or milestones.

You may consider using Kanban for incoming small pieces of work, such as defect fixes or small enhancement requests. However, some situations will warrant you to combine both Scrum and Kanban. When you are faced with such a case, don’t hesitate to combine them. You can decide to use the approach of Scrum but also apply Kanban ideas around Visual Management Boards.


If you chose to work with Scrum or Kanban, take your time to master its dynamics and maximize it to your benefit. Always take some tasks from the backlog that are in the process of execution. Ask your teammates follow-up questions on which approach proved most effective and why. By exploring both Scrum and Kanban, you are setting your feet on the road to success in project management.

With many businesses becoming globalised, you may often find yourself hiring or working with team members that operate remotely. This can become challenging with other cultures and language barriers in mind; however, with Scrum or Kanban methods, you can translate and localize projects to make things easier for everyone involved in the project.

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