Agile project management continues to be a positive choice for project managers in all types of organizations. If you have decided Agile is the correct form of project management to use for your next project, great. But, you are not done. You need to take a look at the different frameworks of Agile and decide which is best for your project. “Agile” is actually an umbrella word for many different project development approaches. These approaches are known as “Agile Frameworks,” and although they all “incorporate elements of iterative development and continuous feedback” during development, they are each unique in their own way.[i] Let’s look at and compare the two most common –Scrum and Kanban.
Probably the most popular framework is called Scrum. The word “Scrum,” as it relates to project management, came into play shortly after Agile PM was discovered. Scrum can be characterized as “developers putting their heads together to address complex problems.”[ii] Just like the scrum at a rugby game.
Scrum usually consists of a team of three to nine people whose important roles and work closely with the stakeholders and subject matter experts (SME) to develop products. The team members are known as the Scrum Master, the Product Owner, and the Scrum Team.
- The Scrum Master is the coach of the team, establishing responsibility for each task and eliminating distractions.
- The Product owner is the SME for the particular project. This person ensures the team members understand the vision of the project. They are also the communication line between the stakeholders and the team, setting expectations.
- Finally, the Scrum Team members are the people who are doing the development. The Scrum Team members can be comprised of different roles, including designers, engineers, and architects.
The steps of Scrum aren’t very complex, but rather are strategic and methodical. Development using Scrum begins with a “wish list,” so to speak. As Scrum calls it, a product “Backlog.” This is a list of features the product will need to be developed. The team will get together to review the Backlog, tasks, and timeframes before beginning development.
The actual development periods are called “Sprints.” Each part of the product Backlog forms a sprint. A Sprint can last anywhere from a week to a month, depending on the complexity of the feature. At the end, there is a sprint review, and then the team will move on to another sprint until the full product is completed.
Scrum teams will meet daily to review their progress. These meetings are usually brief “huddles,” lasting a maximum of fifteen minutes, and the Scrum Master is in charge of keeping the focus on the goal of that meeting.
Scrum has many benefits that project managers find enticing. Project managers realize that by breaking the review into smaller sprints, errors are caught and addressed earlier. They also find that with the iterative approach, small changes to objectives throughout the process may help the team better achieve the overall goals.
Kanban is another iterative approach in Agile development that project managers find useful. Kanban does not have designated responsibilities. However, Kanban team members have their specific strengths, and real-time communication is a requirement. Team tasks are represented on what is called a Kanban board. This tool is used to “visualize work and optimize the flow of the work among the team.”[iii]
Kanban differs from Scrum in a few ways. Kanban removes the sprints and allows for continuous development of the product. Also, changes can be made at any point in development, where during a sprint, changes should be made during the review cycle to avoid throwing off timelines. Another big difference is that a key metric for Kanban is cycle time. “Cycle time is the amount of time it takes for a unit of work to travel through the team’s workflow – from the moment work starts to the moment it ships.”[iv] Because roles are not defined, and skills are shared, the team’s cycle time is shortened, allowing to optimize time for development. Kanban is certainly less structured than Scrum, which can be difficult for project managers, but allows for a little more flexibility when it comes to planning.
Like Scrum, Kanban also has some similar desirable benefits. In Kanban, work is visualized on the board, and there is continual development, therefore, wait time is usually reduced. Again, with the Kanban board, this framework typically requires less organization in terms of room set-up to get started. Kanban is the ideal approach when change happens frequently and rapidly.
What are project managers choosing to use today?
Both Scrum and Kanban are light with minimal rules, allowing for more freedom during development. Since Scrum and Kanban have some similar concepts, project managers today are choosing to favor principles and practices of each framework for a combined approach to developing a project. Ideally, a blended approach will “take fixed-length sprints and roles from scrum and the focus on work in progress limits and cycle time from Kanban.”[v]
Due to the complexities of each, if you are new to using the Agile project management method, it’s recommended to just use one framework per project.[vi] “If you are creating products, you will find that Scrum is a more obvious choice. If you provide services, you will find Kanban to be a better solution for you.”[vii] Master the flow of each before trying to combine them. Eventually, you might gain enough confidence to experiment with blending. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, so decide what will work best for your project, or if a blended approach is best, and hit the ground running.