Agile – Kanban, Scrum, Scrumban – Which One Works the Best?

Amy E Reichert

Posted On: March 4, 2024

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Read time8 Min Read

Agile software development stems from a philosophy that being agile means creating and responding to change. Agile means the ability to adapt and respond to change without missing a beat or dissolving into chaos. Being Agile means working together as a team that’s built with diverse capabilities, skills, and talents. Team members include both the business and software development sides working together to produce working software that meets or exceeds customer expectations continuously.

Agile success stems from delivering quality, working software to customers. Agile includes a manifesto and a list of 12 principles to follow. The principles are meant to steer software development in a positive direction while accepting and adapting to changes as they come along. Agile teams must work together and continuously change processes and procedures with the shared goal to improve the software as well as the development process.

As part of Agile software development, there are generally three standard options for managing team tasks and work progress. Each of them is considered Agile, but they are separate approaches that cover a variety of working situations. Agile teams use Scrum, Scrumban, or Kanban to manage work using an Agile approach. What’s the difference? Which one works the best? Do you have to select one or can creativity be your guide?

This guide provides information on the uses and differences of using Scrum, Scrumban, or Kanban to manage Agile team tasks and productivity.

Key Takeaways:

  • What are Scrum, Scrumban, and Kanban?
  • Learn how Scrum, Scrumban, and Kanban work.
  • What are the benefits of Scrum, Scrumban, and Kanban?
  • How to choose which one to use?
  • Find out the advantages and disadvantages of selecting a particular process.
  • Discover if switching to another Agile task management benefits the team.

What are Scrum, Scrumban, and Kanban?

Each one uses an electronic or physical board to track work. The boards display varying columns determined by the team. Each column represents a business process task or function. For example, most software development projects contain these or similar tasks:

  • Backlog
  • To-Do
  • Development
  • Testing
  • Release

Each of these tasks is represented by a column on the board. User stories are created in the backlog and move through each column representing where the task is at in the development process.

Scrum manages work through planned sprints or iterations that take from 1-4 weeks in general. Each sprint begins and ends at set times and conforms to established deadlines for work completion. The Scrum board resets at the beginning of every new sprint. All completed work is archived within the designated sprint. Work that is not completed during the sprint typically rolls into the new sprint.

Kanban does not have pre-defined iterations or set time-based deadlines. Kanban workflows continuously across the board until the release work is completed. At that time, the team determines if the release is complete and then starts over with a new iteration. Work managed in a Kanban board remains active on the board but is typically moved off to a storage location by release version. Kanban teams also have planning, standup, and retrospective meetings as needed without the tight schedule requirements of Scrum.

Scrumban uses the defined and time-boxed sprints of Scrum in short, planned iterations typically from 1-4 weeks. The board used resembles more of a Kanban approach where iteration work flows continuously across the board. Scrumban teams follow the Kanban approach to having planning, standup, and retrospective meetings as needed only. Scrumban typically enforces stricter process rules like Scrum while at the same time using the continuous development approach of Kanban.

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How do Scrum, Scrumban, and Kanban Work?

Scrum, Scrumban, and Kanban all use similar board constructs. The differences between the three are not necessarily in the boards but the rules that control the number of tasks appearing in a column, whether the task is pulled or pushed into a column. The columns differ based on the tasks a team or organization uses.

In Scrum, the board is designed to manage pre-defined iterations that span from 1 to 4 weeks in general. Each iteration has a set beginning and end date and the work associated with one sprint only displays when that sprint is active. Once a sprint is completed, the work tasks associated with it are archived. Using scrum means meeting sprint deadlines for starting and ending.

Additionally, sprint planning sessions are used to define which stories or task work is completed within the sprint. Other Agile-based meetings include daily standups to discuss issues with sprint work and once the sprint completes then a retrospective meeting occurs to discuss the need for any process changes to improve team productivity or workflow.

Kanban board rules apply to the number of work stories or tasks that can appear at one time in each column. In other words, Kanban work must continue to move through the board. When teams overload columns with too much work, the priority of tasks is lost, and often work is performed on lower priority items instead. By controlling the number of tasks allowed in each column at one time, the work is managed in a more continuously rolling fashion rather than spurts of chaos and confusion.

Scrum and Scrumban enforce similar board rules. Scrumban came into being because Scrum stories frequently roll over into the following sprints when work is not fully completed within a sprint. Many teams using Scrum waste a great deal of time managing uncompleted work.
For example, when a story is not both developed and tested within the sprint timeline, the team moves to the next sprint. What happens to the code the developer checked in? What about the testing if the story was in testing but not completed? When sprint work is not completed within the sprint, developers, and testers waste time moving or deleting work to another sprint.

What are the Benefits of Choosing each Approach?

The benefits of each approach depend on the team’s established processes within an organization. Management styles and roles often dictate the type of approach a group can manage. For example, when managing large-scale projects that must deliver on a set timeline, Scrum is usually the first choice. However, as work rolls across sprints, many teams move to Scrumban to minimize re-work resulting from missed deadlines.

Kanban benefits include:

  • No arbitrary sprint deadlines
  • Less pressure to rush work to completion
  • Less lost time to unnecessary or unproductive meetings
  • A continuous, always moving flow of work
  • Easily visible work progress

Don’t be fooled, however, there are always deadlines. Releases must get to customers by defined deadlines. The difference with Kanban is the release has a deadline, not each week of work. So, when stories or work tasks take longer than expected or involve more work than indicated, there’s time to make up the work without impacting the release schedule or having to change all the sprint dates to complete the work. Less stress, less mess, and less time wasted re-doing or rolling work over to the next iteration.

Scrum benefits include:

  • Controlled deadlines, often ignored but still present
  • Faster paced development
  • Rapid work progress based on prioritized work
  • When iterations are complete, management believes work is complete

Scrumban benefits include:

  • Controlled deadlines, often ignored but still present
  • Use of a continuous board flow
  • Easier to locate stories or work from previous sprints
  • Better visualization of release work progress

Tips for Choosing a Task Management Process

One of the best aspects of Agile is the ability to change and adapt. When choosing a task management process start with the one you think best meets the team’s working habits and needs. The task management type decision may take experimentation before choosing the best one.

Continuous improvement means changing the task management type when it’s not working. If not changing, then create a version that works for your team. Agile is about adaptability to change which includes how work is managed.

Select the process that works best for the team and release quality and productivity. I have a strong preference for Kanban based on its continuous flow of work with fewer deadlines. I work better when I can self-manage work that needs more attention or has issues and still make my deadlines. I don’t care for the false deadline pressure of Scrum or Scrumban. Every time I’ve been on a team using Scrum, it’s taken approximately a month to switch to Scrumban and then eventually move into Kanban.

Try each one out for a month or two and select the one that works the best for the team or create your own, unique version. Each business functions differently, make the selected task management system work for the team.

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Amy E Reichert

Amy E Reichert is a Freelance writer for a variety of topics focused mainly on QA testing, Agile, and technology trends. Amy has 23 years of professional experience as a QA Engineer/Analyst within the ERP, healthcare, and business management sectors. Many years of developing test process, leading diverse and inclusive teams as well as testing on mobile and web applications.

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