Scrum “vs” Kanban: differencies, similarities, how to choose

Scrum “vs” Kanban: differencies, similarities, how to choose

The meetup of Wednesday 16 June 2021, organised by the Agile Coach Manuele Piastra, featured the concepts of Scrum and Kanban. The discussion focused first on the characteristics of these two frameworks, and then went on to clarify when, why and how to migrate from one to the other.


What is Scrum?

Scrum is an interactive Agile framework that originated in the field of software development. interactivity is its distinctive feature – the mother methodology itself does not necessarily presuppose interconnection – which is well evidenced by the overall structure of the process.

Framework Scrum

Roles in Scrum

The term “scrum” comes from the world of rugby, as the whole process is carried out by a cross-functional, self-organising team over several overlapping phases, but trying to achieve the goal as a working unit.

Above that, the scrum master plays the role of servant leader, supporting the team in improving performance.

Next to that, the product owner is the key figure within the Scrum team, a kind of “director“: he works with the development team; he decides priorities on the work of the team, what needs to be done, what functionalities a product or service should have and he indicates when to release it on the market; he is responsible for ordering and communicating the product backlog, both to the team and to the stakeholders.

Appointments” in Scrum

The time is divided into short interactions, called sprints, but with a fixed duration usually of two weeks (time boxing).

The sprint planning is the initial meeting for finalising the programme for the next two weeks and from which two outcomes (the sprint goal and the sprint backlog) are derived.
This is followed by two final sprints:

  • the sprint review – a demo of the product obtained so far, with the participation of the stakeholders, who will have to offer general feedback;
  • the sprint retrospective, a reflection on the work done in the two weeks and on potential improvement strategies (change of approach, behaviour…), with the participation of the whole team.

Finally, the daily scrum (or stand-up) is a 15-minute daily alignment between sprint planning and sprint review, to think about maximising progress and the daily time available according to the sprint goal.

Artifacts in Scrum

It all starts with a product idea that is broken down into smaller, individually workable parts, which are then put on a list ordered by increasing priorities, the product backlog.

Two outcomes result from the initial sprint planning:

  • the sprint goal, i.e. the two-week goal (business and impact oriented phase);
  • the sprint backlog, i.e. the portion of the product that will be worked on in the following two weeks (according to the team’s capabilities).

The product increment is a potentially releasable product (for functionality, improvement…), but for which the product owner will decide.


What is Kanban?

Although it is also a child of Agile and Lean, it is not considered a framework, but a method (improving on what already exists). Furthermore, Kanban principles are much closer to the mother principles than Scrum ones.

Let us recall some of them:

  • visualisation of the representation of the work cycle using the kanban board – in fact, “Kanban” is the Japanese word for “visual signal” -;
  • client-orientation;
  • self-organisation of the team, reason and result of the high flexibility of the methodology;
  • regular reviews, as well as essential;
  • workflow optimisation and management, to avoid software stagnation.


Roles in Kanban

Kanban is characterised, as already mentioned, by a high degree of flexibility in the organisation of work. The roles within the process are not imposed in a definitive way – as it happens with Scrum – so that they can be apparently non-existent.

The team is more self-organised and is characterised by an overall view of the project progress, by an awareness equally spread among all collaborators.

There are two key figures within Kanban, with responsibilities similar to those of Scrum:

  • the service delivery manager, who reports to the scrum master;
  • the service request manager, similar to the product owner.

Appointments” in Kanban

High flexibility is also found in time management. While Scrum events are all mandatory, in Kanban they are recommended.

They are mainly highlighted:

  • the initial, short stand-up meeting – because you are standing – which takes place in front of the kanban board and serves to highlight activities in progress, finished, blocked or to be started;
  • the replenishment board meeting, the final replenishment of the board.

Time management in Kanban is orderly. The time-frames are well defined, which allows a drastic reduction in work, and the use of the cycle-time metric allows the effectiveness of the work to be measured, i.e. the time taken by the team to complete a project or task (low cycle-time = higher efficiency).

Techniques in Kanban

A further key element in Kanban is the WIP (work in progress), which is essential for improving the team’s performance; it is a “little” law, according to which the amount of product coming out of a system is inversely proportional to the number of items in progress.

Consequently, the WIP limit indicates the maximum (not fixed) number of kanban boards that can be used by the team, with the aim of optimising development and production work.


Pros & Cons di Scrum e Kanban



  • Built-in cadences provide structure
  • Supporting roles
  • Clear expectation of what needs to be done in for a certain period of time
  • Iterative by design: risk reduction
  • Popular (many resources available)


  • Flexible structure allows changes to be implemented quickly
  • Visualisation ensures transparency
  • Less prescriptive





  • Assume that priority can stay the same for the duration of the sprint
  • Fixed roles might prevent people’s growth
  • Popular (baggage of misconceptions)


  • Misconceptions that Kanban = kanban board

  • Requires discipline and might be hard for less mature teams
  • Less prescriptive


Some advice…be careful!

  1. Scrum has too many meetings! → The limit of capacity per meeting is 5%.
  2. Kanban is not an evolution of Scrum! → Do NOT go for the more expensive Kanban method if you do not get results with the simpler and more disciplined Scrum framework first.
  3. Solve problems at the base, so as not to risk dragging issues over time and in the process!
  4. Apply a scientific method! → Whatever change you want to achieve, you must first build a good starting hypothesis, followed by a time box for the evaluation of the experiment (e.g. meetings), and then continue with an analysis of the results.
  5. Avoid too many experiments! → It may be difficult to detect further system failures.
  6. Prefer evolutionary rather than revolutionary methods! → Scrum is a framework; Kanban is a method.

Choose Scrum if

  • You are working on a product with few interruptions along the way.
  • You have a team that likes/benefits from structure.
  • You are kicking off a team with little experience.

Choose Kanban if

  • You have a disciplined team.
  • You have different classes of service.
  • You have fast changing priorities.
  • If you want to maximise the flow of work regardless of what you use now.

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