Kanban and Scrum - what distinguishes the agile methods?

Agile project management has long since spread from IT to all other industries. It is not a trend of some pioneers, but a real alternative to traditional project management. Hardly any project manager can do without knowledge of the new methods. Among the first concepts developed in agile project management are Kanban and Scrum. Both have established themselves and are widely used. But in short, what are the differences between the concepts? There are also similarities. Both Scrum and Kanban work with blackboards or whiteboards and digital or real sticky notes. Nevertheless there are of course significant differences.
A notebook labelled Scrum and one labelled Kanban.

Scrum - a simple explanation

The Scrum method comes from the IT industry. In Scrum, flexibility plays a superior role, but not in the distribution of tasks. In Scrum, each employee has a defined area of responsibility. In addition, one of the principles of Scrum states that there can be no such thing as a finished project. There is always room for improvement and change. Of course, this principle can only be transferred to all industries to a limited extent and is rather IT-specific. Nevertheless, Scrum is now used everywhere. Scrum should help with the organization as well as the development of projects. It can be applied to all kinds of projects, in IT as well as in the service industry, in construction or in product development. Scrum pursues the project goals, such as the development of a new product, a new process, a marketing campaign or the improvement of an existing product or process. Scrum is preferable to Kanban if a team is to develop something new that does not yet exist. The principles of Scrum provide for a small team that organizes itself from within. In Scrum the project goals are divided into sub goals. These are called increments. Just like the goals the project is divided into sections of one to four weeks. The course of the project is visualized on a blackboard. The project goals as well as the working method are continuously adjusted in close cooperation with the different stakeholders.

How does Kanban work?

Kanban is a method for project visualization that originated in the automotive industry. In contrast to Scrum, Kanban is more about largely eliminating multitasking. In Kanban the focus should be on completing tasks before new ones are started. This principle is applied in small projects as well as in the whole project. In Kanban there are three quite simple rules. First, the workflow, i.e. the entire work process, is visualized on a blackboard. There is a column with the tasks that are pending, one with tasks that are currently being processed and a column in which the completed tasks appear. The second rule states that a task must always be completed before another one is started. The number of tasks defined in the workflow must therefore be limited. As a project manager, Kanban means that it must always be measured how long it takes to complete a particular task. One of the most important tasks of the responsible project manager is to shorten this time. Kanban is used by many companies both in production and in management. The individual tasks in projects can be drastically shortened, as can the duration of the projects themselves. Kanban reduces the number of started and unfinished tasks to a minimum. This generally increases productivity. In Kanban, the whiteboard or the board that gives an overview of the project contains a column that indicates the maximum number of unfinished tasks that have been started. Team members may not start a new task until one of the ongoing tasks has been completed. The board helps to keep the overview, because completed tasks can be moved to another column and then space for a new task is created.

Scrum or Kanban?

Projects that are handled with Kanban show sustainable productivity. Work is scheduled, tasks are assigned and shortened and so-called productivity killers are eliminated. Kanban has identified "frittering" or multitasking as the main productivity killer in projects and fights it. Scrum builds more on the so-called flow instead of the clocking. Scrum focuses on flexibility. Therefore Scrum is always the better method when the project goal is not 100% known. This sounds strange, but often it is reality that at the beginning of a project you do not know exactly what the final product should look like. Even in a construction project where the architectural concept is fixed, new ideas can emerge during the development phase and even during the construction phase that can significantly improve the project or make it more cost-effective. In practice, most project managers choose a mixture of Kanban and Scrum because they want to take advantage of both concepts. When talking about agile project management, it is usually a matter of a mixture of the two methods.
Author: IAPM intern

Keywords: Scrum, Kanban, Agile Project Management

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