Scrum or kanban: Which agile software development tool is best for your project?

Project management is key to an efficient and agile development cycle. But when faced with choosing either kanban or scrum, which route do you take? Jack Wallen has some advice.

4-scrum-master.jpg

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

If you're looking to shift your business to more agile software development, you've probably at least considered various types of platforms and services to help facilitate that change. Two of the most popular tools that are deployed for such an evolution are kanban and scrum. If you've adopted neither, you might be curious as to which is the best for your project. 

As challenging a question as this might seem, the answer is pretty simple.

But first, let's talk about what these tools are.

SEE: Google Workspace vs. Microsoft 365: A side-by-side analysis w/checklist (TechRepublic Premium)

What is kanban?

The goal of a kanban board is to offer a visual representation of where each task exists within the development lifecycle. You break the lifecycle into columns (such as Backlog, In Progress, Testing, Deployment, Complete). As each task moves along the lifecycle, you shift its representative card across the board. With this methodology, you can very quickly see exactly where a task is if it's behind, and how far it has to go before completion. 

As well, you can assign tasks to teams, automatically notify them of changes and more (depending on the kanban solution you choose). Kanban boards are one of the single most effective tools for project management. However, they are fairly limited in scope, as they only really serve that one purpose.

Kanban helps you:

  • Visualize your workflow.
  • Avoid being overwhelmed.
  • Focus on the flow of a task.
  • Emphasize continual improvement.

What is scrum?

Scrum is focused on empowering teamwork on very complex projects. By replacing a programmed algorithmic approach with a heuristic one, teams can better deal with unpredictability and complex problem-solving.

At the heart of this methodology is scrum values, which are courage, focus, commitment, respect and openness. These values are defined as:

  • Team members have the courage to do the right thing and work on challenging problems.
  • Team members focus on the work in the spring and the goals of the team.
  • Team members personally commit to achieving the goals of the team.
  • Team members respect each other.
  • Team members agree to be open about all work and the associated challenges.

One very important key to scrum is the sprint, which is a consistent, fixed-length event in which a team works to complete a set of tasks. In other words, sprints are when the work gets done. Each sprint might only cover one specific task of a project and is defined by a set, specific goal. However, it's important that, during sprints, the following guidelines are followed:

  • No changes are made that would endanger the sprint goal.
  • The quality of the project does not decrease.
  • The product backlog is refined as needed.
  • The scope of the project may be clarified and renegotiated.

How to choose between kanban and scrum

At this point, you've probably figured out how this is going to end. I tend to look at this decision as such:

If you have a team that only needs minor management, a kanban board is probably all you need. With that kanban board, everyone will be aware of how the project is moving along and can easily collaborate. If your project isn't complicated, kanban is probably the ideal solution, as it won't get in the way of a simplified workflow.

SEE: Top keyboard shortcuts you need to know (free PDF) (TechRepublic)  

If, on the other hand, you have a team that needs more management on a project that is considerably more complex, scrum is probably what you need. 

If that doesn't help you make the choice, here are some important differences:

  • Kanban does not use predefined roles, whereas scrum divides between product owner, dev team, and scrum master.
  • Kanban uses a continuous workflow, whereas scrum uses sprints of pre-determined length.
  • Kanban focuses on continuous delivery, whereas with scrum new functionality is only delivered at the end of a sprint.
  • The primary metric of kanban focuses is work in progress, whereas scrum's metric is speed and value created.
  • Kanban allows changes to be made at any time, while changes in scrum are determined and implemented between sprints.

In the end, kanban is a great solution for mature teams who are good at self-management, while scrum is a brilliant tool for larger, more complex projects with teams that could benefit from a bit of management. Ultimately, however, which route you take will be determined by the complexity of the project and the ability of your team to evolve their daily workflows. 

I'll end with this: You can't go wrong with this decision. Although you might find one is better suited for your development cycle, any introduction of a good project management tool should be seen as a positive step forward.

Subscribe to TechRepublic's How To Make Tech Work on YouTube for all the latest tech advice for business pros from Jack Wallen.

Also see

By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....