Thinking for a living
If you think for a living then you are a knowledge worker. And I will argue here that any investment you make in learning Lean-Agile methods will be the best investment you can make for your career. It is also the best investment your organisation can make in ensuring business sustainability in the long-term.
In August 2012 Gartner signalled the death knell of Waterfall. The world has finally woken up to the simple fact that predictive methods are unhelpful for managing knowledge work. All the evidence over the last two decades points to some form of Lean-Agile empirical method as the only sensible way forward for managing knowledge work. In fact Gartner, perhaps optimistically, predicts that 80% of software development teams in 2013 will use some form of Agile method!
Kanban and Scrum are the pre-eminent Lean-Agile methods for managing the work. Of course workers need additional good practices for executing their specific skill or craft. For example, modern software developers will apply Extreme Programming (XP) practices.
Scrum famously has its genesis in the work of two Japanese researchers into Knowledge Management, published in Harvard Business Review in 1986. Jeff Sutherland applied their finding in a software team in 1993. He worked with Ken Schwaber and others to formalise Scrum during the coming years. There are hundreds of thousands of people with formal Scrum training and millions practising it.
Much more recently, from 2004, David Anderson evolved work he was doing with the Theory of Constraints to emerge the Kanban method. Other leaders have contributed to a fast-growing body of knowledge. By 2012 there were many books and international conferences on the topic and the practice of Kanban is exploding.
The latest worldwide Agile survey places Scrum and Scrum hybrids (most commonly Scrum + XP) first with 66% of the Agile market and Kanban second with 24%.
The term Lean was coined in 1988 to describe the Toyota Production System. For our purposes Lean Product Development and Lean Leadership are the most important applications. The name Agile derives from the Agile Manifesto in 2001, to which the Scrum founders were signatories. In some circles there is much rhetoric about whether Scrum is Lean or whether Kanban is Agile. My simple response is “who cares?”.
How do we make sense of this? What are the essential similarities and differences between Scrum and Kanban? And where should we use which method? As usual, there is an abundance of (mis)information and not enough clarity. Let's start with a few obvious problem scenarios.
Many organisations that attempt to 'do' Scrum are not actually willing to make the adjustments to their ways of working, ways of managing and company culture that are needed to realise the hoped-for benefits. Scrum is not the silver bullet they hoped for. So some look for the next shiny thing...and discover Kanban. By now, a number of these organisations have also dumped Kanban in search of something easier. And some have gone back to Scrum.
Some organisations are trying to use Scrum to manage work that is really not complex, sometimes repetitive and whose arrival rate is highly variable. Such work is not conducive to being planned in week- to month-long fixed increments. It is more suited to being managed using clear policies and SLA's. Kanban is likely a better fit here.
Not all situations are so obvious, though. It’s tempting to say something like “Scrum is best for work that can be planned and Kanban is best for work that can’t”. However this is a dangerous over-simplification. The difference in culture between one organisation and another may be a better indicator of the appropriate process to choose. A good starting point to seek guidance is Henrik Kniberg and Mattias Skarin's free mini-book.
My core message is this: 1) In the world of software development the traditional methods of managing work belong with the dinosaurs. 2) If you want to be equipped to make good decisions in the future Lean-Agile world you need to educate yourself in both Scrum and Kanban. 3) You will quickly discover that you need to develop your so-called "soft" skills and learn how to manage the inevitable organisational change.