Kanban and Scrum

By Kanban, Scrum
stainless steel tool on gray sand

In August last year Gartner signalled the death knell of Waterfall. All the evidence over the last 25 years points to some form of Lean-Agile method as the only sensible way forward for managing knowledge work. Kanban and Scrum (together with eXtreme Programming) are the pre-eminent Lean-Agile methods. I would argue that any investment you make in learning these will be the best investment you can make for your career and also the best investment your organisation can make in ensuring business sustainability in the long-term.

You might think it strange that a company named Scrum Sense would talk about Kanban. The truth is that Kanban was a baby in diapers when Scrum Sense started, while Scrum was already the de facto standard in the Agile world. When Maritza van den Heuvel approached me in November 2009 about the possibility of hosting David Anderson in Cape Town I jumped at the opportunity. He visited early in 2010 and we had a great time exploring this new process with him. We learned a lot and I’m tempted to say that we also helped clear up some mis-conceptions about Scrum.

Three years have passed and Kanban now has a significant presence in the Lean-Agile world. 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%. Impressive growth in just about 5 years. Why is this?

As usual, there are some good and some bad reasons. Let’s start with the bad. 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. One client of mine who did this has largely gone back to Scrum.

There are good reasons too. I see organisations trying to use Scrum to manage work that is really not complex, sometimes repetitive and whose arrival rate is highly variable. Not conducive to being planned in week- to month-long fixed increments. Much more suited to being handled using clear policies and SLA’s.

By now you are asking yourself what the differences are between these to Lean-Agile methods, and where to use what. This is, naturally, a non-trivial question. A good starting point to seek answers is Henrik Kniberg and Mattias Skarin’s free mini-book.

My message is this: 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. And along the way you will realise that you need to develop your so-called “soft” skills and learn how to manage organisational change too.