One of the most common questions I receive may feel like one of the most difficult decisions for an organization new to Agile must make. Choosing between Scrum or Kanban method often seems like a critical fork in the road that cannot be undone. From my experience working with many teams over the years, I believe that this perception is understandable and likely comes from lack of exposure to the two approaches. If you are in this situation, let me try to make this as simple as possible so that you can move forward as quickly as possible.
There are several key differences between Scrum and Kanban. Without going into excruciating details on both methods, I would like to just highlight a few factors for you to consider so that you can make a relatively quick decision and begin to experiment with your team.
Factor #1 — Do you already have experienced Scrum Masters?
If your organization has already experienced Scrum, even if it has not gained the level of traction that was desired, you will likely have some skilled Scrum Masters, which could accelerate your adoption of Scrum. Note that having capable Scrum Masters is only one ingredient, it is an important piece of the puzzle that could make a big difference.
Factor #2 — Can you focus on specific work items for at least 2 weeks without significant disruptions?
The rate at which demands and priorities enter your team’s queue is a major factor to consider when attempting to choose between Scrum and Kanban. If requests consistently arrive unexpectedly with variable scope and complexity, and priorities change at least weekly, Kanban may be a better choice for managing the flow of work.
Factor #3 — How well does your organization adapt to changing team structures?
Scrum expects organizations to establish new teams that may be very difficult in certain situations and domains, whereas Kanban is much less rigorous in this area. If your organization is engrained in silos or heavy, hierarchical structures, Scrum may be much more challenging to operate effectively as compared to Kanban.
Factor #4 — Does team membership change often?
Kanban does not rely on consistent team configuration to succeed, whereas Scrum relies heavily on a consistent team in order to reap the benefits. If your team members move around frequently for any reason, Kanban may be a better option.
Factor #5 — Does your team operate more effectively with defined milestones?
While milestones may be deployed for both Kanban and Scrum, the cadence-based approach of Scrum creates a better fit and helps to instill a rhythm that is repeatable. Due to lack of work estimates within a Kanban system, working towards a predetermined milestone may be more challenging.
In conclusion, there are many ways to apply Agile practices to your team — Kanban and Scrum being two of the more popular approaches available to you today. After considering the factors I shared above, if you are still unsure how to proceed, my recommendation is to try Kanban first. In concept, Kanban should be much less intrusive to your current team culture and processes, and it may be adopted more easily. Be sure to conduct retrospectives to reflect on what’s working and what is not working so that you can assess whether Kanban is helping your team. You always have the option to explore Scrum further if Kanban is not the right fit. Ultimately, try to avoid “analysis-paralysis” and learn from experimentation where possible — this may be the best strategy to find the optimal method for your team.