Kanban

Kanban vs Scrum vs Scrumban – How Do They Compare

Dovile Miseviciute ·

Passionate content marketer looking to bring better solutions to the project management space. 2020 - Present Marketing specialist at Teamhood. 2014 - 2020 Marketing manager for Eylean.

Scrum Kanban Scrumban

Agile frameworks have taken over the project management field in the last decade, and such names as Kanban, Scrum, and Scrumban have now become the norm. However, if you are trying to choose one for your team, it can be just a little tricky. All of them stem from the same place and have similar values, meaning finding the differences between Kanban vs Scrum is just a little bit harder.

To help you out, I have gathered all of the most important information into one post. Comparison tables, best practices, and more wait for you below.

The following comparison of Scrum vs Kanban vs Scrumban is divided into sections that discuss different aspects of the project management process. You can use the menu below to navigate to sections that interest you or continue reading to understand the full scope.

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The origin of Kanban and Scrum

To get you started, here is a quick overview of Kanban vs Scrum. Follow the link for a one-pager cheat sheet that outlines the main differences between the practices

Before we dive into the differences between Scrumban, Kanban, and Scrum, it is worth noting that all three are separate frameworks, and all are considered as Agile approaches.

  • Scrum was created by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland,
  • Kanban has its roots in Lean project management,
  • Scrumban is the combination of the two that was first created as a way to switch but stayed as a standalone framework.

As such, all three frameworks are considered to be under the Agile umbrella, but none represent Agile alone.

Kanban vs Scrum which to choose?

Another important note before we begin the comparison is that these approaches are not mutually exclusive.

Kanban can be used to supplement Scrum, while Scrumban is a mixture of the two approaches. So, you can mix up the elements in a way that works for your process and team.

Before you dive into creating your own mix, however, ensure you have someone on the team with experience in these methods. Ideally, that should be that the whole team tried both of the methods for some time and thus have a good understanding of why they would be changing things. Just combining elements of Kanban and Scrum most likely will not yield good results and thus is not recommended.

1. Board management and iterations

When deciding which Agile approach is right for your team, one of the first things to consider is how you like to work. In comparing Kanban vs Scrum Scrumban, it means thinking about the board and iterations first.

Kanban

Kanban framework does not outline any predefined iterations.

Instead, the work continues until the team feels that significant value is added to the result. Therefore, it is up to the team to decide when one iteration is over, and a new one can begin.

Since the work is being done continuously, the Kanban board is continuous too. It does not reset after each iteration and instead holds the work items of the whole project.

In this case, it is often better to choose online Kanban boards so that the finished tasks are out of sight and do not take up too much space.

task management
Teamhood Kanban board

Scrum

On the other hand, Scrum uses 1-4 week iterations to complete the planned tasks.

Meaning each iteration has a set start and end date. The team uses this limitation to prioritize and plan work before each iteration begins.

Similarly, the Scrum board is reset after each iteration to be filled with new tasks and prepared for the new work phase.

Scrumban

In Scrumban, teams work in defined iterations similar to Scrum.

They have a set start and due date, usually lasting 1-4 weeks. The tasks are prioritized and planned according to this capacity.

While the iteration length is based on Scrum, the Scrumban board resembles the Kanban board. Including a continuous backlog and priority columns.

2. Kanban board vs Scrum board

With all three practices, the teams are encouraged to create a task board that best serves their process. However, certain guidelines define the differences between the Kanban vs Scrum vs Scrumban board.

Kanban

The Kanban board is usually composed of columns that visualize the team’s work process steps.

  • The Backlog section holds all the ideas and prioritized tasks for the team. To indicate which tasks are the most important, teams use priority columns like – Priority 1, and Priority 2.
  • The In Progress section is composed of as many columns as there are steps in the team’s process. For example – Design, Manufacturing, Testing, and Quality Assurance.
  • The Completed section holds all of the finished items. Some teams may further break this section down to represent completion stages like – 90-95% complete and 100% complete.

The Kanban team members are responsible for pulling tasks out of the Prioritized backlog themselves. This means, that once they have capacity, they will look at the backlog and decide which task to complete next.

To limit how much work is being done at the same time, WIP limits (work in progress limits) are used. They usually correspond the number of team members and only allow 1-2 tasks per team member at a time.

kanban priority
Kanban board Backlog section with Priority columns

Scrum

The Scrum board is usually composed out of the Sprint Backlog, Progress, and Completed sections.

  • The Sprint Backlog holds the tasks that the team is committed to completing in the current Sprint.
  • In Progress section helps track the execution of the committed items
  • The Done section holds the work items completed during the Sprint.

Once a Sprint is over, the board is cleared and new work items are added for the next Sprint. If something was not completed during the Sprint, it can be moved into the next iteration.

scrum board with sprints
Scrum board example

Scrumban

The Scrumban board is a mix of Kanban and Scrum boards (in some cases referred to as Agile boards), largely depending on what visualization approach the team likes more.

Most teams tend to lean towards a modified Kanban board as it offers more information about the process steps and allows the team to track their progress. However, both options can be used based on the team’s preference.

scrumban teamhood solution

3. Team Members and Roles

Kanban team roles

Usually, the Kanban team is a set of professionals who can achieve the end goal together. There are no specific roles defined in Kanban.

Each team member takes tasks from the backlog based on their priority and specifications. Since the team drives the whole process, it is referred to as the pull process where the team is pulling the tasks into action. The whole team is responsible for planning, prioritizing, and achieving the result.

Learn more about Kanban roles and their implementation in our Ultimate Kanban guide.

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Scrum team roles

Since Scrum works within very clear time constraints, it is best when the team is cross-functional. The method also specifies 3 clear roles to be filled.

This way, team members can work on various tasks and are not limited to just one function. When the end of an iteration approaches, the whole team can pitch in to finish up the planned work.

Despite having a cross-functional team, Scrum does assign specific roles to the team members. As such, it differs when comparing Kanban vs Scrum.

The 3 Scrum team roles are:

  • Product Owner sets the team’s vision and priorities. He or she is responsible for what the team does and where it goes. The product owner prioritizes and decides which items will be taken on in the next sprint.
  • Scrum Master facilitates the Scrum process. Usually, the most knowledgeable Scrum user on the team or even an outside consultant helps with the Scrum application. Their function is to guide the team in applying Scrum and help if there are any uncertainties in practice.
  • The team (Developers) completes work items and builds the final product. This cross-functional set of professionals works to achieve the end goal.
scrum team roles

Scrumban team roles

When comparing teams and their roles in Kanban vs Scrum vs Scrumban, the latter takes a middle ground. It works great for both – teams that are cross-functional or not.

Scrumban does not define any specific roles to be used but allows the team to decide if and what roles should be added. Therefore each team can pick and choose what is best for them.

4. Planning and Estimation

Kanban

The team chooses when to hold a planning session in Kanban.

It usually happens when a part of the product is finished or when the planning trigger activates. Either way, at this time, the team sits down and fills the backlog with new tasks to complete. Here, they can also choose to use estimation to have more predictability for the process.

There is no requirement for the Kanban teams to use estimations. They rely more on forecasting the results based on previous performance. This is done with the help of Kanban Flow metrics.

Scrum

In Scrum, planning and estimation are done based on the iteration length (sprint).

Before a new iteration can begin, the Product Owner plans which tasks should be completed and sits down with the team to estimate the time needed to complete them. If, during the estimation, it becomes clear that there is too much work for the allocated time, work items are divided into smaller items.

Scrumban

Planning in Scrumban is done on demand.

Once the planning trigger activates, the team sits down and plans work items for the next iteration. Team velocity is used to determine how many tasks the team will be able to complete during an iteration. Thus the team only adds that number of tasks to their backlog. For long-term goals, Scrumban teams use bucket-size planning.

Learn more about estimation techniques in Agile.

5. Work Routines and Scope Limits

All three methods use the pull principle when discussing how the tasks are distributed among the team. The team members themselves choose Task assignments. As such, it might seem there are no major differences in Scrum vs Kanban vs Scrumban. However, the time when team members choose their tasks in Scrum and Kanban differs.

Scrum

Scrum asks team members to commit to tasks in the planning stage of each iteration.

It is here when assignments are decided for the next phase and cannot be changed before a new one begins. The length of the iteration controls the scope. The estimated hours of planned work items cannot exceed the length of the sprint.

Kanban and Scrumban

Kanban and Scrumban methods practice a little different approach. Instead of having team members commit to tasks in the planning stage, they can choose their tasks once the work begins.

WIP (Work In Progress) limits the number of tasks that can be worked on simultaneously. This keeps team members only working on one task at the moment and not taking on new work before the previous task is completed.

6. Meetings and Performance

The practitioners of all three methods hold similar meetings. The main difference between Kanban vs Scrum vs Scrumban is that Scrum requires them to happen at a certain time, while in Kanban and Scrumban there is more flexibility for the team to choose when they are held.

There are 4 main meetings between these methods:

  1. Sprint planning or Planning session. A time when the team plans what work should be completed next. In Scrum, Sprint planning is held before each iteration. While in Kanban and Scrumban new work is planned when the old one is finished.
  2. Daily Scrum or Daily Standup. A short 15-minute meeting to catch up with what everyone on the team is doing. Team members present what they have done yesterday and what they have planned for today.
  3. Iteration review. Optional for all three Agile applications, this meeting is held after the iteration. It aims to present iteration results to the clients and gather their feedback.
  4. Retrospective. This meeting happens once the project is over and aims to discuss the process, not the result. Team members communicate what has and hasn’t worked and how they want to continue in future projects.
  5. Both Kanban and Scrumban practitioners can hold additional Kaizen meetings. This meeting is usually included if a team runs into a problem that needs solving. It is where teams from several departments gather and brainstorm ideas and solutions for a particular issue.

Performance

Kanban

Kanban uses 4 Flow metrics to measure the performance of the team:

  1. WIP – Measures how many items are currently ‘In progress’. Not to be confused with WIP limits.
  2. Cycle time – Measures the amount of time it took for an item to be completed from when it was first started (moved to ‘In Progress’).
  3. Work Item Age – Measures the amount of time between when the item was started and the current date.
  4. Throughput – Measures the number of items finished during a certain period of time.
engineering productivity
Lead and cycle time

Scrum

The main performance metric for Scrum is the burndown chart. It depicts how much work remains to be done and how it decreased from the beginning of the project. Allowing the team to monitor the rate at which the work is being completed.

scrum vs kanban vs scrumban

7. Rules and Which to Choose

When comparing Kanban vs Scrum vs Scrumban, we find a lot of similarities stemming from the Agile background. However, all of these practices have particular differences that make them better suited for one work environment or another.

Kanban

Kanban has a reputation for being loose and non-restrictive to its users. While it may seem the easiest of the 3 because of that, it also requires experience with Agile processes to work.

While it may seem daunting at first, the flexibility it offers means the ability to adapt to any field or industry. Kanban is a great option for teams with a continuous flow of tasks, like manufacturing, engineering, or development.

Here is a Kanban cheat sheet for a quick reminder of the main practices.

If you are wondering when to use Kanban vs Scrum board, consider how much you like following rules. Both Kanban and Scrum offer stems from the same background, but Kanban offers a much looser process, while Scrum asks to follow quite a few rules.

Scrum

Scrum is the strictest of the three practices because it has quite a few rules and rituals to follow. It is also the most easily understandable of the 3 Agile applications for a new user because it holds the most rules and limitations.

However, if a team needs flexibility, this approach is somewhat lacking. Scrum is best suited for large long-term projects in need of more efficiency.

Download the Scrum cheat sheet for a quick reminder of all things Scrum.

Scrumban

Scrumban is set right in the middle of the previous two. Taking some of the rules from Scrum and some of the flexibility from Kanban, it offers its users the best of both worlds.

Scrumban is a great option for new teams and fast-moving environments like startups, where there is a need for a lot of flexibility and structure to keep it all together. If you feel like Kanban and Scrum are somewhat lacking, opting for this mix of two may be your best bet.

A quick recap in the Scrumban cheat sheet.

Kanban vs Scrum Cheat Sheet

Kanban vs scrum cheat sheet

Scrum vs Kanban vs Scrumban Comparison Table

ScrumKanbanScrumban
BoardsResets after each iterationContinuous throughout the project Continuous throughout the project
Iterations1-4 Week SprintsContinuous work alongside shorter releases1-4 Week iterations
Team membersCross-functional teamA team of specialistsA team of specialists
RolesProduct Owner, Scrum Master, and Scrum TeamNo specific rolesNo specific roles
PlanningPlanning for SprintsPlanning based on demand or planning triggerOn-demand and bucket-size planning
EstimationDone for each SprintDone when the team needs it Done when the team needs it
Work RoutinesPull principle – tasks are taken on before SprintPull principle – tasks are taken on during the iteration Pull principle – tasks are taken on during the iteration
Scope LimitsSprint duration limits the amount of workWIP limits the current work amount WIP limits the current work amount
MeetingsSprint planning, Daily Scrum, RetrospectiveOptionalOptional
PerformanceBurndown chartCumulative Flow Diagram, Lead & Cycle timeAverage Cycle time
RulesConstrained processFlexible process with only a few constraints Flexible process with only a few constraints
Best ForLarge long-term projectsContinuous product manufacturingStartups, fast-paced projects

Key Takeaways

Each framework offers its own set of advantages and considerations. While Scrum provides structure and efficiency for large long-term projects, Kanban offers flexibility and adaptability for continuous task flows, making it suitable for manufacturing, engineering, or development teams. On the other hand, Scrumban combines elements from both Scrum and Kanban, striking a balance between structure and flexibility, making it an excellent option for fast-paced environments like startups.

When comparing Scrum vs Kanban vs Scrumban, it is important to understand not one of these methods is better than the others. Instead, you should be looking at which of them fits your team, goals, and practices the most.

This way, you can pick out the real winner by comparing Kanban vs Scrum vs Scrumban.

Here is the story of why 52 Sprints later our product team went back to Kanban.

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Frequently asked questions

  • Which one is better Scrum vs Kanban vs Scrumban?

    There is no single best method. You must choose the agile method based on your challenges. All methods can provide significant value if implemented correctly and for a tailored challenge. Methods like scrumban are the result of combining techniques to tackle wider area of challenges where scrum or kanban lacks. But it does not mean that scrumban is superior.

  • How to switch from Scrum to Kanban?

    This is a very common question and usually switching the method is not the best option. Teams which tried doing scrum and failed, often try to switch to Kanban by thinking that it is simpler and will yield better results. Usually this is not the case. Either lack of understanding that Kanban is a whole system on it’s own or poor implementation of scrum leads to such conclusion. We recommend sticking with method and checking whether there are issues related to it’s implementation first.

    However, if you realize that switching methods is the way to go, here is how our development team moved from Kanban to Scrum.

  • Which is better – Scrum vs Kanban?

    No it is not. Both methods are just fine and there are no specific advantages when talking about Scrum vs Kanban. You should clearly understand both of them first and then investigate what kind of challenges do you want to solve. What kind of environment do you have. And only then choose a method.

  • What is the difference between Scrum vs Kanban?

    Scrum employs specific roles and follows an iterative approach with fixed-length sprints, using a product backlog for work management. In contrast, Kanban emphasizes visualizing workflow on a Kanban board, without predefined iterations, and focuses on setting Work-in-Progress (WIP) limits. Scrum provides more structure and predictability, while Kanban offers flexibility and continuous delivery. Scrum suits projects with evolving requirements, while Kanban is ideal for processes with a steady flow of work and continuous improvement.

    We recommend referring to the above comparison table to understand key aspects of each method. Nonetheless, the best understanding comes from practice which is of course time consuming and costly. But, failing to implement a method is costly too.

  • What is the Scrumban process?

    The Scrumban process involves creating a board with product backlog, sprint backlog, and workflow stages. Work-in-progress (WIP) limits are agreed upon collectively, and task prioritization is continuous. Daily stand-up meetings provide flexibility for task selection and re-prioritization based on workload.

  • What is the difference between kanban vs agile?

    Agile is a broader software development methodology that emphasizes flexibility, collaboration, and iterative development. Kanban, on the other hand, is a specific Agile framework that focuses on visualizing workflow, limiting work-in-progress, and continuous delivery. While Agile provides a mindset and principles for software development, Kanban offers a specific set of practices and tools to manage and optimize the flow of work. Agile can encompass different frameworks like Scrum and XP, while Kanban is a specific approach to visualize and optimize workflow within the Agile context.

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