Scrum or Kanban?

Confused which is better Scrum and Kanban? It’s a flawed question. Or at least, a question based on a flawed premise.

Scrum vs Kanban?  It is the question that is asked the most in training classes. People want to know, which is better, or when one method should be chosen over another. Well, it’s a flawed question. Or, at least, a question based on a flawed premise. Read on if you would like to find out why.

Let’s start by talking about Kanban. The name Kanban is confusing because there are actually three definitions. More on that topic in this article, Kanban – what does it actually mean?

In the context of agility, Kanban is actually referring to The Kanban Method. A management method for managing all types of knowledge work and professional services. It is often seen as an “agile method”, but it is actually a method for catalysing evolutionary change and improvement within an organisation. Organisational change is difficult, but The Kanban Method is designed to reduce resistance to change whilst, at the same time, bringing beneficial improvements in line with the organisation’s goals.

Knowledge work is inherently invisible. It exists as ideas, conversations, messages between individuals or information captured in an electronic tool. The Kanban Method strives to make such intangible work visible so challenges, problems or bottlenecks in the flow of work can be seen. After all, it is very hard to change or improve something which cannot be seen.

The Kanban Method also prevents too much (or too little) work from being worked upon by implementing a Kanban System. A Kanban System limits the amount of work in progress (WIP) by using visual pull signals, called Kanbans, thereby improving the flow of value to customers. By limiting the amount of work in the system, new work is “pulled in” only when work is completed, and capacity becomes available – in contrast to new work being “pushed in” when it is demanded.

So, The Kanban Method is a change management method which utilises the power of Kanban Systems to improve the flow of value to customers whilst making work visible, thereby creating the impetus to improve.

A method for change

As a method for change, it has a set of principles and practises to guide evolutionary improvement.  There are six principles, three of which are focussed on change management.  The three Change Management principles of The Kanban Method are;

  • Start with what you do now
  • Gain agreement to improve through evolutionary change
  • Encourage acts of leadership at all levels

The Kanban Method is often referred to as the “Start with what you do now method”. This means as a change management principle, the starting point for the change is whatever you are doing right now. Unlike other change management approaches, a new idealistic world is not designed in advance with new roles & responsibilities, new teams, new meetings and artefacts. The Kanban Method rejects that traditional approach to change due to the amount of resistance it provokes. When a change starts with what you do now, resistance is reduced. But starting where you are now is not enough. More is needed, which is principle 2.

Gain agreement to improve through evolutionary change”. This principle tells us that as we begin with The Kanban Method, we should all agree that no matter how good we think we are, we can always improve. So even though we do not make any big changes at the start, we should at least agree we can improve and evolve from here. And unlike a more traditional approach to change, it is not left to one person to be responsible, hence principle 3.

Encourage acts of leadership at all levels”, which reinforces the approach that we are improving and evolving together, where everyone can, and should, play their part. As we evolve, everyone is encouraged to speak out and be courageous as the evolutionary change continues.

Looking at The Kanban Method from the perspective of it being a change management method, but one with a unique approach to change, perhaps it is now clear why the Scrum v Kanban question is based on a flawed premise.

The Kanban Method is the “start with what you do now” method, so it does not matter what you are doing right now. You can apply the six principles, and the six practises and then begin to evolve and improve. As a coaching tool, it is a very powerful approach, particularly where Scrum is either not providing the hoped-for benefits or not actually an appropriate method in the first place. Layering the principles and practises on top of the current way of working is a powerful way to evolve and improve.

So, rather than the questions being Scrum v Kanban, the statement should be Kanban plus…….. (whatever you are doing now).

Find out more

Interested to find out how The Kanban Method can help you and your organisation begin the journey of continuous evolutionary improvement?  Sign up for one of our training courses or get in touch to discuss our coaching services.  We will be happy to help.

Check out our Kanban courses 

More about Scrum

Here can find out more about Scrum.


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