Guest post by Christian Golden, PhD

In the world of content and product development, Kanban and Scrum are two of the names you’ll hear most often. One difference exists between workflow tools that may help you manage projects by visualizing status and progress and optimizing workflow on everything from software design to individual project management.

Kanban or Scrum: Pick the Right Workflow ToolThough both frameworks make dynamic work progress easy to follow for everyone on a development team, Kanban and Scrum cater to different needs and priorities. Let’s have a look at some features of each, with an eye to their strengths and weaknesses, to help you decide which tools may seem better suited for you or your team.

The Basics

Kanban and Scrum frameworks operate in different ways. Like digital versions of traditional whiteboards, and relying on the fact that our brains process images 60,000 times faster than text, both frameworks use virtual tickets or post-it-note-style cards to plot out a project’s structure and timeline, using a “pull system” to break work up into steps, stories, or slices that can be understood at a glance.

Kanban boards channel continuous workflow while conserving the number of work-in-progress (WIP) activities. Visually it resembles a board with vertical columns. In its simplest form, three are used: To Do, In Progress (Doing), and Completed (Done).

Kanban teams include stakeholders with an administrative role, such as the product owner or project manager, and a group of developers. Kanban implements the User Story model, using migrating cards to represent WIP.

Scrum breaks workflow into time-boxed iterations of up to 30 days called “sprints,” within which cards migrate from a ranked to-do list called a product or sprint backlog through the tasks Not Started and Works in Progress columns to the tasks Completed column. In this way, a Scrum board’s evolution visually marks the team’s day-to-day progress throughout the sprint.

Kanban Pros and Cons

The Kanban system is particularly well-suited for teams working fluidly on multiple deliverables with different release dates or whose focus is maintenance and continuous development. Kanban boards channel continuous workflow, providing flexibility with content development and delivery. Some Kanban tracking systems, like Volerro, permit real-time collaborative annotation of files, which design developers working on graphic-intensive projects will welcome.

However, a feature that supports open-ended work is a drawback for teams that want to restrict work done per cycle, which Scrum does via Sprints. During a Scrum Sprint, a team commits to finishing a certain total number of tasks. These may all occupy the In Progress column simultaneously without threatening bottlenecks, given the strict limit on action items.

By the same token, WIP bottlenecks are a productivity risk for Kanban boards unless the managers and owners who administer impose Work In Progress limits. And since these limits constrain each team member’s workload at a given time, they may be seen as an advantage of the Kanban framework.

Scrum Pros and Cons

Scrum’s main virtue is the predictability of the framework for consistently producing a certain amount of value in a given timeframe. Scrum boards are therefore a good fit for developers who operate on the basis of fixed scheduling commitments or wish to focus effort and incentivize productivity around non-negotiable deadlines.

But there is a cost: greater predictability means less flexibility in scheduling and workflow dynamics. And the rigid format may frustrate those who prefer to not adhere to the formal hierarchy of roles within Scrum—Scrum Product Owner, Scrum Master, Development Team Member.

Despite their basic functional similarity, Kanban and Scrum cannot easily be compared in comprehensive terms. The choice between them involves trade-offs between flexibility and predictability, collaborative openness, and top-down control. Which project management framework will better suit your development team depends heavily on its style, needs, and abilities.

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Christian Golden, PhD

Christian Golden, PhD, writes about tips and trends in digital marketing and social media for TrustRadius. He is a philosopher by day who loves teaching and digging into the big questions. His extracurricular interests include making music, reading comics, watching (really old) movies, and being in the great outdoors.

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