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Managing projects using the Agile framework
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Software development methodologies have undergone significant changes with the evolution of project management approaches. Organizations have steadily moved to newer, “agile” frameworks that emphasize lightweight techniques, like Kanban and Scrum, rather than heavyweight approaches, which are collectively called the Waterfall method.

Excessive regulation, sluggish speed, lack of flexibility, micromanagement, and the absence of incremental gains have promoted a preference for lightweight techniques over the Waterfall method. Importantly, these methodologies have now seeped into the manufacturing and people management verticals.

What Is the Agile Framework of Project Management?

Agile is a collection of principles used for project management and software development. The Agile approach advocates incremental steps to complete projects. This step-by-step production technique helps teams deliver a product in small batches in short-term development cycles.

Using Agile, a team leader divides a project into stages while collaborating with the client and the product owner. Instead of completing the product in one go, teams deliver it in iterative cycles – where they monitor every phase of software development for insight and feedback – revisiting their modus operandi, plans, requirements and outcomes – to continuously improve. This hands-on and sustained customization to the development process ensures that teams can focus more on flexibility, adaptability and collaboration than on following pre-decided procedures. These benefits make it one of the most popular project management methodologies for software development. In addition, the fact that teams undertake product development and testing in parallel makes Agile distinct from the traditional and long-used Waterfall methodology.

We will explain the similarities and differences between Kanban and Scrum in the following sections.

Understanding the Agile framework of project management and what makes it work

What Is Kanban?

Kanban is a visual method of managing lean workflow. It uses cards that represent the flow of components and finished products through a production system. Kanban is an easy-to-use and powerful tool that helps business owners and project managers continuously improve while refining organization and enhancing efficiency. This method emerged in the manufacturing sector after examining its relevance in project management and applying it effectively to improve business outcomes.

What Is a Kanban Board?

A Kanban board allows teams to collaborate better and reduces the turnaround time. It consists of columns or “swim lanes” that include “Backlog,” “To Do,” “In Progress,” and “Completed.” This breakdown of project tasks helps managers track a project’s progress through its lifecycle. First, teams organize the list of stages as columns on the board, and then they represent each unit of work as a card. These cards are often called “user stories” as they detail the sequence of work to be completed. Next, team members move the card from one lane to another as they complete project tasks.

Teams and organizations now working globally in remote or in hybrid setups increasingly prefer digital Kanban boards. These types of boards are well-suited to remote collaboration, and do not require teams to fill in weekly status reports or conduct elaborate checks, making them more user-friendly.

A Kanban board helps visualize the workflow

What Is Scrum?

Scrum is one of the most-used frameworks for implementing the agile development methodology. Scrum.org defines it as “a better way to build products.” It is a simple-to-understand but difficult-to-implement lightweight framework of tools that compartmentalizes development phases into stages or cycles called “sprints.”

Each sprint delivers a small, bite-sized piece of the product to the client, within a short, defined timeline. Each team dedicates development time for each sprint, completing the tasks before taking up the next batch of tasks in the following sprint.

A sprint usually lasts from one to three weeks. However, the length may vary across teams and organizations. Every sprint aims to produce a deployable product, meaning clients can deploy, test, and evaluate the product as it is developed.

Let’s understand this with an example. Suppose a company wants to create a social media website. Scrum development will not deliver a fully-functional site at the end of a sprint, but should yield some element of the website that the company can use immediately; for instance, a registration page or a home page. This results-driven approach makes Scrum a highly desirable agile methodology among organizations and project managers.

Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka coined the term ‘Scrum’ in a 1986 Harvard Business Review article. The name Scrum (short for Scrimmage) comes from the game of rugby, where teams make a formation to begin the game after a brief stoppage. It represents working together toward a common goal and a shared vision – values and principles that summarize prudent project management.

How Does a Sprint Meeting Work?

Scrum works on a retrospective model where teams deliberate over the details of their last sprint, to understand their strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement, and set the agenda for the upcoming sprint.

This retrospective way of working allows teams to reflect on the work done, helping them improve continuously, steadily and gradually, and reducing the sprint time. In these sprint meetings, teams deliberate on the following:

What went well? In what areas can we improve?
What will we commit to delivering in the next sprint? What actionable commitments should we make?

1. What went well?

First, the team, such as developers, testers and quality assurance, lists the tasks and activities that it delivered without glitches. These can be considered the high points of the last sprint.

2. In what areas can we improve?

The team outlines the bottlenecks and issues that reduced their pace of work and may cause problems in the future.

3. What will we be delivering in the next sprint?

In this step, the team mutually agrees on the deliverables for the upcoming sprint. The team factors in its bandwidth, unfulfilled commitments from the previous sprint and the product owner’s requirement to finalize the contours of the next sprint.

4. What actionable commitments should we make?

Finally, team members commit to the next sprint’s deliverables. The Scrum Master facilitates the discussion between team members and the product owner.

Roles and Responsibilities in the Scrum Framework of Agile Project Management

The success and seamless execution of any agile Scrum project depend on key stakeholders. So let us understand who they are and what they do.

1. Product Owner

People often erroneously assume that product owners are the end clients who commission projects. Instead, they represent clients or stakeholders involved in the development of software. The client briefs the product owner about the project’s requirements, specifications and timelines, which the owner then conveys to the development teams and Scrum Masters. A product owner is a link that connects any Scrum team with the end client.

2. Scrum Master

The Scrum Master is a critical link between all key stakeholders involved in a project

Software development teams must focus on creating functional and error-free software, which requires careful coding, testing and quality assurance. Thus, developers don’t have time to divert their attention to tasks like addressing product owners’ queries, conducting daily standups, and checking that all team members complete sprint-related activities on time. This is where a Scrum Master steps in to coordinate communication among all project stakeholders, internal and external. A Scrum Master has several responsibilities:

  • Identifying and addressing bottlenecks
  • Nurturing an enabling team environment
  • Addressing, managing and improving team dynamics
  • Creating and maintaining a working relationship between team members and the product owner or other external stakeholders
  • Insulating the team from distractions and hindrances to ensure it operates efficiently and effectively

3. Development Team

Any Scrum project involves a development team that includes developers, ops engineers, testers, quality assurance designers and UX specialists. However, Scrum team members are called developers, irrespective of their role. Interestingly, Scrum development teams are always cross-functional, meaning all team members should know everything. Therefore, project delays are exceptional, and product owners expect Scrum Masters to adhere to sprint deliverables. Also, Scrum teams are usually lean, consisting of six to eight professionals (one product owner, one Scrum Master and, at the most, six developers). Hence, organizations and Scrum Masters expect team members to multitask and fill in for any absences.

Scrum Board

A Scrum board is a whiteboard with several columns where team members update their work status using sticky notes. Some companies and teams now prefer using a digital version with the same functionalities, but with Excel sheets replacing pen and paper. Teams can tailor-make columns, but they generally consist of “Story,” “To Do,” “In Progress,” “Verify,” and “Done.”

Scrum teams can alter the columns depending on project requirements, preferences and lessons learned. Thus, they reflect the spirit of the agile framework since they are open to experimentation that ensures the highest possible seamlessness and effectiveness.

A Typical Scrum Board

Story To Do In Progress Verify Done
This section contains the entire backlog. Here, the team lists all the project deliverables in a bite-sized sequence. This section details the work that is shortlisted for the upcoming sprint. This column outlines the work that is already underway. This section usually contains information about the team’s current sprint. Here, the tester and quality assurance professional verifies whether or not the product does what it is intended to do.

The product is developed, tested and made ready for deployment.

The product is ready, and the client may deploy it if they wish to.

The Scrum board is regularly revised as teams give updates about their progress in daily standups. These standups usually last no longer than 15 minutes, but are integral to the Scrum project management methodology.

The Scrum board helps teams visualize their work across status columns, offering them quick insights into their bandwidth, ongoing work and incomplete tasks.

Kanban vs. Scrum: Similarities & Differences

Kanban and Scrum have many similarities and differences, as outlined in the table below.

Kanban Scrum
1. Approach Agile Project Management Agile Project Management
2. Roles and Responsibilities Kanban projects are typically managed by two key roles:
  • A service delivery manager
    who helps facilitate change and enables continuous improvements.
  • A service request manager
    who outlines and maintains policies and processes.
Scrum projects have three key stakeholders: Developers, the Scrum Master and the product owner. Plus, there are external stakeholders, like vendors.
3. Cycle Kanban advocates a continuous work cycle where the team hands over the product after completion. Teams perform tasks after visualizing the workflow by creating a board with columns depicting project deliverables and work statuses. Scrum teams deliver a project in sprints. Each team member is allocated tasks within a sprint, which they must complete before they begin a new batch of tasks in the next sprint. A sprint usually lasts one to three weeks.
4. Delivery Timelines Teams deliver the product as they complete it. Business needs also determine the timeline. Teams deliver a tested, deployable, bite-sized product at the end of every sprint. However, teams must hand over a functional product, meaning the client can use it immediately, if needed.
5. Methodology Kanban uses a “pull system” where teams begin new assignments only after completing the tasks in the “In Progress” and “Completed” columns or swim lanes. Thus, the focus is on incremental gains. Scrum also uses a “pull system,” wherein sprints divide the tasks into chunks. Teams must complete pre-decided deliverables within a sprint; any incomplete work is carried forward to the next sprint.

Unlike Kanban, a Scrum sprint includes a group of tasks, so its focus is on deployable gains rather than mere increments.

6. Measurement of Productivity Agile coaches gauge their team productivity using two Kanban metrics:
  • Cycle time – the time a task takes to complete, and
  • Throughput – the number of tasks undertaken in a specific timeframe.
Scrum Masters measure their teams’ productivity using sprint velocity, the time taken to complete one sprint and commence the next.
7. Openness to Modifications Kanban allows changes to a project; therefore, there is scope for continuous improvement as projects proceed. However, multiple and constant client-side changes can also escalate costs, delay projects and cause coordination-related issues. Scrum methodology does not leave much room for changes during a sprint as sprint deliverables are pre-decided. Also, making changes during a sprint can derail other upcoming sprints and create a domino effect, impacting the project’s outcome for the worse.

Kanban Tools vs. Scrum Tools

Choosing the right Kanban tool or Scrum tool depends on the project requirements

Prominent Kanban tools include Jira Software, ClickUp, Trello and Smartsheet. Choosing the right Kanban tool depends on whether you need to visualize and customize your workflow, limit the work in progress (WIP), or explicitly visualize your process policies. Plus, you’ll want a tool that allows for the implementation of feedback loops, and lets you create dashboards with customizable layouts that display performance metrics.

On the other hand, Scrum tools – like the popular options GitHub, monday.com and Target – improve visibility into project progress and resource productivity. Features like daily Scrum standups, sprint reviews and task boards help project teams and stakeholders track the availability of resources and project completion rates in real time. They also benefit project planning through regular and continuous feedback from various stakeholders throughout the project lifecycle.

Kanban vs. Scrum: Which Is Better for Your Project?

Kanban and Scrum are agile project management methods that have gained tremendous popularity among project managers and organizations. Both offer distinct advantages. Kanban is a good fit for teams that need to work on multiple requests of varying priority and scope. Conversely, Scrum processes mandate strict control of the scope of the deliverables.

Many industry insiders advocate using a mix of the two, “Scrumban,” to address project needs. With this mixed approach, project managers focus on enabling teams as they tweak and customize Kanban and Scrum to their requirements.

Different approaches work for different teams, individuals, and projects. Therefore, declaring a winner in the Kanban vs. Scrum battle is not possible without understanding team dynamics, the stakeholders’ vision and project and business needs. Thus, a sure path to project management success lies in identifying what works well for your team and your other stakeholders, and using their feedback to choose a methodology.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Kanban better than Scrum?

Kanban and Scrum are agile project management methods that have gained tremendous popularity among project managers and organizations. Both offer distinct advantages. Kanban is a good fit for teams that need to work on multiple requests of varying priority and scope. Conversely, Scrum processes mandate strict control of the scope of the deliverables. Different things work for different teams and individuals. Therefore, declaring a winner in the Kanban vs. Scrum battle is not possible without understanding team dynamics, the stakeholders’ vision and project and business needs.

Are Kanban and Scrum part of the Agile methodology?

Yes! Kanban and Scrum are part of the agile methodology, which focuses on incremental steps to complete projects. The agile methodology makes products accessible to users as soon as possible, to get early and continuous user feedback that is immediately incorporated into product development plans.

How to choose between Kanban and Scrum?

Kanban works well for teams that wish to visualize their products from beginning to end, while maintaining the flexibility to make changes after incorporating client feedback. On the other hand, Scrum works best if the team wishes to break down projects into several increments and incorporate suggestions and changes after completing a sprint rather than tweaking as they go.

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Shashank Shekhar

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shashank Shekhar

Shashank Shekhar has been a digital and content marketing professional for over 9 years. He specializes in writing about technology trends like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) and their impact on shaping the project management landscape with tools like professional services automation solutions and time-tracking solutions. Outside of work, he loves reading about history, astrophysics and geopolitics.

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