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Jan 05

Is Kanban the new Scrum? I don’t think so

I’m writing this in response to a blog by The Hacker Chick. She says that, although Scrum works, the thing she does not like is the time boxed sprints. And that fixed sprints can slowdown release and make the project less flexible. Kanban does not work with time boxes and can maintain a steady flow of work that can be released if the team chooses to do so. There is something like Wip (work in progress) but that does not say much about when things are done. Kanban does give a good overview for the work items and if there are any bottlenecks, Kanban will reveal. But using Kanban can also be dangerous for startup teams. And here is why.

Companies that adapt a form of agile framework start with shopping around and search for what is the best working method and try to adept to it. If a company has worked with a waterfall methodology, some of the people working there have a very hard time loosing the old way and start working according to the new. About Scrum it is often said that the rules are simple but implementing and maintaining is very hard. This is true, you have to stay on top of it and try to keep everyone on board. Often there is a big resentment against working with Scrum because it has a big impact on the business. This is also true. Development teams are having a good time. Al of a sudden they can decide how to do the work the best they can. The pressure is gone. The team estimates work and there is a clear view of what can be done and what not. I know that most project managers like to have control. And loosing that control, even though it is a fake kind of control, feels as though they are left out of the process.

Then there is Kanban. And Kanban gives back this control. There is a visual workflow that project manager’s love and understand. Kanban does not say anything about speed or what can be done within a given time, so project manager can start pushing again. You might think that pushing can be mistaken for trying to solve impediments but Kanban does not dictate any use of certain roles like a scrummaster or specific meetings. There is no Retrospective or impediments list. Everything is open with Kanban. It does not say anything about estimations by the team. It is just a visual card and board system. So there is a very big risk that nothing changes. Project managers can still keep on the pressure and start pushing forward. They can get there waterfall moments as it is possible to divide the project in work columns (design, development, testing etc). Kanban only shows the state a work item is at. No more no less. I admit that it protects people from having too much work. But there is no real measurement to show what their limit is. The WIP measurement does not provide any form of protection for the team. If you push people they do more work, and specially newbie’s to Kanban,.  So in a way Kanban is not completely Agile.

I know that I’m stepping on a steep slope here. I’m not a Kanban expert. I know Scrum. But a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, I used to be a project manager. And working with a Kanban board draws me back to the dark side. I don’t give in but the feeling is there. I do believe that Kanban works. And it can work for startup companies to adept to Lean management. But it is also very open for misinterpretation. It is a tool that, in the wrong hands, can turn itself on its owners faster than you think. Even faster than with Scrum when not attended by devoted users. It has a high risk factor that will make a company fall back to the old ways.

But I want to end this with a upbeat feeling. Kanban is a good visual system that can reveal a lot of uncertainties about a project. It can maintain a steady flow of work. It is easy to adept. And it is open for new ideas and improvements. But I do believe that it is something different and not to be compared with something like Scrum. Please feel free to prove me wrong. Next to Scrum I try to work with Kanban for maintenance and maybe there is something I don’t see yet. But as a Scrummaster on the light side of the force and as a former project manager who pushed away the Dark side I know the force is strong, especially for those new to Kanban.

Permanente koppeling naar dit artikel: http://agilethings.nl/is-kanban-the-new-scrum-i-dont-think-so/

  • The way you describe Kanban lacks two basic ingredients from my point of view. Andersson describes Kanban with the following five principles:
    1. Visualize the workflow
    2. Limit WIP
    3. Manage Flow
    4. Make Process Policies Explicit
    5. Improve Collaboratively (using models & the scientific method)
    (http://agilemanagement.net/index.php/Blog/the_principles_of_the_kanban_method/)

    I miss number 3 and 5 in your description. The fifth is basically most valuable. If I was asked to strip down Agile to a single thing, it would be to hold retrospectives for process improvements. If you don’t do that, you set up your team for failure in the long run.

    The third item, manage flow, is also lacking in the description as I understood it. If I strive to push people for more work (or faster work), then I am not managing the flow, I become a slave driver.

    • As I described, i’m not a Kanban expert. But this concern is not from just me. How can you add control factors like time and velocity to a flow. Apart from WIP I can’t seem to find anything about these factors. Without these control factors to me it seems very hard to adjust or improve. By simply breaking the WIP or adjusting it, there is still no control. Maybe i’m to much into Scrum. And that is why I warn about the danger to start using Scrum as a Agile framework. I believe it is good to first start with something like Scrum. Make it your own and then slowly move to things like Kanban. For example, I believe using Kanban within Scrum can work very well. But you have to know Scrum in order to do so.

      The URL to Agile management does not provide any insight about the control within Kanban, it just states that you should have something.

      But I want to be clear on one thing. I believe that Kanban can work. But it can easily be turned into something that is more like waterfall than Agile. People new to Kanban might fall into this trap. And because Kanban is open to anything, this trap is easily set. You can state that this is the case with all work methods and models. But some of these models, like Scrum, are a bit harder to break. The rules are more unlined then with Kanban.

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  • Thanks for sharing, Kanban has a lot of policies as well, but that requires the team to follow as opposed to one person enforcing it.

  • Jesse Romeijn

    @Erwin – I think you make a good point, in my work as Agile coach I often see teams who are convinced the’re doing kanban, when in fact what they od is setting up a waterfall type flow on a kanban-like board. I am a big fan of kanban (and ambasador of kanbantool.com, happy to disclose), but I believe that making kanban work is not a one day set-up job. It does require attention and someone overlooking the way it changes and evolves.. at least in the first stages (couple of weeks – to months, depending on the process and team complexity). It’s not all dead easy, really. But once tailored to specific needs, it does work, indeed.