Why evaluate Kanban?
Are you considering moving from Scrum to Kanban? Let’s explore that a bit.
Kanban is known as an Agile way of working. You may have heard the description of Agile being an umbrella with multiple approaches to work being under this broad umbrella. This list, under the big umbrella, often includes Scrum, XP, Kanban, and more.
What these methods have in common is a complimentary set of values, principles, and outcomes. According to the 14th annual State of Agile Report states 58% use Scrum, next with 10%, is ScrumBan. Scrum is the most common approach.
Scrum and Kanban together
A key point to understand about Kanban is that it is agnostic about the framework used and the definition of the way the work flows. If you’d like to visualize a Product Backlog and a Sprint Backlog, no problem, simple in Kanban. Are Epics and Stories your preferred approach to Product Backlog Items (PBI)? Great! Kanban is wide open in defining work items within the system.
All of the facets of core Scrum can be fully implemented together with a Kanban System. A Kanban System helps achieve all of the benefits of an empirical process we enjoy in Scrum – transparency, inspection, and adaptation. You can implement Scrum and Kanban together.
What if Scrum is not working?
Scrum is widely understood to be simple but not easy. To simplify the discussion about Scrum not working, let’s divide Scrum teams into two groups. Group one is applying and growing in the values, and group two, not so much. You might be thinking, “Wait, if the team is living the values, Scrum should be fine.” And yes, that is probably true, until it isn’t.
Sometimes the constraints of Scrum negatively impact creating value. And that is where there is a strong starting point to consider alternatives to Scrum, like Kanban, to realize Agility. Let’s explore how moving from Scrum to Kanban might be advantageous.
Busting those Sprints
A signal that Scrum may not fit is a team regularly has Sprint plans disrupted with new work. Now, this can happen for all sorts of suboptimal reasons, like improper Sprint planning, unclear priorities, lack of Product Owner support, and more. We can also get new work for legitimate reasons. Sometimes we learn, get feedback, and adapt at a rate faster than we plan Sprints. When the cadence of priority work arriving does not align to Sprint boundaries, you need an approach that enables that type of responsiveness. Kanban can support that just-in-time decision making to manage execution more responsively than the batch of work defined in a Sprint.
Customers can’t sort out work status
Sometimes our customers ask for things in a format and structure different from how work gets broken down and executed. The ideal in Scrum is our backlogs are a rank-ordered list of customer recognizable work. If that is not the case for your team, then Kanban can provide an alternative.
A single Kanban board can visualize the same work in different forms. Visualize parallel horizontal lanes where the top lane is the customer recognizable work request, and below is a lane for the team to breakdown the work into a way the team understands and executes. As work progresses, these items move in parallel from left to right.
A quick example, imagine a Business Intelligence focused team getting a customer request for a new data widget to on a data portal. The request for a data widget can sit in the top lane of our Kanban board. A team will decompose the work to create a data widget into multiple technical work items. A technical team breakdown often doesn’t speak to the customer. Things like data connections, schema updates, data integration, data staging, and… well… you get the picture. This multi-tiered representation meeting the tracking needs of customer and team alike is straightforward in Kanban.
You may need to change
Above we highlighted two reasons Scrum may not be a fit for your team.
- The cadence of priority work arrives more quickly than the length of a Sprint.
- The representation of work is in a form the customer does not understand.
These are just two of many potential reasons the constraints of Scrum are holding back value. Kanban is an alternative to achieving Agile outcomes. The flexibility of Kanban System design allows relaxing multiple constraints of Scrum in a disciplined and flexible manner. If you considering moving from Scrum to Kanban, try an experiment, see if a change is a fit for your team.
Article by Van Wray, AKT, CSP
Van Wray is an Accredited Kanban Trainer and Coach. He is the principal consultant at Amperant Advisors in Orange County, California. Van partners with Rocket Nine Solutions to provide Kanban training.
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