When we talk about workplace agility, we typically mean one of two things—being agile and doing agile.

Being agile is all about your mindset, focusing on collaboration, being open and receptive to change, and enabling a more nimble and responsive way of working. On the other hand, doing agile is all about making it stick via industry-hardened tools, techniques, and frameworks. Simultaneously, organizations can adopt dozens of approaches to deliver value in a more agile fashion; two of the more widely adopted methods for providing software or products include Scrum or Kanban. But what exactly are they, and what are the benefits?

Scrum and Kanban: What’s the Difference?

Scrum is an iterative approach for software delivery that focuses on identifying, planning, and prioritizing work. Kanban, traditionally derived from lean manufacturing processes, is a method for delivering something of value “just-in-time” with a focus on reducing and eliminating wait time in your processes.

Both Scrum and Kanban are widely adopted approaches for delivering value. While each method has its benefits and disadvantages, both Scrum and Kanban are flexible and lightweight enough that teams can typically pick one or the other and realize a similar path to successful value delivery.

In agile coaching circles, Kanban is sometimes the better approach to get people introduced to being (and thinking more agile). Because it can retrofit nicely into your existing workflow, it doesn’t carry all the ‘fluff’ associated with more formally defined practices. Kanban uses a series of workflow columns and fundamental metrics to ensure consistent workflow and monitors against specific thresholds.

For example, by splitting workflow states into separate “Doing” vs. “Done” sub-states, team members can confidently pick up assignments when ready instead of waiting for assigned work. Additionally, having a visualized workflow ensures appropriate quality measures are followed before deploying.

The Kanban Board

On the other hand, for organizations with more mature project or program management capabilities, or for organizations that are working to drive more consistency and predictability, Scrum can be an excellent jumping-on point for teams making the shift to agile.

Sprints (also commonly known as iterations or timeboxes) are a vital component of Scrum. Sprints are short intervals, usually lasting two weeks, where the team focuses on showing incremental value. At the end of each sprint, teams inspect what was completed and adapt for the next sprint accordingly.

Additionally, Scrum includes several ceremonies and artifacts, such as sprint planning and the product backlog, that shifts the emphasis to better understanding (and honoring) work deliverable commitments. Once a sprint is completed, teams can meet during a retrospective to discuss ways they can improve. Teams that incorporate these tools and techniques will benefit from more frequent feedback loops and identify opportunities to course correct faster while also enhancing overall transparency and collaboration.

Typical Scrum Setup

However, picking the right fit isn’t as easy as it seems. Each team has nuanced and unique ways of working and pressures and expectations from outside forces, so several factors should be considered when implementing either Kanban or Scrum. Things like estimated time to complete, work planning, response time, and even having the ability to identify bottlenecks, should all be assessed to help drive the right decision.

For example, if the work scope is well known and clearly defined, Scrum helps teams effectively plan and commit to what will (or should) be delivered in a given timeframe. Because Scrum operates on an iterative basis, it is also a promising approach for providing team members with opportunities to frequently check-in on progress, make any tweaks or improvements, and accept any new or changing requirements without significantly impacting their work plan. One of the primary benefits of Scrum is that teams can work on much shorter increments and show value more quickly compared to more traditional waterfall approaches, which can take weeks or even months to provide opportunities for a check-in.

Therefore, we observe that one of the main benefits of following Scrum is predictability. By standing up Scrum teams and supporting constructs, teams and customers alike can benefit from having a repeatable cadence.

Kanban can be an excellent alternative for organizations that are new to agile transformation or in cases where work is not predictable or where ad hoc processes are the norm.

Kanban allows teams to focus on visualizing and optimizing their process or flow, emphasizing throughput. Kanban is most suitable for support teams or support processes where service level agreements (SLA) or completion times are vital drivers. Kanban greatly benefits from teams and processes with generalized expertise and an innate opportunity to work when the need arises.

However, for either Scrum or Kanban to be successful, there are some key factors to keep in mind:


How dedicated are team members? Are they supporting a single body of work, or are they asked to support multiple work efforts? Starting with this question can sometimes help in picking the best path forward. Simply put, it’s essential to have dedicated team members and business engagement for Scrum to shine. Scrum requires a high level of participation and commitment to ensure that the right value is delivered at the right time. When team members are split between different initiatives or in a situation where there is little collaboration from the house’s business side (usually in the form of a dedicated Product or Business Owner), it’s challenging for team members to honor commitments establish a good rhythm. In cases where team members are not entirely dedicated, Kanban could be the right solution because it visualizes constraints and empowers team members to pick up work items as they are ready.

Work Scheduling & Prioritization

Having the ability to schedule and prioritize work enhances organizational transparency. However, it can be difficult to schedule and prioritize work that comes in more frequently.

While Scrum excels in cases where upfront planning happens for big-bang deliverables, Kanban could be a better fit for support-type processes that heavily involve ad hoc requests like support tickets. Teams and stakeholders must align with how work is delivered and at what frequency to help mitigate potential risks associated with timeliness and ensure customer satisfaction.


Both Scrum and Kanban provide opportunities to optimize and improve. We can reference the Sprint Burndown or Sprint Velocity to monitor potential issues and course correct for the next iteration in Scrum. We can observe Cumulative Flow and Cycle Time metrics in Kanban to ensure consistent throughput with little to no wait periods. In either case, it’s crucial to track progress and identify ways for continuous improvement to enable agility.

So, Which One Should I Pick?

In practical application, both Scrum and Kanban can help your team deliver value in a timely fashion. While each approach is unique, both Scrum and Kanban provide several benefits and advantages that can increase throughput, transparency, and consistent work delivery when implemented and practiced correctly. Not sure which one is the best fit? In the true spirit of agility, it’s essential to experiment and find the best path forward based on your unique needs and environment.

Scrum and Kanban are important components of doing agile, but agile transformation efforts can be complex, especially at scale. Radiant Digital has personnel and expertise to make doing agile a daily thing. For help with your organization or client’s agile transformation, contact Radiant Digital [info@radiant.digital].

by Frank Cannistra, Radiant Digital

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