Why Team Kanban is no longer enough

Kanban vs. Scrum: What's the Difference?

Kanban and Scrum - You should already be familiar with these terms. But what do they mean exactly? Isn't Scrum a rugby term?

Since each team carries out their own Kanban or Scrum processes in different ways, you may come across different strategies depending on what area you are in. Both frameworks come from visual project management methodologies, so both can be great ways for teams to work together. But before we can compare and contrast the two methods, we must first understand their meanings.


Kanban Most often refers to a visual project management strategy that shows work in a board-like view with columns to show what is happening. With a Kanban board, the individual tasks go through different phases until they are completed.

Worth reading: Kanban boards for beginners

The story of Kanban

The Kanban method was originally developed by Taiichi Ohno during his time at Toyota as a "lean manufacturing" method. In Japanese, Kanban is a combination of two words: 看 (Kàn), which means sign, and 板 (Bǎn), which means blackboard. Originally, Ohno's Kanban system used paper cards to track demand at the Toyota factory. Instead of trying to anticipate the demand and then produce for the anticipated demand, his Kanban method produced and delivered products based on the real ones consumer-Demand.

Kanban today

The Kanban framework developed by Taiichi Ohno was digitized, adapted and refined over several decades in order to become the agile project management system that we know today. At its core, the modern Kanban framework is a visual online method of managing work. When people talk about "Kanban" today, they often refer to the Kanban boards. They are the visual view of project management that brings the Kanban methodology to life.

In a Kanban board, the different phases of the work processing are represented by columns. Within each column, visual cards - similar to the first paper cards from Ohno in the factory hall - depict the individual tasks.

Kanban boards are one of the most popular forms of visual project management. Like other types of visual project management, Kanban boards are sometimes most effective for getting a simple look at a project at a glance.

Worth reading: 3 ways to visualize a project plan: timelines, calendars and boards

Advantages of Kanban boards

When you use a Kanban board for visual project management, you provide your team with a lot of information in a concise manner. When you create your Kanban board in a work management tool, your Kanban board "cards", which represent individual tasks or results, also record the person responsible, the due date and all relevant details such as priority or task type. A work management tool can also expand the map to show task details, context, relevant files, and more.

With Kanban boards, your team has a flexible way of visualizing ongoing work. As a rule, the columns on the Kanban boards show the individual work phases (e.g. "To do", "In progress" and "Done"). Because of this, they are popular visual project management tools for teams doing ongoing processes and projects like creative inquiries or bug tracking projects. It is also possible to set up columns in the Kanban board as you wish. You can create columns according to assignee, area of ​​responsibility, and responsibility or due date.

Kanban boards are a core component of most project management tools, given their effectiveness in visualizing work. If you want to choose the right project management tool for your team, make sure it offers a Kanban view. Better yet, choose a tool that gives you different ways to look at the work. For example, in Asana, the board view (or Kanban) is one of four ways you can choose to illustrate your work, along with the timeline, calendar, and list views.

Worth reading: Four ways to visualize work in Asana


Like Kanban, Scrum is a framework that encourages collaboration and the execution of relevant work. In contrast to Kanban, which is based almost exclusively on the visual form of project management developed by Taiichi Ohno, Scrum is a complete framework with which you can “lead teams”.

The story of Scrum

The term "scrum" was originally used by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka in product development in their 1986 article in the Harvard Business Review The New New Product Development Game used. In the article they introduce Scrum:

“Increasingly, companies are realizing that the old, sequential approach to developing new products just doesn't work. Instead, companies in Japan and the United States are adopting a holistic approach. Similar to rugby, the ball is passed on within the team as it moves forward as a unit on the field. "

In 1995, Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland published the SCRUM development process, in which they outlined the techniques and principles of modern Scrum. Schwaber and Sutherland continued to research and refine their Scrum methodology, particularly in their Scrum Handbook - a document that they update regularly. In the Scrum Handbook, they do not define Scrum “as a process, technique or definitive method. Rather, it is a framework within which you can apply various processes and techniques. ”According to Schwaber and Sutherland, Scrum helps teams to continuously improve their product, their team and their entire work environment. It does this by encouraging teams to examine the effectiveness of their work techniques and challenging the teams to continuously develop and improve them.

Scrum today

Today, product, engineering, software development, and other agile teams use Scrum to do their jobs faster and more effectively. A Scrum master is usually employed to carry out Scrum, who is responsible for carrying out the three different Scrum phases and ensuring that everyone is up to date. The Scrum Master can be your team leader, project manager, product owner or the person who is most interested in implementing the three traditional Scrum phases:

  • Phase 1: Sprint planning. A Scrum Sprint usually lasts 2 weeks, whereby the teams can also carry out longer or shorter sprints. During the sprint planning phase, the scrum master and team take a look at the team's backlog and select the tasks to be completed during the sprint.

  • Phase 2: Daily scrum standups. During the course of Scrum (also known as Scrum “runtime”), teams typically meet briefly each day to review progress and ensure that the amount of work assigned is appropriate.

  • Phase 3: Sprint retrospective. When the sprint is over, the scrum master holds a sprint retrospective meeting. Here, work performance is evaluated, unfinished tasks are added back to the backlog and you prepare for the next sprint.

Worth reading: Asana for Agile and Scrum

The aim of Scrum is not to finish something in two weeks, deliver it and never deal with it again. Instead, Scrum takes the “continuous improvement” approach, in which teams take small steps towards larger goals. By dividing the work into smaller parts, Scrum helps teams set priorities better and work more efficiently.

Benefits of Scrum

Teams that work with Scrum have clearly defined rules, processes and responsibilities. In addition, daily Scrum meetings, combined with sprint planning and sprint review (or “retrospective” meetings), help the teams to continuously review and improve the current processes.

Since Scrum draws from a backlog and begins with a sprint planning meeting, Scrum provides a simple, inherent structure for team leaders or product owners to manage and support their team's most important work. This level of built-in prioritization is combined with clearly defined responsibilities. During a Scrum, your team has a specific and limited amount of work and time for each sprint.

Wait a minute, what is agile?

When we talk about Kanban and Scrum, there is often a third term that is often used: Agile.

Agile teams often work with Scrum and Kanban boards. It is helpful to think of agile as a larger, overarching term. Just as you can use a Kanban board without using Scrum, there can be an agile team that works without Scrum and Kanban boards. Think of agile as a project management philosophy. Following an agile methodology means following a repetitive and progressive development that helps teams respond to change and deal with uncertainties. Both Kanban and Scrum are subgroups of the Agile methodology.

Learn more: Manage your agile projects with a better agile management tool

The difference between Kanban and Scrum

Now that you have a better understanding of what Kanban and Scrum are and where the two frameworks come from, let's talk about their differences next so you know which one to use and when.

Scrum is clearer than Kanban

As a defined framework, Scrum contains a specific set of “rules” that the teams must adhere to. You can modify or adapt any Scrum rule related to your team. Basically with Scrum there is a Scrum master, a backlog, a sprint period, regular stand-up meetings and a defined end for each sprint.

Kanban, on the other hand, is most often used to visualize work of any kind. In fact, many teams are doing Scrum on a Kanban board, in which case they are still doing Scrum and not Kanban. Think of Kanban less as a “methodology” with a set of rules and more as a tool for visualizing work.

Scrum is time-bound

Working with Scrum is based on sprints, which are two-week work cycles. During a Scrum cycle, your team starts with a backlog. At the end of a sprint, you have a collection of completed tasks - it doesn't matter what type of work it is. Not every team will complete all of the tasks assigned to them during a Scrum cycle. So the primary goal of Scrum is to get a result at the "end" of your sprint.

Often times, when teams do Scrum on Kanban boards (sometimes called Scrum boards), they create a new board for each Scrum Sprint. There are two reasons for this:

  1. Teams that create new boards for each sprint can start all over again. This makes it easier for the Scrum Master and Scrum Team to visualize the new work they have to do for each Sprint.

  2. Scrum Masters use previous Scrum Boards to keep track of what work was done during each Scrum cycle. Since the implementation of Scrum in teams is primarily about process improvement and efficiency, a review of what has been achieved so far can be helpful.

Unlike Scrum, Kanban boards don't necessarily have to have a start or end date. In fact, at Asana we mostly use Kanban boards to represent ongoing processes. The flexible nature of these visual boards makes them ideal for managing inquiry processes or inquiries for creative projects without the need to set a specific time frame.

The columns of the Kanban boards can be organized in different ways

When doing a sprint, it is important to keep track of the work as it moves through its various stages. From the product backlog to the finished result, measuring work progress is one of the most important ways to keep the sprint on track. It is also an important part of your daily stand-up scrum meetings.

But within a non-Scrum Kanban board, the columns can represent a variety of work, not just work status. For example, you could create a kanban board with columns for each member of your team to keep track of work being done. Alternatively, a kanban board could have columns that show the work that is done each month - or a retrospective kanban board that records the work that was previously done in a particular month. The columns of a Kanban board can be anything you need right now. In contrast to Scrum, which has much more strictly defined rules.

Both Kanban and Scrum encourage teams to continuously improve

One of the key points of the agile methodology is flexibility and continuous improvement. It's also one of the reasons product, engineering, and software development teams are so drawn to agile philosophies. Continuous improvement is a big part of both Kanban and Scrum.

Instead of working on a product over a longer period of time in Scrum and only delivering it when it is perfect, the process of continuous improvement in Scrum rather describes the principle “process over perfection”. During a sprint, the teams work on new products, functions or tools and make them available directly. This is followed by continuous improvement if necessary.

With Kanban, continuous improvement relates more to the team and its processes than to individual tasks. Kanban presents teams with the challenge of always looking for ways to gradually adapt, improve and develop on several levels.

Both Kanban and Scrum can help teams work together

While collaboration can look different depending on the framework your team chooses, both Kanban and Scrum are basically ways for teams to work better together.

In a Scrum framework, the strict rules are a good way for teams to see each other's work. The set roles, set meetings, and regular sprints make it easy for every member of the Scrum team to get a quick look at what each team member is working on. Also in the work progress and what you can expect at the end of each sprint. And there is another advantage if several teams in your company use Scrum. Cross-functional teams can orientate themselves more quickly and understand a Scrum board quickly because they are all relatively similar.

Similarly, Kanban promotes transparency among employees. Once you've decided what your Kanban board represents, teams can quickly get an overview by simply looking at the board.

When Kanban makes sense

There's no precise rule when your team should use Kanban, Scrum, or any other form of visual project management. However, if the following are true, Kanban could be a good choice:

  • Your team needs a visual project management system

  • You want to see the status of a project at a glance

  • You are not part of an engineering, product, or software development team

  • You are working on ongoing processes or projects

  • Most of your work cannot be completed in short periods of time

Even if you don't use a Scrum framework, you can still get inspiration from it. For example, you might not want your work to be limited to two-week sprints. Still, you may want to maintain a backlog for your team to better understand the tasks and prioritize. The best thing about Kanban is that you can take what works for you and just discard the rest.

When Scrum makes sense

Scrum can be a powerful way to organize and prioritize your entire process. Even if not every team benefits from Scrum, you can benefit from Scrum in the following situations:

  • You work in an engineering, product, software development or agile team

  • You think your team could benefit from a more rigid structure

  • You have a larger backlog to work through

  • Your team feels motivated by short deadlines and quick results

  • Someone on your team is committed to being the Scrum Master

And keep in mind that you can always do Scrum on a Kanban board. In order to have effective daily stand-up meetings and excellent sprints and retrospectives, you need a powerful method to visualize your work across the individual phases and to keep track of all your ongoing work. Kanban boards can help manage your sprint backlog and organize the workflow during a sprint so that every scrum cycle is a success.

Kanban vs. Scrum: Which is Better?

The good news is, you don't have to choose one. If Scrum feels right for your team, you can visualize your Scrum workflow on a Kanban board. If you're not sure if you need the full Scrum framework, that's fine too. You can use a Kanban board to keep your team organized and agile.

The most important thing is to find a framework and a tool that will work for you. Regardless of whether you are using a Scrum or Kanban framework, make sure that your work management system is flexible enough to help your team succeed.