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Agile vs. Scrum vs. Kanban: Which One To Use? And When

Updated on March 18, 2024By
Agile vs Scrum Vs Kanban

Agile vs. Scrum vs. Kanban is the most spoken about in the inner circle of project managers. However, these three are not entirely the same, nor are they completely different. 

All three concepts are handy for project managers, but how are they different from each other exactly? Let’s take a closer look at Agile, Scrum, and Kanban—uncovering how these tools optimize group performance and enhance project results.

A Comparative Analysis of Agile vs. Scrum vs. Kanban

Understanding the key difference between Agile vs. Scrum vs. Kanban is really important. Let’s take a quick look at what sets these three concepts apart from each other.

MethodologyAgile is a philosophy that hinges on flexibility, collaboration, and customer feedback.Scrum is a specific Agile framework that organizes work into time-boxed iterations called sprints.Kanban is a method for managing work that emphasizes just-in-time delivery while not overloading the team members.
FocusCollaboration, adaptability, and customer feedback.Iterative development and self-organization.Visualizing work, limiting work in progress, and continuous improvement.
MeetingsIteration planning, daily stand-ups, and retrospectives are common.Daily Scrum (stand-up), Sprint Planning, Sprint Review, and Sprint Retrospective.Daily stand-up (Kanban meeting), periodic replenishment, and service delivery review.
ArtifactsUser stories, product backlog, and potentially burndown charts.Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog, Burndown Charts, and potentially Release Burndown.Kanban board, cumulative flow diagrams, lead time, and cycle time metrics.
TimeboxingMay use iterations, but timeboxing is not mandatory.Time-boxed iterations are called sprints, usually 2-4 weeks long.There are no fixed time boxes; work is pulled as capacity allows.
Roles & ResponsibilitiesCollaboration across the group and with stakeholders.The Scrum Master facilitates the process, the Product Owner represents stakeholders, and the Development group delivers the product.Kanban Lead manages workflow; team members pull tasks as capacity allows and focus on continuous delivery.
PlanningAdaptive planning throughout the project.Sprint Planning at the beginning of each sprint.Continuous planning and replenishment as work progresses.

Now that you have a high-level overview of each one of these, let’s take a look at each one of these frameworks individually and with more details:

What is Agile?

Agile methodology is a unique outlook of project management that involves iterative development, across-the-board collaboration, and continuous improvement.

agile project management methodology

To achieve this, agile methodology has four values that encompass the approach: 

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools. This value emphasizes the merit of having the right mix of people on your development team and how valuing them is integral to success. 
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation. Time is a valuable resource in development. Deprioritizing documentation will save developers plenty of time, allowing them to focus on actual software work. Agile places precedence on getting the product to customers rather than creating detailed documentation.
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation. Agile is big on continuous development and adapting to changing circumstances. Therefore, there should be constant feedback loops with customers rather than rigid contracts that often have the effect of a mismatch between interests and results.
  4. Responding to change over following a plan. In Agile, development teams should be able to pivot when the situation requires. Having a flexible plan that allows a team to shift priorities if necessary is crucial to the Agile approach. 

Officially founded in 2001, Agile Methodology was a groundbreaking way of creating software. It allowed software development crews to produce quality output within a reasonable time frame without sacrificing the project’s overarching goals

The Agile Manifesto is further broken down into twelve principles:

  • Customer satisfaction through the early and continuous delivery of quality software;
  • Welcoming changing requirements even late into the development process;
  • Delivering software in shorter periods of a couple of weeks to a couple of months;
  • Daily collaboration between software developers and business stakeholders;
  • Giving teams an environment where they are supported and trusted to get the job done;
  • Focusing on face-to-face conversation as it is the most efficient way of conveying information;
  • Using working software as the principal measure of success;
  • The software and business team must move at a sustainable pace;
  • Paying close attention to good design and excellent technical work;
  • Keeping it simple and focusing on maximizing the amount of work not done;
  • Self-organizing groups are the best way to yield excellent architectures and designs;
  • Regular reflection is necessary for teams to become more effective.

In essence, Agile Methodology is about understanding how to shift priorities, focus on feedback, and continuously adjust strategies in order to achieve optimum results. 

There is no single way to develop an Agile crew. Instead, there are numerous applications of the Agile Manifesto in development work, including Scrum and Kanban. 

The Benefits of Agile Methodology

Now that we’ve established the core ideas behind agile methodology, we must understand how it benefits a team in real life.

Swift Progress

Teams working under an agile approach are likely to get more work done in a limited amount of time than non-agile teams. Because Agile focuses on solid collaboration and feedback, it takes teams much faster to complete tasks according to stakeholder requirements. 

Moreover, delivering piecemeal results allows Agile teams to receive critique in real time and adjust their processes to reflect feedback. 

Goal Alignment

Agile methodology also promotes goal alignment between stakeholders and developers. In a conventional development process, there are often issues related to miscommunication and a mismatch between what business stakeholders want and what the developers can provide. 

Agile practices are an excellent way to circumvent those issues due to more effective communication between parties.

Continuous Improvement

At its core, Agile project management is all about iteration. Building a project piece by piece allows new ideas to be tested, changed, and adapted as necessary. 

The benefit of iterative development lies in time. Development teams don’t have to wait until the end of the process to test their ideas and receive feedback—they can do it as soon as there is a working piece of tech that stakeholders can provide feedback on. 

Overall, this yields a result that has undergone multiple stages of feedback and is understandably much better than a similar project that has undergone just a single round of feedback. 

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What is Scrum?

Although scrum is a separate discussion from agile, it is an agile project management framework. Scrum falls under the Agile Methodology umbrella, much like Kanban, but there will be more on Kanban later. 

More specifically, Scrum is a framework, while Agile is an ideology.

what is scrum

What sets scum apart is that it actually prescribes a specific set of practices that teams have to go through to encourage teamwork and collaboration. While scrum is most prevalent in technical development, any group can utilize it to make their workflow easier

Members of a Scrum Team

To understand scrum, getting to know the principal members of the scrum team is essential. 

Product Owner

The product owner bears the majority of the responsibility with product-related tasks such as:

  • Understanding customers,
  • Market requirements and
  • Knowing the business side of things.

However, they also have to understand the development process enough to manage the backlog for the development team. 

Product owners work very closely with business stakeholders and the engineering team to ensure everyone is on the same page with the goals they are all working towards.

Product owners also provide the scrum team with direction regarding what features need to be developed in the next iteration.

Scrum Master

As the name implies, the scrum master is tasked with knowing how to run a scrum team. A scrum master must deeply understand the scrum framework and how group members can implement scrum practices in their work processes. 

Scrum masters typically oversee the following sprint ceremonies:

  • Sprint Planning;
  • Daily Stand-up;
  • Sprint Review; and
  • Sprint Retrospective;

As a base requirement, scrum masters must understand what work needs to be done to achieve optimum delivery. They should also know their crew members and play to their strengths, using each team member’s abilities to produce a good quality product. 

Scrum masters are not always technical members; they can be anyone on the team. Often, project managers become the scrum masters of a scrum team, although the two are not at all the same thing. 

Development Team

The development team is a cross-functional group of individuals that includes 

  • Software developers, 
  • Testers, 
  • UI/UX designers, and 
  • Ops engineers, among others. 

Scrum development teams are usually relatively small (typically 5-7 members) but pack quite a punch. These groups have to be efficient, tight-knit, and well-aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses and use them to the group’s benefit. 

Because scrum teams are cross-functional, members can help train each other to reduce bottlenecks in development. 

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What are Scrum Ceremonies?

The Scrum framework is characterized by repetitive events called scrum ceremonies. These ceremonies are steps or meetings that scrum teams have to perform regularly as part of the development process. 

Ideally, it consists of the following steps:

1. Backlog Grooming.

Organizing the backlog is an integral step of a sprint and is typically cared for by the product owner. The product owner has to keep the backlog clean based on feedback from the development team and other stakeholders. 

Grooming the backlog helps the team keep working on what’s essential. The backlog is usually organized in buckets based on future sprints. This way, the development team can pull from the items on the backlog during sprint planning, taking into consideration the team’s capacity to complete the stories.

2. Sprint Planning.

Sprint planning is a collaborative activity where the entire development team meets to discuss what needs to be done in the next sprint. 

The scrum master spearheads sprint planning meetings, but everyone pitches in with their own ideas of what user stories can be completed and what can go back to the backlog. All the stories added to the sprint must align with the team’s goal for the current iteration.

Capacity during sprint planning is usually measured by story points, of which there are corresponding development hours involved. 

3. Sprint.

The “sprint” refers to the entire period of time the team spends working on the sprint—starting from sprint planning to the retrospective. A typical time frame for a sprint is two weeks, but other groups might find themselves more suited to weekly or monthly sprints. 

It is ideal to maintain a consistent sprint period (i.e., 2-week sprints for the rest of the development period) once the team has established a time frame that works for them. Before that, however, crews should experiment and re-negotiate the time it takes to complete one sprint.

4. Daily Stand-ups.

Daily stand-ups are essentially short meetings that occur daily. To retain the value of efficiency, stand-ups usually last around 15 minutes, but they could run for longer. 

The point of daily standups is for the group to stay informed about what the others are working on to ensure the group has an aligned goal for the day. Daily standups are usually done in synchronous meetings, but asynchronous standups are an option as well. 

5. Sprint Review.

Near the end of a sprint, after the development work for the sprint is done, the development team meets to see a demo of the iteration they worked on. The demo is generally shown to other stakeholders as well to get their feedback. 

The demo will consist of the items or user stories that the team has moved to ‘Done.’ Items in the sprint that were not completed will be moved to the backlog to be picked up in the next sprint or another future sprint.

The sprint review also gives the product owner to rework the backlog based on feedback from the technical and business stakeholders. 

6. Sprint Retrospective.

Sprint retrospectives are the last step in a sprint and are vital in determining how teams should proceed in the next iteration.

In a retrospective, the scrum team gets together and discusses what went wrong, what went right, strategies they’re keeping, and strategies they’re eliminating. Retrospectives are all about learning how to do better the next time, given each team member’s experience. 

Retrospectives are critical for a team to grow and learn from their mistakes. Although it might seem like a sprint retrospective is a waste of time, a compelling retrospective is one of the best things a scrum master can do for their team. After a retrospective, members should feel seen and heard and know that the issues they raise will be addressed.

Scrum Values

For project managers, understanding the value behind scrum practices and ceremonies is essential to a scrum team’s success. Even with limited experience in a scrum-based environment, a project manager can do an excellent job by following the following scrum values:

  • Commitment. Commitment relates to knowing how much a member can commit to doing in a single iteration. Each member’s work is valuable and essential (partly because scrum teams are usually small); thus, overcommitments can make a massive dent in the group’s progress.
  • Courage. A scrum team operates by being able to share their opinions throughout the development process. High-quality output isn’t achieved simply by subscribing to the status quo. Members must have the courage to share their ideas despite how unconventional they may be.
  • Focus. Sprints work well only if a scrum team is focused on getting the work done. By following the sprint structure, a team can focus all of its energy on what needs to be done in this iteration and let go of other issues. 
  • Openness. Transparency is one of the most integral aspects of scrum. When team members are open about what they’re working on, what they worked on the prior day, and what issues they’re facing, the entire team can address potential blockers to development.  
  • Respect. A scrum team is most effective with cross-collaboration. Respecting and acknowledging each other’s work is integral to completing a sprint successfully and developing a working iteration. 

Scrum is a genuinely remarkable project management framework when used well. It relies not only on the technical skills of individual team members but also plays into the team’s collective strengths. 

More than that, scrum understands that members are human beings, not robots. Output is a valuable aspect of Scrum, but it is arguably more important to know the group well and work within their limits. 

With work and consistency, the scrum framework is one of the most sustainable ways to develop a good quality product without burning out the engineering and development team. 

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What is Kanban?

Kanban view in Nifty
Kanban view in Nifty

What you’re seeing right now is a Kanban board. Kanban is another of the most used frameworks in Agile Methodology and is an excellent tool for visualizing the work that needs to be done.

Kanban, as you can probably tell from the name, originated in Japan. Understanding its origins will help you appreciate its use by agile groups. 

Back in the 1940s, Japanese car manufacturer Toyota began implementing a just-in-time method of stocking inventory. This means parts were replenished as they were used, and only enough supply was stocked to satisfy customer demand just in time—thereby leaving almost no waste and excess inventory.

Similarly, Kanban employed in a software development context follows the same rules of optimizing product delivery while reducing waste. As a project management framework, Kanban helps speed up delivery cycles and encourages dynamic task management while remaining considerate of group capacity. 

Benefits of Kanban

1. Increased Efficiency

Kanban increases a group’s efficiency by isolating problem areas in the workflow. When tasks get stuck in a specific phase, the development team should take this as a signal that adjustments must be made to remove the bottleneck. 

If tasks keep getting stuck in design while the rest of the team doesn’t utilize their time, maybe hiring more designers or adding a senior UI/UX specialist to the team is critical. If tasks are bottlenecked at the testing phase, then it could be a sign to expand the QA team. 

2. JIT Delivery

Because works still in process are capped in Kanban, working features are always delivered just in time. That is, the design is completed just in time for the developer to take on more work and just as the tester is done with testing the last feature. 

Through JIT, software features don’t end up piling up in one stage of development while the rest of the workflow sits empty. 

3. Smooth Handoff

In Kanban, each team member has a primary role in the development process (i.e., software developer, UI/UX Designer). The Kanban board is an easy visual reminder of whose responsibility a specific card is. 

So when a card moves to design, it’s the designer’s responsibility. And when a card moves to testing, it’s the tester’s responsibility. This eliminates any confusion within the team and improves task handoff. 

4. Improved Collaboration

Kanban heavily relies on the visual capacity of the Kanban board. Because the board clearly shows where each step is in the development process, every team member knows which feature/card is in which phase. 

As a result, team members get a better grasp of what the others are working on, creating a better sense of understanding and collaboration. 

Understanding Kanban Boards

A Kanban board is the crux of the Kanban framework. Kanban boards can be physical boards where team members add sticky notes, or they could also be virtual boards on apps like Trello, Asana, and Jira. 

Ideally, Kanban boards are customized to the team’s preferences, but as a general rule, boards are structured according to the following columns:

Those three categories represent the most basic breakdown of any task. At any point, a task is either in To Do, in progress (Doing), or is already done. 

Teams can further break down these categories how they like. For instance, development crews might include categories for grooming when a task or user story needs some rework, testing when the QA group is testing the feature, or reviewing when a senior developer is reviewing a junior developer’s work. 

Kanban boards act as a visualizer for the team’s tasks and how they move through the team’s workflow. These boards help teams identify whenever there are bottlenecks in the process—such as when tasks keep getting stuck in review while prior steps are moving along just fine. 

Circumventing bottlenecks is another one of Kanban’s best benefits. Teams can limit bottlenecks in each category by setting limits for work in process categories. For example, a team can only have at most three tasks in testing, and once it gets to that point, the QA arm of the group should put all its effort into clearing the list to make space for new items. 

If items keep getting stuck in one category, then that’s a clear indicator that something needs to be done about the issue—improving the balance between developers and testers, for example. 

What are Kanban Cards?

Kanban cards represent each item of work on a Kanban board. These cards are placed in their designated steps of the development workflow and are markers of how far the group is into getting that item done. 

These cards typically include task specifications, acceptance criteria, and any other information integral to moving the card to Done.

Can Kanban be used in Scrum?

Yep! Kanban boards are actually pretty frequently used by scrum teams during the development process. While these scrum teams do not necessarily employ the Kanbank framework, they can use Kanban boards to visualize their development process and improve their workflow. 

It’s crucial to understand that one of the defining characteristics that sets Kanban apart from Scrum is time. While scrum teams continuously develop in time-boxed iterations (sprints), a team following Kanban does the opposite. 

In Kanban, there is always a free-flowing list of tasks to be done in ‘To Do.’ Usually, designers are the first step in the development process. So when a designer on the team has the capacity, they pick up a card from the To Do pile and begin working on it. 

When they’re done, they can move it to the category for items to be developed. The developer then follows similar steps whenever they have the capacity, and so on. To give you a better idea of Kanban’s real-life applications, categories for software development usually look like: 

  • Backlog
  • Priority
  • Design
  • Development
  • Testing
  • Blocked
  • Done

Note that tasks don’t always have to move in a linear way through the workflow. Cards can move from testing back to development and from development back to design! 

While that would reduce efficiency, the beauty of Kanban (and Agile) is that development teams can adjust to changing needs if necessary. 


When used in the context of development work, Agile Frameworks like Scrum and Kanban really illustrate how teams can thrive when they work together towards a unified goal. By setting clear requirements and planning ahead, teams can remain flexible without sacrificing efficiency.

More importantly, teams can work sustainably and avoid burnout—which is always a technical and creative work risk. Through communication, teams collaborate more, become more efficient, and improve the overall quality of the product.

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