To SCRUM or to Kanban? – Which one fits.

SCRUM and Kanban (as applied to software development) are different. Proponents of the two drift from staunch opposition to declaring Kanban as a special case of Scrum.

I have been practising and coaching Scrum for a number of years and I delight in the effect it has on project teams. While I practice Scrum I find that Lean Thinking can both help me communicate Scrum and help teams to become more effective in applying Scrum. This way of thinking led to me becoming interested in Kanban a year or so ago since when I’ve being most concerned with where I ought to recommend Scrum and where Kanban.

Recently I have spent time with maintenance groups for whom Scrum would be a poor fit. Kanban offered me an alternative when the client was leaning towards a ScrumBut implementation.

There are some fundamental differences between early project / product development work and the later stages and I don’t see this as a problem. Toyota themselves hold two separate approaches. The Toyota Production System (TPS) is the most widely known Lean Manufacturing implementation. This is the world of work cells, standardised work, Kanban boards and Andon lights. However, when Toyota want to create something new they use the Toyota Product Development System. This approach focuses on a chief engineer holding a vision and rallying a team around him. High bandwidth communication, discovery and experimentation are the order of the day.

So back in a software development context Scrum was designed to manage uncertainty and complexity, to foster high band width communication and seems a valuable fit for early development.

Corey Ladas in his ScrumBan Book declares the following Axiom for applying his application of Lean to software development

Axiom 2: It is possible to develop any value adding increment in a continuous flow from requirement to deployment

Corey makes it clear as he progresses that this well defined workflow is critical to his desired approach. In a new development that workflow is often not known and usually not linear. Rather the team swarm over the requirement often returning to the customer for feedback before offering a completed deployable feature.

My suggestion is this, Scrum is a powerful approach to managing uncertainty as well as being a supportive environment for building a team. I believe that one goal of product development should be to reduce the uncertainty and evolve the workflow. As adding features becomes more straightforward we may find that we are in a state akin to production and can take advantage of a Kanban approach to further optimise for reduced cycle time, increased throughput and just in time scheduling.

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