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Kanban vs. Scrum boards: what’s the difference?

PostsProject management
Backlog Staff

Backlog Staff

March 05, 2021

This post was originally published on November 29, 2017, and updated most recently on March 5, 2021.

Project Managers are fawning over Kanban and Scrum boards. They’re the hottest scheduling systems around, and both benefit the software space exceptionally well.

From afar, the two systems look very similar. Each emphasizes project completion and scope management. Yet, upon closer inspection, many differences exist between the two.

Both systems come with their own flaws and success stories. Each is steeped in Agile methodology. However, despite both being Agile, their approaches splinter from there. Using DevOps, whichever one your team chooses, you’ll be able to implement your new Agile structure between your development team and your operations team.

Both Kanban and Scrum boards can work for your team. But which works best? To understand, let’s discuss their differences.

The differences between Kanban and Scrum Boards

Structure and team roles

With Kanban boards, the structure is pretty fluid. No key role exists. It is advised that Kanban teams should at least designate a Project Manager, though it’s not required. Instead, Kanban fits the need of the team. Cross-functionality is also not required.

Scrum requires a more solidified team organization. Key roles must be assigned to process the workflow. They are:

With Scrum boards, your team functions off a clear delineation of roles:

Regardless of the setup, both emphasize teamwork. Scrum pushes for team-sourced solutions for every problem. Kanban does the same; however, it portions the work into chunks that the team completes in increments.


The function of workflows and deadlines varies between Kanban and Scrum boards. With Kanban, prioritization is key, and evolution is expected. The need of the project establishes product deadlines. Along the way, processes are evaluated and addressed. Variables are often altered, including:

  • Roles,
  • Processes, and
  • Allowances & Restrictions.

Scrum’s disciplined approach focuses on staying within the scope of a predetermined schedule. Priorities once again play critical importance. However, the team decides its points allocation based on the team’s capabilities.

Accuracy is required when predicting scope. A deliverable is needed at the end of each sprint. So the team must meet every point assessment at the end of every sprint.

Teams ahead of schedule also need to reign in their work. In Scrum systems, exceeding the goal of a sprint is not allowed. All work must be done within its set sprint.

Project alterations

Kanban’s free-flowing schedule allows for mid-project changes. If time permits, you can add a task to the team’s calendar. Once a task is marked complete, a new job fills in as the active assignment.

This system allows for modifications and alterations to occur in real time. A high-quality Product Owner and Scrum Master need to take ownership of these decisions. Otherwise, projects can become overloaded due to inaccurate scope assessments.

Scrum strongly advises against deviating from the original plan. This allows for complete attention to the current sprint. Without additional project needs arising, the team focuses keenly on the prioritized tasks.

Each system offers its pros and cons. Kanban can lead to team members getting overwhelmed by constant work. Yet, with Scrum, team members’ full potential can be stifled with a work cap.


In this facet, the differences are limited. Both boards employ labels to designate workflow statuses. From there, they begin to differ.

Kanban places a cap on the number of stories at any given time. Once this number is established, it cannot be exceeded. This helps the Scrum master determine if there is time for additional tasks during a sprint. With this pipeline, a project’s end is determined by when the tasks stop flowing in.

Unlike Kanban, Scrum boards aren’t cleared to signify the end of a sprint. Instead, a project’s completion is when every task is moved to the bottom of the board. In this system, all work is added before the sprint begins.

Both boards can be useful and potentially overwhelming. Though, any skilled team will know how to manage either system.

When to use which

Both Kanban and Scrum offer solutions for teams large and small. Additionally, they both have their pros and cons.

If your team is subject to change, it’s safe to say that Kanban is for you. You may have to deal with the story cap, but it’s worth it. And if your team is solidified and by the book, Scrum is perfect.

The scope and depth of your project also determine which is best for you. Kanban works best with smaller-scale projects. Meanwhile, Scrum helps larger projects deliver work on time.

Consider these points as suggestions. Choose what works best for your team. Whether it’s Kanban or Scrum boards, make the informed decision. Analyze your needs and capabilities for the optimal scheduling system. And choose the right Kanban tool to support you and your team.

Creating a Scrum-Kanban hybrid

It may even be that going 100% Scrum boards or 100% Kanban boards and perfectly adhering to their methodologies may not best serve your team. If you’ve tried one or both of the methods and find they don’t work quite right for you, your team can pick and choose some aspects of both or introduce a few new aspects of your own. Maybe that’s an additional leadership role within the system, the ability to complete work faster than projected, or more steps of approval along the way.

Turning this process into a template is often called a “next-gen template.” Working on a next-gen project allows your team to progressively layer on aspects that make the most sense instead of going all in on one or the other immediately. As you work and learn more about your process, your work template will evolve to match what your team needs perfectly.

If you’re not sure where to start, next-gen Scrum or next-gen Kanban could be your answer.



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