Scrum vs. kanban board: which to use?

Written by 
Shauna Ward
August 25, 2021
An illustration of balanced scales

Project planning begins with basic task management, and the two best tools are the Kanban and the Scrum task board. What separates them are their approach and ideology — the Kanban is more open and fluid with less structure, while the Scrum board is more structured with definite goals and deadlines. Because there are so many ways to organize a project, getting back to basics is a smart move. But how do you choose between these two foundational building blocks of project organization?

Making that decision will eventually come down to the project’s size, foreseeable scalability, and your team’s adherence to some basic rules. This article breaks down the basic differences between the two and then provides some pros and cons for each method.

What are Scrum and Kanban boards?

Scrum and Kanban are organizational tools that give you a visual presentation of a project’s goals. Eighty-five percent of companies using Scrum and Agile workflows report that using them continues to improve the quality of their work life. While a Kanban can be used for simpler project management, the Scrum board is part of an Agile workflow, where a project’s tasks are continuously delivered in small chunks, and the team is focused on getting feedback as fast as possible before moving on to the next task.

Kanban board

A Kanban board can be as simple as a three-column chart — Tasks, Progress, and Done. You could do that with a Scrum board, but you have to follow a much more defined set of rules to complete the tasks.

Kanban board template
Click on the image above to explore MURAL's Kanban Board template.

A Kanban board is a basic board that helps teams visualize their work, focusing more on getting a particular job done and working in a continuous process (adding and subtracting from the board) until the tasks are completed. There’s a much more fluid and simple flow to Kanban boarding because of the flexibility in adding or subtracting items from the Kanban board.

Scrum board

When using Scrum boards, the teams operate a little differently. Teams using Scrum boards work in Sprints, where the tasks are set and cannot be changed, and the teams work through all of the problems completing those tasks in stages. The goal is to develop software or a product in stages so that you're not waiting around for months or even years to see a finished product. Scrum methodology requires the teams to 1) meet daily for 15-minute standup meetings; 2) hit a definite deadline, usually two weeks from start to finish (the Sprint); 3) have Retrospective meetings at the end of the Sprint to discuss what went wrong and what can be improved for the next Sprint.

MURAL has a template that teaches Scrum methodology if you need to bring the team up to speed.

Scrum boards are designed primarily to help the team visualize goals and objectives, but a secondary effect is that it lets the whole team see what is going on at once. A Kanban can do this as well, but because you can move tasks on and off the Kanban board at any time, you may be missing the whole picture of the project.

Scrum framework
Click on the image above to explore the Scrum Framework template from MURAL.

There are also very distinct parts to Scrum methodology that can be part of the board but not necessarily part of a Kanban board. For instance, a good Scrum board has a Product Backlog (the total amount of work to be done) and also a Sprint Backlog (the tasks that need to be done during the Sprint). This allows teams to be aware of what's coming next or if some of the tasks are somehow connected to each other.

Kanban board vs. Scrum board: What's the difference?

Kanban boards are better for smaller teams with more flexible and continuous projects, while Scrum boards are better for larger teams with structured projects that use iterative workflows.

Kanban board pros and cons

Kanban has some advantages, especially if your project has tasks that are simple and easily understandable, and your team does not require you to book a ballroom to fit them in. Along those same lines, Kanban boards are much easier to manage and interpret, with clearly defined and simple goals and a free-for-all in ownership. Any person in the room can suggest additions or subtractions to the Kanban column structure.

👉  Tl;dr — a Kanban is better to use when the team is smaller, the tasks are simpler, and the deadlines are fluid.

There is a problem with that. With so little structure, you have to make sure that what goes into the task column is attainable, and you have to clearly identify which teams are doing what projects. A Kanban board has less rigid accountability than a Scrum board, and without a defined owner, who will take the hit when a task never gets off the ground?

Scrum board pros and cons

If Kanban boards are hippies that do whatever, man, then Scrum boards are Kanban boards in a suit and tie. They’re more rigid, they follow defined processes (Scrum ceremonies), they need two bosses (Scrum Master and Product Owner), and they have to be completed by a definite deadline. They also require more management than a Kanban board. You have to meet every day, and you have to have a follow-up meeting when the Sprint ends.

The daily standups can be used to air out problems and find solutions. Having a daily standup with a Kanban may become slightly chaotic since the tasks have no deadline and can be switched out at any time.

👉  Tl;dr — Scrum boards are better for larger teams, larger projects, and iterative thinking. Scrum boards also work well with remote teams.

So, it would stand to reason that with all of this accountability and structure, Scrum boards should be good for larger projects, larger teams, and more intricate details in the tasks and columns structure. The answer is a definite maybe. Scrum boards do have more rigidity and accountability, but a hybrid world exists where you can use a Kanban board and implement Scrum methodology on it with a few changes. Scrum boards are also a better fit for larger remote teams since everyone has to work from the same starting and ending points as the rest of the team. It’s hard to point fingers at who didn't do their job when you're all on the same page.

In some cases, you may need both

Using hybrid boards may be the best bet when scaling a project up. Starting with Kanban and ending with Scrum will happen more and more as companies and teams start to identify and get comfortable with Scrum and other Agile processes. Some people are already beginning to explore the Scrum/Kanban model (Scrumban? Kanscrum?) with varying degrees of success. The success of using hybrid boards depends on the trust level between you and the team. Do they need more organization? Do you? Then lean toward the Scrum way. But if you want to keep things casual and light for your team, Kanban is a better choice.

Conclusion: whether using Scrum or Kanban, organization is key to success

Taking notes, using Post-Its, and whiteboard drawing and erasing may soon become obsolete as digital Scrum and Kanban boards take hold in ways that are easy to visualize and simple to navigate. Kanban and Scrum boards are the most effective ways to see, ideate, and assign tasks for any size project you’re tackling. You won’t need to tackle it alone — MURAL will be there step-by-step to help you plan it.

About the authors

About the authors

Shauna Ward

Shauna Ward

Sr. Content Marketing Manager
Shauna Ward is a senior content marketing manager at MURAL. As a former remote work skeptic, she enjoys creating resources that help hybrid and distributed teams make collaboration fun, easy, and effective.

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