The Kanban Mystery

2018-06-07, 10:55 Posted by: Andreas Rowell

The Kanban Mystery - Why is Scrum 15 times more popular than Kanban?

According to the 11th State of Agile report only 5% of the participants of the survey use Kanban, compared to 70% for Scrum or Scrum-ish methods. Google tells the same story - Scrum is googled roughly 3 times more often than Kanban.

This is a mystery, given that Kanban currently seems to be much more hyped than Scrum in the Agile community.


Why is that?

I have a few hypotheses:

No Kanban Master. There is no prescribed Kanban Master, and everybody wants to be a master of something these days.

No roles. In Kanban, there is actually no prescribed roles at all. Total confusion…

Too trivial. Kanban is perceived as too trivial. It is even less prescriptive than Scrum. Maybe a bit too close to "do whatever"?

Less predictive. Kanban is less predictive than Scrum. "Please, at least tell me what you will do during the coming two weeks?! No?..."

Kanban is Lean. Kanban is associated with Lean rather than with Agile. And Lean seems to be a bit emotionally charged these days. Maybe due to too many Lean initiatives gone wrong?

No cadence. There is no natural rhythm, no milestones, no celebration of wins. Just "a never-ending stream of work", as my friend and colleague Jakob put it.

Too much math. To understand the relationship between Cycle Time, Work in Progress and Throughput you need to master Little's Law, i.e. do some math. It's not particularly complex, but it is still math.

No feedback loop. There is no built-in feedback loop like in Scrum, where you have recurring retros and demos.


Kanban rocks

This could all be reasons why Scrum is more popular than Kanban, but what do I know… But what I do know, is that I have a tendency to gravitate more towards Kanban - especially during times of high uncertainty. I love its simplicity and straightforwardness. To get going, simply:


  1. Map your process on a whiteboard

  2. Set WIP limits on the columns

  3. Do stuff (pull work through the process)

  4. Find and fix bottlenecks

  5. Do more stuff


I however like to make a few additions not specifically prescribed by Kanban itself, like retrospectives, backlog refinement meetings and demos. You gotta close the feedback loop and improve, right?


Conclusion: Scrum or Kanban?

So, which agile method works best in your context? "It depends" as the experienced agile coach would say. As always, the best way to find out is to simply try something, evaluate and adjust. :-)

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Andreas Rowell

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