Monday, October 31, 2011

Kanban vs Scrum - less shootout more engagement needed!

David Anderson's book on Kanban provides a real insight into the practices and essentially the motivations for Kanban, particularly applied to process improvement. Since my reading happened to coincide with Ken Schwabers's dismissive posting about the method - saying that in contrast to the serious nature of Scrum it was a "nice distraction, for distracted people", it was helpful for me to look at all the examples, practices and theory in the book with as critical an eye as possible. I am a supporter of Scrum and believe it is the best starting point for team's starting out with a mandate to choose their process. However my recent clients have over 100 scrums working in parallel with a lot of other process surrounding them. They need methods for analyzing the waste in the processes and incrementally improving, based on sound metrics and evidence.

Kanban provides this kind of framework for improvement and I would strongly recommend such clients use it, as the basis for informed process development. As Henrik Kniberg points out in his companion volume to Anderson's, "Kanban and Scrum making the most of both", the methods are not incompatible. The fewer constraints that Kanban imposes on processes means that from a Scrum starting point, some of the constraints of scrum could be relaxed if benefit was deemed to flow from it. I presume this is why Schwaber objects to the method so strongly - if the starting point of the process is waterfall, one might end up with a slightly improved waterfall but not the major benefit that would flow from a true agile process. However if Kanban is followed effectively changes to a Scrum starting point would only be made if evidence was available for incremental improvements in the key business metrics. Yes there are risks involved in moving away from tried and tested agile processes. But that's where rewards lie too.

I'm not convinced by arguments between methods that focus on the character of those proposing them, when the substance of the methodologies are not examined. I expect more from the proponents in this case, more substance, evidence... and maybe a little more humility. Process improvement is not a one shot change from waterfall to agile. It requires insights from many different quarters to produce the best possible result for the business.
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