Can Scrum be Used to Improve an Organization's Adoption of Kanban?

March 11, 2019
3 minute read

This article is about whether or not it is wise to use Scrum when using Kanban.

Scrum is a product development process that operates at the team level and which has binding rules. It is only Scrum if it is followed in its entirety, according to the Scrum Guide. Development teams using Scrum self-organize into Scrum teams. When management forces developers to “use” Scrum, it is no longer Scrum. (See article “Dark Scrum” by Ron Jefferies https://ronjeffries.com/articles/016-09ff/defense/).

Scrum can be disruptive to an organization, a dynamic which is popularly explained by Scrum experts as exposing existing organizational problems. Regardless of the underlying reasons, Scrum can be very difficult to implement completely and “correctly” in many organizations. This can create a reinforcing feedback loop of never getting Scrum right and continuous attempts at reorganization and layers of coping strategies, such as Agile scaling methods.

Kanban is a service-oriented and evolutionary change management methodology. By this nature, Kanban adoption is often a very gentle process.

Kanban service-orientation principle: Manage the work and let people self-organize around it. Kanban assumes that people already know how to self-organize around the work and are capable of learning to do it better by understanding the work better. Kanban, therefore does not prescribe any framework for the organization and management of people. No prescribed people-organizing or management framework can improve Kanban. On the contrary, management-prescribed people-organizing frameworks diminish an organization’s ability to uphold the aforementioned Kanban principle.

How to not break Kanban with Scrum

Let people doing the work self-organize around the work. Really, let people self-organize. If they want to use all or part of Scrum, Kanban or any other methodology or framework to help themselves with self-organizing, please let them do so. If they want to try a methodology or framework for a little while and see how it goes, please let them do so. If they want to use one methodology for one type of work and another methodology for another type of work, please let them do so. If they want to use part of a methodology but not all of it because they want to get their work done rather than exposing organizational problems, then please let them do so.

The key to successful Kanban adoption is the appropriate introduction of management practices based on an organization’s level of management maturity (see Kanban Maturity Model, https://www.kanbanmaturitymodel.com/). Organizations that are focused on team-level improvement frameworks such as Scrum tend to be at the lower end of the maturity spectrum. The purpose of Kanban is to help them mature beyond the team-focused, lower levels of maturity and enable the services to be fitter for the purposes of customers.

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    David Vicentin

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