Kanban Boards vs. Scrum Boards: What They Are and Similarities and Differences

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published April 26, 2021

Many occupations work in a fast-paced, team-driven environment, and it is often beneficial to have a well-thought-out plan to help your team meet deadlines and get products out quickly and effectively. Using visual aids—such as a kanban board or scrum board—can help make accomplishing those tasks much easier. These boards have a similar goal—to help organize your work and make the overall process more efficient. In this article, we define both kanban and scrum boards and discuss the similarities and differences between the two.

What is a kanban board?

A kanban board is a visual tool that uses columns to help organize a group's work efforts in order to help them more effective. A group of team members uses this board daily to see what work has yet to be started, what is currently in progress and what they have completed.

How does a kanban board work?

There are typically three categories on a kanban board, but your team can tailor it with as many categories as needed, depending on your team's projects and overall goals. The three most commonly used categories are:

  • Queue: Work that needs to be done

  • In progress: Work in the process of being completed

  • Complete: Work that is finished

When using a kanban board, you may have as many items in the queue as you want, but you can only have a set number of items in the "in progress" category at a time. This allows your team to complete the work items more quickly by focusing only on those current tasks. For example, if your maximum number of "in progress" items is six, a member of your team may not take a new item from the queue until there is available space in the "in progress" column.

A kanban board has no set end date for items to be completed, meaning that you can constantly add items to the queue, work through them and place them in the "complete" column. This creates a consistent workflow of tasks being completed and delivered by the team.

What is a scrum board?

A scrum board is another visual aid that helps teams track overall progress and organizes work items into smaller, more manageable tasks. Scrum boards track work in short amounts of time, so there is a definitive start and end date to how long a team uses the board. This specific amount of time is known as a "sprint," and each sprint is typically two weeks in duration, but can go as long as four weeks.

Related: Definitive Guide To Scrum Development

How does a scrum board work?

Much like a kanban board, a scrum board uses columns with different categories in order to organize the progress of their work. You can add different categories that satisfy your team's needs, but the general columns are as follows:

  • Tasks not started

  • Work in progress

  • Tasks completed

Because a scrum board follows a specific amount of time from start to finish, the team needs to decide on the number of tasks to complete before the sprint can begin. Once in motion, it's not possible to add new items to the "tasks not started" column because your product goal is time sensitive. Unlike the kanban board, however, you may place as many items in the "work in progress" category as you like at any time.

Related: 13 Types of Project Management You Can Implement

Kanban board vs. scrum board

While both boards are intended to be used as a visual aid and have a similar goal, there are many differences that set them apart:

Roles

On both boards, team members complete all the tasks. Kanban boards require a team to complete their projects, but there are no set roles defined for each member. Everyone collaborates and helps one another with the tasks once they are in the "in progress" category. Scrum boards have set roles within the group to help organize and get items completed. These roles consist of:

  • Product owner: The product owner's responsibility is to plan and communicate with the rest of the company.

  • Scrum master: The scrum master dictates timelines and oversees the general process of each sprint.

  • Development team: The development team, which usually includes programmers and developers, completes out the work throughout the duration of the sprint.

Related: What Is a Scrum Master?

Scheduling/cadence

Kanban boards have no set beginning or end date. It's acceptable to add new items to the queue throughout the process, creating a fluid delivery of products. In contrast, scrum boards place an emphasis on setting a strict deadline to the board in order to get the products completed at the end of the sprint. Although they both schedule the work differently, both boards keep the team engaged and focused on their overall goal.

"In progress" tasks

Both boards place a high value on optimizing the work process from beginning to end, but go about doing so in different ways. When using a kanban board, there are a limited number of tasks you can have in the "in progress" column at a certain time to help keep the team focused on a smaller number of items at once. However, a scrum board allows team members to move as many items from one column to the next with no limitations.

Related: How To Prioritize Tasks in the Workplace

Adding additional work to a board in progress

Because there is no end date for a kanban board, it is possible to continuously add new tasks to the board, allowing for a constant output of products being completed. However, with a scrum board, the amount of tasks allotted during the sprint is predetermined before the project begins, so you can't add new items to the "tasks not started" column after the sprint has begun.

Making changes to the board

Making modifications, such as who is doing a specific task or how long it's going to take to complete any item on the board, can happen at any time on a kanban board. This allows for continuous improvement on the overall output of products. In contrast, once a scrum board has started, you usually can't change anything because you predetermine all items and time frames when planning the sprint.

Completion/release methodology

There is no fixed completion date for each task on a kanban board, which creates a continuous workflow of the products. With scrum boards, it's expected that the delivery of a product is going to happen at the end of the sprint.

Reflecting on the process

With the kanban boards, there isn't time to reflect on how to improve the project because the board is in constant use and is updated with more tasks in the queue. However, with scrum boards there is ample time to reflect and discuss as a team what went well and how the team can improve after each sprint is complete.

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