by Moira Alexander

Scrum vs. Lean vs. Kanban: Comparing agile project management frameworks

Feb 28, 2017
Agile DevelopmentIT Governance FrameworksIT Skills

Agile frameworks like Scrum, Lean or Kanban are widely used across many industries. Each has its own focus, features, process, benefits and drawbacks. Here's how to decide which framework work best for your next project.

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Agile is an increasingly popular methodology choice for project management. It was initially developed for projects that require significant flexibility and speed, breaking down delivery cycles into short, iterative bursts, known as “sprints.”

As a project management methodology, agile is highly interactive, allowing for rapid adjustments throughout a project. It also offers repeatable processes, reduces risk, allows for immediate feedback, provides fast turnaround and reduces complexity.

In my article “How to choose the right project management methodology,” I covered the key considerations and some of the assessment criteria when choosing a methodology. Now let’s take a closer look at three popular agile frameworks and how they compare to make it easier to choose which to use for your next project.

DefinitionA predefined and recurring set of rules, roles and processes used to expedite the release of higher quality products.The manufacturing and technology principles that are used to reduce waste and increase learning and integrity.A visual framework that meant to encourage continuous improvement and involves the use of visual workflows to limit work in progress, and match requirements to the ability to deliver.
IndustriesOriginally applied to software development but now applied within many other industries.Originally applied within manufacturing industry, but now applied within many others.Originally applied within the manufacturing supply chain process, but now applied within many other industries.
Primary focusFocuses on expediting product turnaround and improving quality.Focuses on eliminating waste (anything that adds no value), system improvements, learning and process integrity.Focuses on the tasks and improving the processes.
Need determined by push or pull systemBased on a customer pull system (customer pulls when a need exists).Based on a customer pull system (customer pulls when a need exists).Based on a customer pull system (customer pulls when a need exists).
Prioritizing work and work in progress (WIP)Uses backlog to prioritize future work in progress (WIP).WIP prioritization is triggered exactly when a customer need is determined.Work in progress (WIP) is matched with a team’s ability to deliver.
CollaborationRequires highly self-organizing teams.Requires sophisticated processes and precise team collaboration.Requires less management oversight and highly self-organizing teams.
The development processUses formal sprints (repeatable work cycles) with specific roles assigned.Uses formal processes and team roles.No formal sprints or specific roles are required.
FlexibilityMore formal/less flexible.More precise processes.Highly flexible.
Timelines2 – 4 week timelines for each sprint.There is no specific timeline but the process should be streamlined.There is no pre-determined timeline but work is broken down and displayed visually.
MeetingsLimited to 15 minutes/day.As early and often as required to promptly address issues.Meetings are as needed.
Changes to requirementsChanges to requirements during sprints are avoided.Changes are identified and resolved as they arise within the process.Flexibility allows for changes throughout the process.
RolesThree roles are key to success (scrum master, product owner and scrum team).Teams align based on common goals and work closely together.There are no specific roles.
Measures successBased on speed of delivery and improve quality.Based on the use of a just-in-time flow/fast turnaround.Based on the process duration.

Other options

It’s important to note that these agile frameworks can be combined to provide hybrid solutions such as the two below. This approach increases the chances of success by combining the best of two frameworks.


Uses scrum as the method do the actual work, yet uses kanban as the method to seek and gain in the way of continuous improvements.


Uses lean as the way to combine the best components of kanban and scrum practices to deliver the most sustainable value as fast as possible.

When thinking about your next project, weigh and prioritize the criteria above carefully to make sure the framework focus is in alignment with the goals. Also factor in the business and team structure and capabilities, as well as flexibility among other things.

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