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This Thing Called “Scrumban”


This Thing Called “Scrumban”

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By Dan Picard
Editorial Director, PM Skills

I was talking to a colleague recently and they said, “So, I’ve heard of Scrum, and I’ve heard of Kanban, but yesterday, someone mentioned this thing called ‘Scrumban.’ What’s ‘Scrumban?’”

In short, Scrumban is a melding of Scrum and Kanban. It combines the structure of Scrum with the fluidity of Kanban to help teams organize work and adapt to changes. Teams place boundaries around the tasks, activities, and work associated with a project, then visually manage the work to ensure a consistent, streamlined, and continuous flow toward project completion.

The Parts

Scrum is an Agile framework that uses short work cycles to help teams collaborate productively. In a typical Scrum work cycle (called a “sprint”), team members review, select, and complete “user stories” (i.e., descriptions of the tasks they need to complete in order to satisfy a specific customer need) on the way to producing a product or end result. Sprints are limited in length, and user stories are prioritized to ensure that the things customers want most are created first (with additional stories included in a sprint if time permits).

Kanban uses a “kanban board” to visualize and manage a team’s workflow. The board is divided into columns (generally labeled as “To Do,” “In Progress,” and “Done”), and user stories are written on sticky notes (or the electronic equivalent if a software package is used). Stories are moved or “pulled” across the columns as they’re started, implemented, and finished, and new work is transitioned from column to column to signal the start of new activities. The amount of work in the To Do column is constrained by “work-in-progress limits” (WIP limits) to ensure that the team is not trying to do too many things at once and that its focus remains on those items currently underway.

The Combination

Scrumban combines the best of the Scrum and Kanban approaches, visually displaying work and exposing bottlenecks in a way that the people can understand and address immediately. It allows teams to focus on the right work while they continuously improve their processes.

The visual nature of the kanban board lets teams see what work is needed (and happening) in their current sprint. The boundaries and prioritization of the Scrum sprint restrict the workload of the team, allowing team members to focus on the most important things that fit within their time constraint. And the prioritization and decision-making from the Scrum framework integrate with the project-management flow of the kanban board to ensure that the most important things are coming to realization as expected.

Scrumban minimizes (and, in some cases, eliminates) the need for sprint planning because work is selected and pulled across the kanban board on a prioritized basis. (Some kanban boards even include a separate “Prioritization” column between the To Do and In Progress columns, to prioritize stories as they are brought into the current sprint.) The visual nature of the board provides transparency across the project, allowing all project participants to see if the highest priority stories are being addressed and whether a particular story is progressing as expected.

Tailoring the Approach

Like many management methodologies, the Scrumban approach can be tailored to meet an organization’s particular circumstances. Some Scrumban teams hold their daily stand-up meetings in front of their boards to assist in communication and planning for daily activities. Others color-code or visually delineate stories to show that they are part of a specific project or program. And when issues arise or due dates come near, still other teams freeze the In Progress column, to ensure the team focuses exclusively on current work and can complete it without distraction from new user stories entering the process.

The Benefits of Scrumban

Used correctly, Scrumban can help teams and organizations simplify their understanding of how work is evolving, and communicate effectively about processes and projects. It can empower team members to take ownership of their work in a way that’s transparent and of greatest importance to customers and stakeholders. It visually exposes process problems and risks that could occur if things are not done on time. And, by limiting the work-in-progress, it guarantees that teams can work at a consistent yet achievable pace, without undue stress and strain, while still meeting their commitments to their stakeholders.

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