A Simple Scrumban Guide: Scrum + Kanban

As a newly qualified product manager, you’ll no doubt understand the need to optimize your team’s workflow to keep product development on track.

One methodology for achieving this is Scrumban, a hybrid project management technique that blends two well-established approaches: Scrum and Kanban.

But what is Scrumban exactly, and how might you use it? What are its main benefits and drawbacks compared to Scrum and Kanban? In this beginner-friendly guide, we’ll introduce all the basic principles, so you can decide if it’s the right project management approach for your team. And, of course, we’ll explain any jargon as we go!

We’ll cover the following:

  1. What is Scrumban?
  2. How Scrumban works
  3. Scrumban FAQs
  4. Scrumban vs Kanban compared
  5. Scrumban benefits
  6. Wrap-up

1. What is Scrumban?

Scrumban is an Agile project management methodology that combines core elements of two other well-known frameworks: Scrum and Kanban. Blending the structure and predictability of Scrum with the visual aspects and continuous improvement of Kanban, Scrumban aims to help teams become more efficient and productive. 

To fully understand it, though, it helps to briefly recap Scrum and Kanban.

What is Scrum?

Scrum is an Agile project management approach that focuses on delivering products through iterative, timeboxed periods known as sprints. 

Scrum is highly structured, using regular meetings and predefined roles to keep teams on track. Before each sprint, scrum teams jointly agree on what needs to be completed during that sprint. Sprint lengths may vary but typically last between 1 and 4 weeks.

Learn more: What is Scrum?

What is Kanban?

Kanban is a Lean product management approach that emphasizes continuous improvement, visual workflow, and collaboration to minimize wasted effort. Unlike Scrum, it does not use sprints and is much less structured. 

At its heart is the Kanban board, which shows upcoming tasks, tasks in progress, and finished tasks. The board can be as basic as post-its on a whiteboard or, for remote teams, a software program. Kanban is less formal than Scrum, intentionally restricting people’s workload and incentivizing groups to collaborate on tasks as they become available.

Learn more: Kanban vs Scrum

Then what is Scrumban?

Combining the best of these approaches, Scrumban adopts the structure and predictability of Scrum while adding the visual aspects and continuous improvement mindset of Kanban. 

While Scrumban teams can use sprints if they choose, the most important thing is that tasks can be added or removed during each product iteration, ensuring maximum efficiency. 

Meanwhile, teams benefit from the visual aspect of Kanban boards (in this case, Scrumban boards), which allow them to prioritize and track the progress of tasks in real-time. This allows them to quickly assess what needs to be done and when.

In the next section, we’ll explore the process in more depth.

2. How Scrumban works

Now we have a rough idea of what Scrumban involves, what exactly does the process look like? In this section, we’ll walk you through the main steps in detail.

Step 1. The planning meeting

At the start of any Scrumban product iteration, the product manager will hold a planning meeting with their team. 

Their joint aim is to decide which tasks need to be completed during the upcoming iteration. This involves selecting user stories to add to their to-do list. User stories are simple descriptions of features as described from the end user’s perspective. The chosen user stories then make up the tasks for the product backlog in the upcoming iteration.

Step 2. Creating the Scrumban board

An example of a simple Scrumban board.
Source: TeamHood

The Scrumban process begins with the creation of the board—a visual representation of upcoming tasks. Taken from the Kanban methodology, this tool allows teams to visualize and manage their workflow. It’s a fundamental aspect of the Scrumban approach.

Boiling it down to its core elements, the Scrumban board consists of three columns: “To Do”, “Doing”, and “Done”:

  • The “To Do” column is a product backlog or list of tasks that need to be completed during the upcoming iteration.
  • The “Doing” column represents current work in progress (WIP). In practice, it’s often subdivided into additional categories. For example, “design”, “coding”, “testing”, “reviews”, and so on (see the graphic). Ultimately, the aim is for teams to track progress easily, prioritize tasks and identify improvement areas.
  • Finally, when each task is complete, the team member responsible for it moves it into the “Done” column so everybody can see how the project is progressing.

Step 3. Establishing work-in-progress limits

Another feature of Scrumban is what‘s known as “work-in-progress limits”. This determines the number of tasks that can be undertaken at any given time. 

For example, each team member might be limited to one “work-in-progress” task at a time. This must be finished and moved into the “Done” column on the board before they can progress to the next task. If the team agrees, they might also include limits on the number of items on the board’s “To Do” list.

The overall aim of this approach is to keep teams focused and productive, ensuring nobody feels overwhelmed by their workload or distracted by upcoming work. It also has the benefit of keeping iterations as short as possible.

Step 4. Prioritizing workloads

While work-in-progress limits help streamline tasks, Scrumban still requires task prioritization, which occurs during the initial planning meeting. During this meeting, teams will jointly decide which tasks need completing and in which order. Tasks are typically prioritized based on importance and urgency; both of which are impacted by the specific variables and demands of the project.

How task prioritization is represented on the board is open to interpretation. They might be placed into different subcolumns, assigned numbers or colors, or simply listed in priority order. Because Scrumban is inherently flexible, there is no firmly prescribed process. Ultimately, the main thing is for teams to know which tasks to focus on and when. 

Step 5. On-demand planning

Some methodologies, like Scrum, include daily stand-up meetings where the day’s tasks are discussed and decided. Scrumban has no such requirement. Instead, one of its core principles is known as “on-demand planning’ or the ‘pull system”.

When tasks in the “To Do” column on the Scrumban board run short, this triggers an additional planning meeting. The team will then meet to agree on new user stories/tasks to add to the list. 

The threshold for activating on-demand planning will vary from project to project, depending on how quickly the team works and how long it takes to plan a new iteration. Normally, new tasks will include user stories originally intended for an upcoming iteration. And although additional meetings may be held, on-demand planning is the only essential element in Scrumban.

Additional features of Scrumban

Some additional features of the methodology include:

Iteration

Scrum ring-fences work into carefully structured, time-boxed periods known as sprints. 

Kanban emphasizes continuous flow.

Scrumban, meanwhile, meets somewhere in the middle.

Like Scrum, it often follows an iterative approach. However, Scrumban’s iterations are much more loosely structured than typical sprints. In this respect, they adhere more closely to the principle of continuous flow associated with Kanban. However, a team can choose to use more formal sprints if they wish. Again, this reflects the inherent flexibility of the framework.

The only real requirement is that Scrumban iterations should be as short as possible—typically no longer than two weeks. While the length of each iteration naturally relies on the complexity of the product and the team’s size, keeping them short allows for more frequent delivery and feedback cycles. This ensures projects remain agile and adaptive—core features of Scrumban.

Bucket-size planning

To account for longer-term objectives while still following the agile and adaptive practices of Scrumban, product managers can use “bucket-size planning”. This involves breaking larger objectives down into smaller tasks to be completed over time. Tasks fall into 1-year, 6-month, or 3-month “buckets”, and as each becomes more concrete or urgent, it is moved up a bucket. During an iteration, tasks for the Scrumban board are drawn from the 3-month bucket. 

The benefit of this approach is that it provides a loose roadmap for product managers to follow, allowing them to plan for the long term while maintaining Scrumban’s inherent agility.

3. Scrumban FAQs

Next up, here are answers to some of the most common questions about this agile methodology:

What is the difference between Scrum and Scrumban?

The main difference between Scrum and Scrumban is that the former is more structured, while the latter focuses on optimizing workflow and team collaboration. This has some important knock-on effects that you should be aware of.

As a more restricted process, Scrum applies firmer rules and defined roles (such as “product owner” and “scrum master”). It also relies heavily on deadlines and time estimates for managing workloads. In addition, its use of sprints and regular meetings means team members’ performance is constantly tracked.

All this structure is helpful since Scrum is often used on large projects. However, this rigidity also means it is more prone to issues, such as sudden changes in a project’s scope. 

Scrumban, meanwhile, is much more flexible than Scrum. With fewer rules to follow, product managers can select which aspects of Scrum to include in the framework. This means it doesn’t suffer from overly prescriptive processes, deadlines, or unnecessary meetings. Ultimately, this means Scrumban is far better equipped than Scrum to respond to sudden changes in project scope or to meet shorter release schedules.

We’ve already described the process in an earlier section. For a comparison of Scrumban and Kanban, check out the next section.

Why was Scrumban created?

In the late 2000s, Corey Ladas, a Lean software development pioneer, created Scrumban. It was designed to help teams move from Scrum (which was created in the 1990s) to Kanban (which gained traction after Microsoft adopted it in 2004). 

While Scrum and Kanban have continued to be used, Scrumban has grown in popularity and is now a framework in its own right. By blending the best of both approaches, product teams can use the structured approach of Scrum and combine it with the visual elements of Kanban to create a unique way of developing software. 

By providing more options, it’s no wonder Scrumban is loved by many!

What are the principles of Scrumban?

Some of the main principles of Scrumban include:

  • Visualization: Teams use visual display boards to share information and progress
  • Work limits: Work in progress is limited to a certain number of tasks
  • Collaboration: Emphasis on teamwork for tackling and prioritizing tasks
  • Continuous improvement: Teams use it to identify areas of improvement
  • Iteration: Scrumban uses shorter, more agile iterations than Scrum, allowing for more frequent delivery and feedback cycles
  • Flexibility: Teams can tailor and adapt their workflows to meet their specific needs
  • Focus on value: Prioritizing tasks and activities maximizes value to the customer

Is Jira a Scrumban?

No, Jira is not a Scrumban. Jira is an issue-tracking and project-management tool. However, it’s often associated with Scrumban (and other software development methodologies) because it helps teams manage their workflows more efficiently. 

Along with tools like Asana and Trello, Jira is often used to support the Scrumban process. It can even substitute the Scrumban board for teams based in different locations.

4. Scrumban vs Kanban compared

Now we’ve explored the basics of Scrumban and compared it to Scrum, it’s time to see how it stacks up against Kanban.

As with it and Scrum, Kanban and Scrumban share many similarities and differences. Let’s take a look.

Scrumban vs Kanban: Similarities

  • Both rely on a visual representation of tasks (via the Scrumban/Kanban board)
  • Both emphasize collaboration and continuous flow
  • Both rely on the “pull” system, whereby new tasks are chosen on demand
  • Both use work-in-progress limits to streamline a team’s workload
  • Neither of the two use defined roles (unlike Scrum, which does)
  • Both are well-suited to quick release schedules

Scrumban vs Kanban: Differences

  • Scrumban is ideal for large teams, whereas Kanban is better suited for smaller ones
  • Kanban is best suited for single projects, whereas Scrumban can be used for teams  working on multiple projects at once
  • Kanban is not time-based, whereas Scrumban uses 1-year, 6-month, and 3-month buckets to support longer-term planning
  • Kanban is less structured, allowing for greater flexibility but also greater risk. Scrumban introduces more structure making it suitable for less-experienced teams

5. Scrumban benefits

We’ve tacitly covered many of its benefits, but let’s conclude with a clear run through some of the key ones.

Scrumban is adaptive

By combining the best of Scrum and Kanban, Scrumban is a highly adaptive approach to product management. It’s ideal for teams that need to respond quickly to change or who are working together on complex projects.

Scrumban is flexible

Scrumban is more structured than Kanban but much less structured than Scrum, meaning teams can respond to sudden changes in product or project scope. This makes it an ideal methodology for teams with tight deadlines, limited resources, or unpredictable workflows.

Scrumban is cost-effective

The flexibility and agility of Scrumban mean that teams can quickly identify and address issues, reducing costs associated with wasted resources or expensive project rework. This makes it a highly cost-effective approach to product development.

Scrumban encourages continuous improvement

Much like Kanban, Scrumban focuses on continuous improvement, ensuring teams are always seeking new ways to make their product and processes better.

Scrumban encourages collaboration

While Kanban and Scrum emphasize team working, Scrumban places collaboration and communication front and center. By necessity, team members must work together as much as possible, sharing ideas and jointly troubleshooting problems as they arise. This fosters a culture of innovation.

Overall, then, Scrumban is a great methodology for teams seeking an agile, adaptive, and cost-effective approach to product development.

6. Wrap-up

So there we have it, everything you need to know about Scrumban!

In this article, we’ve learned that Scrumban is a hybrid approach to product management, which blends the structure and predictability of Scrum with the flexibility of Kanban. As a product manager, it’s important to be aware of the differences between these three frameworks, as well as their similarities.

In addition to exploring the key elements of the Scrumban process, we’ve also looked at some of its additional features, such as the concept of bucket-size planning and its iterative approach to software development. Finally, we covered some of the main benefits of the Scrumban approach, from its cost-effectiveness to its unique way of fostering collaboration and innovation. 

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