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Agile and Lean, Scrum and Kanban. What is the difference?

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by Natalie Sirina | Last updated September 28, 2016

How to choose between Agile and

Lean, Scrum and Kanban which
methodology is the best?

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Over the past 20 years Agile and Lean, Scrum and Kanban have been steadily gaining
popularity in various elds and industries, and rightly so.

According to the Project Management Institute and its Pulse of the Profession 2015:
Capturing the Value of Project Management 2015, 75% of highly agile organizations met
their goals/business intent, 65% nished on time, and 67% nished within budget, which is
higher than what organizations with low agility achieve. The same research shows that agile
organizations grew revenue 37% faster and generated 30% higher pro ts than non-agile

Lean Startup principles have proven their e ectiveness too. So thanksto lean
approach,Dropbox went from 100,000 registered users to over 4,000,000 in 15
months;Wealthfront company now manages over $200M and processes over $2M a
day;IMVU has reached 50 million registered users and a $40+ million annualized revenue
run rate.

Although many companies are currently implementing or leaning towards these modern
methodologies, usually there are only a few people in the company who understand the
whole process from A to Z (Scrum Master or Lean Manager).

Other employees, especially if they are in big companies with complicated communication
systems, follow the rules without deep insight. It doesnt mean that they are bad at work, it
could be just the opposite they may be focused on their functional tasks (which is good).

But as long as they do not know the basic principles, do not share corporate philosophy, are

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not ready to challenge one another, or cannot distinguish between Agile and Lean, Scrum
and Kanban, their company will not see any change in productivity.

Lack of knowledge among the sta leads to lower motivation and generally worse results.
This is the reason why methodology basics must be learned and SHARED by every employee
involved. We wrote this article to stop misunderstanding and explain in simple terms:

why some methodologies became so popular;

what are their basics;
what are the di erences between them;
is it possible to choose which methodology is the best.

Feel free to share the article with your sta , to make sure that they never get lost in the most
popular management methodologies, and understand the basics behind the practices that
could be applied in your company.

1. Why Agile and Leam, Scrum and Kanban were born

and became popular?
1. The rst reason is the mother of all changes that happen in the business world its
market competition.

100 million businesses are launched every year, according to gures from GEM Global
Report. And everyone wants to bite a bigger piece of the delicious market cake. Being agile
or lean is a modern way of adapting and surviving in the face of enormous competition.
1. The second reason is the rapid growth of IT and Software market,that introduces
other industries to Lean and Agile mindsets.

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Exponential growth is essential to the technology industry, and tech companies know their
way around processes that enable and support it. But for slow traditional companies it
sometimes appears to be some kind of magic tool. Software Development methodologies
are perceived in traditional industries as hacks, so the number of managers who want to try
them increases every day.
1. The next reason is the trend toward perfectionism.

This is what makes me feel proud for the ages we live in there are hundreds of
entrepreneurs who want to make products of the best price and best quality. They live and
work to produce legendary things, and they are ready to implement complicated
management methodologies not only to win employees and customers hearts, but to be
recognized (even across competitors) as leaders of iconic companies.
1. The last reason is the modern employees demands.

Its not a secret, that proper management reduces stress, overtiming, increases welfare and
satisfaction. In the 20th century people just wanted to work, and that is why traditional
management was focused on the endless production cycle, considering the workforce as a
part of this perpetuum mobile. Modern employees are very demanding and generally aim to
work in a exible company with a perfect process management system.

2. What are the di erences between Agile and Lean, Scrum and

2.1. Theory

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O cially Agile was born in 2001 from Agile Manifesto to improve productivity in software
development, but its now expanding into other areas (f.ex. Marketing). Any project team
that follows the values of 12 Agile principles can be considered agile.

In a nutshell Agile is a time-focused, iterative philosophy that allows to build a product

step-by-step (incrementally), delivering it by smaller pieces. One of its main bene ts is the
ability to adapt and change at any step (depending on feedback, market conditions,
corporate obstacles, etc.) and to supply only relevant products to the market.

Simple visualization of agile processes. Source:

That is why an agile company is usually very exible, quickly adapts to changes, iterates less
while implementing faster, and is able to seize new opportunities as they appear. It enables
a fast decision-making process through exible organizational structure and simple

Cornell University ILR School/Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies describes
organizational agility as the capacity to be in nitely adaptable without having to

The research among 601 development and IT professionals conducted in 2015, shows that
nowadays Agile is the primary management approach. And they mostly use it to enhance

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collaboration and increase the level of software quality.

Agile implementation statistics. Resource:


Initially, Lean movement was born in Japan in the mid

1950-s in manufacturing industry (automotive industry) and was mainly aimed at loss
reduction and sustainable production.

In 2000-s Lean was also adapted for software development by Mary and Tom Poppendiecks
who related it with 7 initial Lean principles and Agile philosophy.

Following the trend that Lean could be extended to any industry, Lean was applied in the
startup industry in 2008 by Eric Reis as a way of developing new products and services in
circumstances of extreme uncertainty. To be considered lean, a startup should follow the
values of 5 Lean principles by Eric Reis.

A typical lean company follows a learn measure build cycle, and conducts many tests,
frequently connects with customers, understands their value and focuses its key processes
to continuously improve it. A never ending cycle leads the startup to sustainability, smart
development and success.

While reducing the high costs of getting the rst customer and even higher cost of getting
the product wrong, and shortening technology development cycles, Lean Startup philosophy

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helps new ventures launch products that customers actually want, far more quickly and
cheaper than traditional methods, making startups less risky.

Description of Lean Startup action loop. Source: Kissmetrics.

As you can see both agile and lean are aimed at achieving business goals and delighting
clients with a competitive product of the best quality. These and many other shared features
between the two mindsets often lead to people mixing them up.

However, they serve di erent purposes and tasks, and that is why its important to draw a
clear line between them.

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Agile and Scrumare incomparable, as they are on di erent conceptual levels

Actually, there is a trick in the name of the article Agile and Lean are not exactly
methodologies. Specialists still argue because Agile and Lean principles are a basis that can
be applied to di erent methodologies (f.ex. Scrum and Kanban), so it would make more
sense to refer to them as mindsets or philosophies.

So, what are the di erences?

Agile Philosophy

Lean Philosophy

Is about Smart development, when you improve virtually

Is aimed at executing tasks faster, adapting to changes
everything you do by eliminating anything that doesnt bring
value to the customer

Makes the developing process exible

Makes the developing process sustainable

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Was initially designed for Software Development, then

Started from traditional manufacturing and expanded to all
expanded to Marketing, and is currently applied in
existing industries
other areas

Action loop: product backlog sprint backlog iteration

Action loop: build-measure-learn
(sprints) potentially shippable result

Method for demonstrating progress de nition of


Method for demonstrating progress validated learning

Methodologies: Scrum, XP, FDD, DSDM, Crystal Methods

Methodologies: Kanban, Kaizen etc.

Toolkit: sprints, boards, Scrum Master, acceptance

tests, user story mapping etc.

Toolkit: hypotheses, split (A/B) tests, customer interviews, funnel

and cohort analysis, Customer Success Manager etc.

The term Lean is wider than Agile because its smart approach in uences all types of losses
(not only time loss) such as money, labour, energy, etc. Moreover Je Sutherland points that
Agile was born after Lean, so they are closely related. Conceptually Agile is a subset of Lean
principles and practices which are in turn a subset of Systems Thinking.

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All the mentioned methodologies and philosophies are connected with each other and are the parts of
Systems thinking

Now lets get down to the level of methodologies.


According to scrum guru Je Sutherland, Scrum de nition is a framework within which

people can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering
products of the highest possible value. He wrote a bestselling book describing Scrum in a

The fundamental principle of Scrum points that by splitting time, product and organization,
you optimize the process and guarantee impressive results.

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In other simple words: to get into Scrum a company should establish small teams and give
them small tasks for short periods of time (f.ex. 2 weeks sprints). The progress needs to be
tracked on Scrum boards which have the following sections: backlog, to do, in progress, and
done tasks.

You can nd more information about Scrum methodology, Scrum teams, Scrum events,
Scrum artifacts and the importance of de ning the done status in Je Sutherlands Scrum


Kanban is a scheduling system of visual management aimed at just-in-time delivery

excluding team overloading. As a part of Lean, initially the methodology supported japanese
automotive industry. Similarly to Scrum, Kanban tracks to do in progress done activities,
but it limits them by the number of work in progress activities (the number is de ned by the
team manager and cannot be exceeded).

There are four fundamental Kanban principles:

1. Visualize work to increase communication and collaboration.
2. Limit work in progress to avoid an endless chain of non-prioritized open tasks.
3. Measure and optimize the ow, collect metrics, predict future problems.
4. Aim for continuous improvement as the result of analysis.

Basiccomparison between Scrum and Kanban was made about ve years ago by Henrik
Kniberg. In this presentation Hendrik describes similarities and di erences between
Scrum and Kanban in simple terms and with clear visualization.

As stated in the presentation, both methodologies follow the principles of Agile and Lean.

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They track processes via scheduling system to ensure transparency, and they are managed
by devoted teams. Both methodologies limit the amount of work in progress (Scrum limits
them by time units iterations, Kanban limits work in progress per work ow state). Also
Scrum and Kanban focus teams on breaking the work into pieces and supplying the
releasable parts of the product earlier and more often.

Despite these similarities Scrum and Kanban are not the same, and the image below
illustrates some of the di erences.

Di erences between Scrum and Kanban

There is also an article comparing Scrum and Kanban boards, so you would easily
distinguish what is what.

At this point you should feel much more comfortable speaking about Agile and Lean
mindsets and methodologies, or at least get a basic understanding of how they relate to
each other. Now lets see how this knowledge can be applied in a real-life scenario.

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2.2. Practice
In this part of the article were switching our focus to practical implementation of Agile and
Lean, Scrum and Kanban. We will cover 4 basic use cases and there is a dedicated
template for each of them available in RealtimeBoard. To use these and other templates,
click on the Insert button, select Choose a template and go to the Agile category.

How to choose agile templates in RealtimeBoard

We only got a chance to cover one practice per each methodology (and philosophy), but there
are many other ways to implement Agile and Lean, Scrum or Kanban inside our tool. We would
love to hear your stories and feature them as case studies! Feel free to share your experience in
the comments eld or send us a message at

LEAN STARTUP. Things to try in RealtimeBoard: Business Model Canvas template or

Lean Canvas template.

By using the abovementioned canvas templates you can analyze whether your company
focuses on addressing real customer problems and proposes a unique value to them.

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Lean Canvas template

Useful tip: analyze your customers demands before creating the board, and do not forget
to share it afterwards with the whole marketing team to ensure that you didnt miss

GOING AGILE. Things to try in RealtimeBoard: Quick retrospective template.

No matter whether you are dabbling in Agile or already running a productive Agile team, its
always helpful to conduct visual retrospective meetings, because they are the key to deep
understanding of success and failure root causes.

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Quick retrospective template

Useful tips:

if you want to provide more details during the retrospective, insert images or
screenshots on the board by pasting them from the clipboard, or uploading from
Google Drive or your computer;
to generate better ideas for improvement apply the 5 Why technique to identify root
causes for your success and failures;
to make the meeting more productive, close every brief retrospective with re ecting
in order to increase engagement and improve teamwork. Add ideas to the board and
start the next retrospective meeting from recalling how you wanted to improve in the
previous meeting.

SCRUM. Things to try in RealtimeBoard: Agile board template.

If you decide to implement Scrum, then you should de nitely be using an Agile board. Using
an online whiteboard will help you manage remote teams online and in real-time, keep the
story safe in the cloud, and save time by using a pre-ready template.

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Agile board template

Useful tip: do not delete stickers when the project is nished, and use them during
retrospective sessions.

KANBAN. Things to try in RealtimeBoard: Agile board template.

If your developers are overwhelmed with an endless to-do list, you should de nitely look
into managing the process with Kanban board, which limits the number of work in progress
items at each step. You can use the Agile board template or create your own board and
customize it to your teams needs.

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Kanban board

Which one is the best?

Approaching the end of the article, you might have realized that its impossible to pick one
methodology or mindset and con dently say that its better than the others. They are almost
incomparable and their nal rank depends on the kind of problems you are trying to solve.

Moreover, it appears that the best results often come from combining various techniques
and practices.

But before going out to create a customized project management mix, take your time and
make sure youve got the basics down. Its de nitely worth trying to implement these
mindsets as they were originally intended, and only then making certain changes to optimize
them for your company. In this case by improving the existing practices you will be
expanding the toolkit instead of creating new processes that might fail to work and
contradicting with the principles of Lean and Agile!

Useful links:

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Agile Manifesto

Guide to Agile Practices

Lean Startup Movement

The Scrum Guide

Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business

We wish you happy agile planning!

Natalie Sirina,
Content Marketer and External Communications Manager at RealtimeBoard

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What to read next:

RealtimeBoard updates

Agile management Case studies

RealtimeBoard Add-on for JIRA (v 1.0)

Dialogue Mapping in RealtimeBoard

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NHartl 3 months ago

Thanks Natalie, great article. Question, how do you apply Kanban or Scrum for Infrastructure
teams that are constantly working on operational work, incident resolution and projects?
Finding it hard how to institute a practice that makes sense.
Some of the factors to consider:
Two Product Owners
Approximately 50 Member to the Team
Much of the work is does not impact the other teams involved in the squad / team, very
Thank you
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