Scrum vs Agile: Which is Right for Your Project?

Scrum vs Agile vs Kanban vs XP
Mitch Lacey | Feb 28, 2024

What is Agile?

Agile is an approach to project and product development that’s centered around iterative progress, where solutions and requirements are evolved through the collaborative effort of self-organizing and cross-functional teams. It’s not a methodology or a specific way of doing things. Instead, it’s a mindset or philosophy with guiding principles.

Agile is a vast umbrella that encompasses various frameworks including Scrum, Kanban, Lean, and Extreme Programming (XP), each with its own unique qualities and benefits. These approaches all align with the values and principles of Agile but provide specific processes and tactics to guide teams to the Agile mindset.

Agile was born out of the real-world experiences of leading software professionals who had experienced the challenges and limitations of traditional waterfall development on project after project.

The Agile approach involves breaking down a project into manageable chunks, known as iterations or in the case of Scrum, Sprints. Each iteration has a defined duration (usually 2-4 weeks) with a running list of deliverables, planned at the start of the iteration. Deliverables are prioritized based on business or customer value.

Agile encourages a rapid and flexible response to change, which leads to better end results. The principles of Agile are laid out in the Agile Manifesto and are based on continuous improvement, flexibility, team input, and delivering high-quality results.

In a project where people implore an Agile mindset, everyone is responsible for the delivery of the product. This is a significant shift from traditional waterfall project management where specific individuals are responsible for certain areas of responsibility.

Agile is a mindset that encourages flexibility, collaboration, and customer satisfaction. It’s about working smarter, not harder, and placing value on the individuals doing the work and their interactions, rather than rigid processes and tools. It’s about coming together as a team to deliver quality products that meet the customer’s needs in a timely and efficient manner. It’s about continuous learning and adaptation to change. It’s about delivering value and delighting customers. It’s Agile.

The Agile Manifesto

The Agile Manifesto, created in 2001, laid down the foundational values and principles of Agile. It emphasizes:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Potential Benefits of Agile

Agile offers numerous benefits:

  • Flexibility and adaptivity: Agile allows changes in project scope at any time during the project lifecycle.
  • Early and predictable delivery: Using time-boxed, fixed schedule of 1-4 weeks, new features are delivered quickly and frequently.
  • Stakeholder Engagement: Agile provides multiple opportunities for stakeholder and team engagement.
  • Reflection and Inspection of Process: Agile allows for regular reflection and adjustment to enhance team efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Focus on Value: Agile focuses on delivering value to the customer with an emphasis on customer satisfaction.

Potential Disadvantages of Agile

Despite its advantages, Agile is not without its own issues and challenges:

  • Perception of Less predictability: For some, the high level of flexibility and adaptivity can make the scope of the project appear to be less predictable.
  • Increased time and commitment: Regular reviews and collaboration require a significant time commitment from all parties, including stakeholders.
  • Low Risk / Low Change Projects: Agile may not be suitable for projects with a well-defined scope and unchanging requirements, such as projects working with IEEE requirements.
  • Customer Involvement: Agile requires a high level of customer involvement, which may not always be feasible.
  • Scaling Challenges: Agile works best with small, co-located teams, which may not always be possible in large, distributed organizations.

When to Employ an Agile Mindset / Approach?

People often ask me, when should we “use Agile”? My answers are usually always the same. If your projects ticks any of these boxes, use an agile approach.

  • Agile is best used when the project requirements are expected to change and evolve.
  • Agile is suitable when there’s a need for frequent feedback and adjustment.
  • Agile is ideal for projects where customer involvement is high.
  • Agile is beneficial when the team size is small to medium.
  • Agile is appropriate when the organization values individuals and interactions over processes and tools.

What is Scrum?

Scrum is framework that’s falls under the Agile umbrella. It is one of the, if not the, most popular Agile frameworks used. It was designed to be lightweight and was designed to be used to manage complex product development. First created in the early 1990s, Scrum is not a process, technique, or definitive method—rather, it provides the structure for teams to work on complex tasks and adapt to changing requirements.

The Scrum framework is deceptively simple. It consists of Scrum Teams and their associated accountabilities (or roles), meetings, and artifacts. Each component within the framework serves a specific purpose and is essential to Scrum’s success and usage.

Scrum employs an iterative, incremental approach to optimize predictability and control risk. It structures development in cycles of work called Sprints, which are time-boxed iterations no more than one month long, but often two weeks.

At the start of a Sprint, the team members forecast or commit to delivering some valuable features. At the end of the Sprint, these features are done—they are coded, tested, and integrated into the evolving product or system. This is called an Increment in Scrum.

Scrum emphasizes working product at the end of the Sprint that is really “done”; in the case of software, this means a system that is integrated, fully tested, end-user documented, and potentially shippable.

Scrum’s Three Pillars:

Scrum is built on the three pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation.

  • Transparency ensures that aspects of the process that affect the outcome are visible to those managing the outcomes.
  • Inspection involves regularly checking these aspects to detect undesirable variances.
  • Adaptation means adjusting a process or its components as soon as an issue is detected.

And Five Values:

Scrum’s five values are commitment, courage, focus, openness, and respect.

  • Commitment: Scrum team members collectively commit to achieving the team’s goals and delivering the best possible product. The commitment is not just about working hours, but about being engaged and doing one’s best.
  • Courage: A highly performing Scrum team will exhibit courage to face challenges, to change aspects of the project if needed, and to stand up for what they believe is right for the product.
  • Focus: Everyone in the team focuses on the work of the Sprint and the goals they are trying to achieve. This focus helps the team deliver the most value in the shortest time.
  • Openness: The Scrum team and its stakeholders agree to be open about all the work and the challenges with performing the work. This openness fosters trust and collaboration among team members and stakeholders.
  • Respect: Team members respect each other to be capable, independent individuals, and are respected for their diverse background and skills. This respect is essential for building a safe and trusting team environment where creativity and innovation can thrive.

Is Scrum Part of Agile?

Yes, Scrum is a part of Agile. It’s one of the frameworks used to implement Agile software development.

Potential Benefits of Scrum

Scrum has several benefits:

  • Improved quality: Regular check-ins mean that if a problem or issue arises, the team will spot it sooner.
  • Faster release of useable product to users and customers: Because a usable product is often available at the end of each sprint.

Potential Disadvantages of Scrum

Scrum also has potential downsides:

  • It can be time-consuming: Daily meetings can sometimes be viewed as unnecessary and time-consuming.
  • Scope creep: The flexibility of Scrum can sometimes lead to scope creep if not properly managed.

When Should You Use Scrum?

Scrum is ideal for projects with rapidly changing or highly emergent requirements.

Agile vs. Scrum

While Agile is a mindset based on a set of principles, Scrum is a specific implementation of those principles. All Scrum practices are Agile, but not all Agile practices are Scrum.

Scrum vs. Kanban

While Scrum is based on sprints, Kanban is based on continuous flow. Scrum is best for projects with a stable team and a predictable workload, while Kanban is better for projects with a fluctuating workload or for dealing with issues or problems as they arise.

Potential Advantages of Kanban

Kanban offers several advantages:

  • Flexibility: Kanban does not require a set time frame for when items need to be completed, allowing the team to adapt to changes quickly.
  • Focus on continuous delivery: Work items are continuously delivered throughout the development process, ensuring a steady flow of value to the customer.
  • Visualization of work: Kanban boards provide a visual representation of the workflow, making it easier to identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies.
  • Limiting work in progress: By limiting the amount of work in progress, Kanban helps teams focus and reduces the waste associated with multitasking and context switching.
  • Improves efficiency: Kanban can lead to improved efficiency through better resource allocation and reduced waste.

Potential Disadvantages of Kanban

Kanban also has potential downsides:

  • Not ideal for large teams: Kanban works best with small, focused teams. Larger teams may struggle with coordination and communication.
  • Requires discipline: The process requires a high level of discipline to ensure that it is followed correctly.
  • Lack of timing: Without specific time frames, some tasks may be left unfinished for extended periods.
  • Prioritization challenges: Without clear iterations, prioritizing tasks can become challenging.
  • Scope creep: The flexibility of Kanban can lead to scope creep if not properly managed.

Scrum vs. XP (Extreme Programming)

While Scrum focuses on the management aspects of software development projects, XP focuses on the engineering aspects. XP introduces practices such as pair programming, test-driven development, and continuous integration.

Potential Advantages of XP

XP offers several advantages:

  • High-quality software: Extreme Programming’s emphasis on testing results in high-quality software and reduces the cost of changes.
  • Flexibility to change: Changes can be incorporated at any point in the project, even late in development.
  • Customer satisfaction: The involvement of the customer throughout the development process increases customer satisfaction.
  • Efficient communication: Pair programming and a co-located workspace promote efficient communication and knowledge sharing.
  • Reduced risk: Frequent releases and feedback loops help to identify issues early and reduce project risk.

Potential Disadvantages of XP

XP also has potential downsides:

  • Requires a lot of discipline: Of all the Agile approaches, I find the practices of XP require a high level of discipline to implement correctly.
  • Not suitable for distributed teams: XP practices such as pair programming and continuous integration require a high level of communication and coordination.
  • Highly dependent on individuals: If team members leave, it can be disruptive to the project, but this is true for all frameworks.
  • Requires customer involvement: The customer needs to be available and engaged throughout the development process, which may not always be feasible.
  • Perceived lack of documentation: XP’s focus on working software over comprehensive documentation can lead to a lack of documentation, which can cause problems in the future. I’ve had people say to me “Agile means no documentation” so be careful here.


Related Posts