Going Agile: Scrum or Kanban?

I have been using Scrum for a while. Back at my previous role, we tried using Scrum within the integration team that was creating the nightly builds and our bi-weekly releases. It brought good results, the team specially liked the visibility of the task board and the daily stand-ups.

We did found a bit artificial to have a cadence. We were suppose to put out a release every two weeks but we end up doing it as often as we could (or made sense), as we were not in control of when the new software was landing in our plate.

Since then, I’ve this nagging thought that Scrum might not be appropriated to service teams or teams with a large portion of maintenance/customer support work. I have found iterations shorter than 2 weeks, can be over burden by the demo, planning and sizing overheads. In the other hand, two weeks is too much time for teams with Service Level Agreements of days or hours. It also seems a bit cumbersome for short project (~1 month), were you end up with 2 or 1 iterations… What to do!?

In Canonical several teams have used Kanban in order to improve their development processes, so I started reading up on it when I stumbled on this excellent article on Kanban vs Scrum.

The author won me over straight away by not trying to decide which of the two practices is best but instead doing a great job at remaining impartial.

Looking back at the Symbian Foundation’s integration team it seems that Kanban would have been better suited. It retains the focus on making information visible while concentrating on reducing WIP.  It seems better suited to a “specialist” team, where most members share the same skills and work on similar tasks. Scrum seems to work better for cross-discipline project teams.

Also, the emphasis on managing constant flow of work is one that resonates with teams that have a work “currency” measured in days of effort (bugs?) rather in large projects lasting months at the time.

While Scrum has been very successfully adopted by the Certification team at Canonical, My previous experience with the Integration team had stopped me from cheering on Scrum in teams that have a constant flow of work. Now, we are thinking on going Kanban! Don’t get me wrong, we are going to continue using Scrum. It is just a case of using the right tool for each job. I will keep you posted on how it goes.

If you have any advice, tips or gotchas that you could share with us, I would be most grateful if you could drop your comments here!

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