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What’s the difference between a kanban board and a Scrum board?

What are the differences between a kanban and Scrum board, and how can you decide which might be best for your project? A brief introduction. 

READ TIME: 10 minutes


What you’ll learn

  • What are boards?
  • What’s a kanban board?
  • What’s a Scrum board?
  • Kanban boards vs. Scrum boards: Which is best for your project?

NOTE: This is a general introduction, with links to further resources both in and out of the Atlassian Community. 


What are boards?

Boards are a foundational element of the Agile approach to project management and a vital visual indicator about how a team is working. While they’ve been traditionally physical—for a team working in one place—digital boards allow remote teams to collaborate in real time by: 

  • Tracking day to day work
  • Sharing workflow and progress both inside and outside the team, as necessary
  • Informing decisions with collective vision and transparency

Boards work against the product backlog, a prioritized list of work for the development team that is derived from the roadmap and its requirements. The most important items are shown at the top of the product backlog so the team knows what to deliver first.

In Jira, boards are digital and accessible to all. They take the form of either a kanban board or Scrum board. What’s the difference between them? Let’s take a closer look at each starting with the kanban board.

Related resource:


What’s a kanban board?

Kanban is a Japanese word meaning visual signal. Kanban boards are a way of visualizing work (in progress and upcoming) to maximize efficiency and the collective workflow. Teams working in a kanban management framework focus on reducing the time it takes a project—or a user story within a project—to move from start to finish. 

Kanban boards use a dynamic assembly of cards and columns to chart and promote continuous improvement in workflow. It helps ensure technology and service teams commit the right amount of work time to hit visible delivery points promised to the client or sponsor of the project. 

What’s in a kanban board?

A kanban board most often contains five elements:

Atlassian_Topic1_KanbanColumns.gif

Atlassian_Topic1_KanbanColumnsStatic.png

  1. Visual signals: Cards (tickets or user stories) showing at a glance what each team member is working on. 
  2. Columns: Represent a specific activity that taken together compose a “workflow”; the visual signals (“cards”) move from one column to the next on its way to completion. 
  3. Commitment point: Flags the point at which an issue is picked up by the team from the project’s backlog, and when work begins on that issue.
  4. Delivery point: Flags the end point at which the product or service is in the hands of a customer.
  5. WIP limits: This is a limit to the number of cards in a column at any time, or quite simply, a limit on the “work in progress” of a column.

Kanban boards may vary in style, but share the same objective of moving cards from the commitment point through the columns to delivery. The board is limited in what can be added to it (WIP limit), and is clearly visualized to all. In an online tool like Jira, issues appear, then move from left to right.

Atlassian_Topic1_KanbanIssuesMoving.gif

Related resource:


What’s a Scrum board?

First, it’s important to understand that “Scrum” and “Agile” are not interchangeable terms—sometimes they can be confused:

  • Agile is a set of values and principles
  • Scrum is a framework for actually getting the work done

Adopting an Agile approach doesn’t automatically mean you’re adopting Scrum. 

Scrum teams commit to ship working software or products through set intervals called sprints—often timed two to four weeks. Their goal is to create continuous loops to quickly gather and integrate customer feedback. 

Scrum teams adopt specific roles, create special artifacts, and hold regular ceremonies to keep things moving forward. 

A Scrum board applies the workflow visualization of kanban to the scrum framework for developing, delivering, and sustaining complex products.

What’s in a Scrum board?

While the contents of a Scrum board can vary, the principles are similar. A Scrum board most often contains four elements:

  1. Product backlog: As noted earlier, the backlog is a prioritized list of work for the development team that is derived from the roadmap and its requirements.
  2. Sprint backlog: A list of tasks identified by the Scrum team to be completed during the sprint.
  3. In progress: A list of tasks that are…well, in progress and being worked on by the team in the sprint. 
  4. Done: A list of tasks completed in the sprint. 

As with kanban, issues move from left to right, but with Scrum they do it within the sprint’s specified timebox. 

Atlassian_Topic1_ScrumIssuesMoving.gif

What’s in a sprint is defined by the Scrum master in consultation with the product owner. The board shows the workflow at a glance. 

Related resources:
Four agile ceremonies, demystified 
What is Scrum? 


What’s best for your project, kanban or Scrum boards?

It is up to the team to decide whether to use kanban or Scrum, some combination of them, or another agile method. 

Kanban boards can be a great choice for ongoing IT support teams, if you’re delivering a continuous flow of improvements, or if you prefer to start with a simpler, flexible workflow before deciding to adopt the ceremonies and cadence of Scrum.

But if you have a large team with a more complex workflow, or fixed timeframes for completing work, you may want to consider using a Scrum board. 

Another way to consider: if the nature of the work is more of a queue, like with support requests, kanban might be a better choice. For teams that are building a product, scrum might be a better choice, though some teams could be more effective using kanban. 


One last thought

Kanban and Scrum are about more than the boards. Just because you use a kanban board doesn’t mean you shouldn't implement Scrum ceremonies. 

The question here isn’t only which board is best for your project, but what workflow is best for your project. 

Some teams may find that a hybrid of the two makes sense—combining a kanban board with the structure of Scrum. It really depends on the nature of your project, how your team works best, and what will create the most efficient, effective process for getting the work done. 

Related resource:


Continue learning

Ready to talk about workflows with your team? We’ve put together a series of helpful guides to walk you through workflow best practices—this is where your project goals, team values, and performance tracking all come together.

Other workflow related resources:
Kanban vs. Scrum Frameworks

Building an awesome Jira workflow

Using Jira software for workflows

Browse more Jira Cloud Basics articles on Atlassian Community. 

Learn more from Atlassian Support for Jira or enroll in the free tutorial Go Agile with Jira from Atlassian University.

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