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Samuli Heljo (/)

Samuli Heljo (/)

Reections on Kanban vs Scrum

June 23rd 2011
Done and done! 1,5 years of hard work at National Land Survey is over.
What a great project! This post will be on my personal ndings about
Scrum team transition to Kanban. What worked and what not? Moreover,
I will try to analyze the failures we made and to come up with some
solutions. Lets get started!


4 person development team was formed about 1,5 years ago. Team
members were selected based on a cv, a hourly fee, psychological tests,
and an interview. Two people knew each other from earlier project, but
everyone else were complete strangers. National Land Surveys project
team consisted of Product Owner / project manager and about 8
subject-matter experts. Product owner had no previous experience on
Scrum but he had been coached on Scrum prior to kick-o. Team chose
me to work as a Scrum Master.
We started Scrum by the book. Two week iterations, Denition of Done,
retrospectives, you name it. Some of our initial DoD agreements did not
materialize immediately but got better while team learned to know each
other. Basically steps that team went through in terms of Scrum
implementation improvements were:
Scrum by the book, velocity, definition of done
Unit testing
Continuous integration
Automated UI tests
No Monday sprint plannings
Team member cross testing
Process waste visualization
Team does not jell immediately and this takes time. Even though I knew
all these things would be nice and even mandatory to have in place, you
should not force them on a team if it is not ready. In addition, team felt
that it had to make progress with features and team's process
improvements would have to be made in small steps. I feel that every
team will have to discover their own process and you cannot copy-paste
team culture. Therefore, rst important rule for organizations:

Do not break well functioning teams. If possible, try to move them

together to a next project.

Hmm, what did Jurgen say?

In Turku Agile day I listened to Jurgen Appelo ( talking
about teams emergent goals. Well working team will come up with its
own goals in addition to those set by the Product Owner. First of all, it is
important to be aware of this behavior but also to encourage team to nd
their own way. When well functioning team is torn down, a new team will
start formation process from lower level (Tuckman)
If teams emergent goal had been a benecial one, it is also lost.

Group prototype
Once group starts to work together it begins to form a group prototype.
This prototype represents us and it aects teams self-image. If
prototype is energetic and responsible you are more likely to get good
results than when prototype is a sloth. This whole prototype thing is
actually really interesting as it also means that those who are
prototypically central become highly inuential. Check out this nice book
about the subject ( In short, well functioning team is
a gem. Try not to break it.

Please, I am busy, do not get side tracked

Ok, back to year 2011. About three months ago we wanted to try out
Kanban. Team had been doing Scrum over a year, solution was in
production, and now team had trouble with expedite type of work. This

work that had to be taken care of right away was mostly production
maintenance and occasionally some bug xing. Team (and PO) felt that it
could not wait for two weeks just to t these expedites into a sprint.
Furthermore, team began to encounter stories that were really dicult to
estimate. This could be a 1 or a 10, it depends on x. Team felt that
estimation of these tasks was waste because they had to be made
anyway. Downside of this of course was the fact that when some story
was ten times bigger than originally estimated, sprint goal was pretty
much nullied. In addition, team had challenges with work that had to be
stopped because sprint was over. This caused situations where everyone
knew that a feature needed an improvement but because there was not
enough time to do it, team decided to move improvements to next sprint.
This is somewhat wasteful because it would be nice to completely nish a
feature team is working on if everyone agrees that it lacks some key
functionality. Why move work in to the future? "Because we do not have
time right now". This lead us suggesting the use of Kanban to PO. Luckily,
he agreed.
After three months of development and 4 version later, our board looked
like this:


(click to enlarge)
Development team's Kanban process went like so:
Development team used the Kanban board, "project team" did not.
Product backlog was still maintained by the PO and stories were
estimated in product backlog like in Scrum. Sprint plannings were
replaced with pull planning. When selected stage had room, PO chose
next tasks on to the board. Once Analysis stage had space development
team broke user stories into tasks like in sprint planning. The dierence
was that these planning sessions were much shorter than with Scrum as
usually only one story had to be analyzed. Team had 3 implementation
lanes. When there were empty slots, story was moved onto the
"development" stage. Then, slowly tasks moved across implementation
and once everything was coded, tested and ready, story was deployed to
"staging" environment and PO was notied. Next, PO and project team
veried that everything was OK after which story was scheduled to a
release. One lane was reserved for expedites. Plain and simple! Did that
work? Well, thats a good question.

Start with positive, what worked?

Team's lead time was painfully visible and pressure to deploy increased
as post-its kept piling up. Our lead time clock was started when user story
was placed to the selected stage. Clock was stopped when feature was
deployed to production. Lead time was measured in calendar days. We
noticed improvements in lead time, partly because now PO was more
concerned about it. I think this is in line with Lean promises that you get
process modications just by visualizing it.
Lead time is very easy to track with Kanban and in our case lead time
was reduced.

In picture below you can see lead time distributions of 82 stories.

In this second picture, an individual moving range chart

( has
been created and it looks pretty steady around 11,5 days. There are some
special causes that were caused by clustering etc.

In third picture, I have created a boxplot to see how lead time varied
between releases.

Based on these images, I would say team's process was pretty stable.
Was this data usable or not? Theory is that once we know our average
lead time and standard deviation we can establish a SLA. Then
organization can order features and be somewhat condent that it will
get them when needed. Problem with this logic is that in our case
organization was not particularly interested in this stu. They were more
interested in release level information and Scrum style velocity
information was enough for them. That being said, in some other context
this could be vital information. So, what else? Benets also included the
fact that the team members were more aware about the status of a story.
Is this already deployed to test? The board told you.
Work was nicely organized as everyone in the team could see
progress on the board

Also, team's initial concern about expedite work worked out pretty well.
But does this encourage towards could you x this for me quickly type
of behavior that is the one main thing we are trying to avoid with Scrum? I
think so.
Team was very responsive to expedites. But this is not necessary a
good thing.

What did not work as advertised?

It was pretty big surprise that PO actually felt that visibility to work was
lower than it had been with Scrum. Once we thought about this it was
pretty clear why. We had thought that informal meetings and a Kanban
board would keep PO up to date on progress. It did not. In Scrum, we
spent 15-20% of our time in Scrum "meetings" that also served as a way
to keep everyone on track. That being said, this is not a fault in Kanban
but came out of our work.
PO felt that visibility to work with our Kanban implementation was
lower compared to Scrum.
One of the biggest problems was caused by the lack of a timebox. We
had no predened release cadence (maybe we should have), nor had we
cadence for demos. But the problem was not only about cadence, it was
also about the lack of commitment and positive pressure. In Scrum,
timeboxed sprint will foster positive buzz as the team will not want to
look stupid in demo. I felt that Kanban was lacking this energy.
Lack of commitments caused positive buzz to disappear.

Daily stand-ups where done in front of the Kanban board. Instead of

asking what team members did and will do next, we focused on tasks.
This created two problems. I think it decreased team member
commitment and also caused team to focus on tasks instead of each
others. Dierence may be subtle but I felt that the team was more
present in Daily Scrums and concentrated more to each others with
Daily stand-ups were not as focused as they were in Scrum.
We held review when the team or PO felt like it. Usually at this point
new features were already deployed to production and everyone had
already tried them. This somewhat took the edge away from reviews.
Reviews were not as exciting as they were in Scrum.

What was really dicult?

It was not uncommon that one or more tasks were blocked by some
external factor. We encountered situations where all free slots were taken
and 50% of tasks were blocked. Often it was the case that none of us nor
PO could do anything to speed up blocking issue. What to do then? We
could increase WIP limits or try to proactively work with upcoming
blockers. We tried both ways even though you should not continuously
tinker with WIP limits.
Our initial WIP limits were too small and we had to increase them

Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes

It is obvious that we made many Kanban rookie mistakes and David

Anderson probably would not give us Professional Kanban Master
Certication. Anyways, Kanban by stripping down Scrum did not produce
results we had hoped. I feel that Scrum team can benet from Kanban
type work visualization. However Kanban as a method, in my opinion,
needs some structure.
There was a nice tweet by Henrik Kniber
Kanban teams rediscovering value of basic Scrum practices such as sprint
reviews & backlog workshops
And I agree. "Kanban bible" ( recommends release cadences but it does not
mandate where daily meetings should be held, how to inform your
stakeholders nor does the book require you to get rid of developer
commitments. Basically all the things that did not work was our own
fault. In that sense Kanban is pretty advanced method because you really
have to understand implications it has to psychology, team culture, and
visibility. It denitely is easier to introduce Kanban to a company than to
do a full scale Scrum transition. Just do as you always have done, but use
this board. But will this actually change anything? In overall, Scrum or
not, organizations in Finland are in great need of full value stream
visualization. It is not only about the development team. Value stream
should be more visible in business side also. Then full concept to cash
lead time would be very interesting. Finally, you can also say that we
created local optima with our Kanban and our lead time calculations
should have included product backlog as it is the real inventory. Once
again, I agree.

What's next?
If you are having thoughts on your Agile implementation we should
arrange a meeting. Check out how I can help you (/agile).
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