What Exactly is Kanban? Is It Agile?
As Agile development becomes more and more popular, related tools and terminology can be quite confusing. In this article, we are taking a closer look at the Agile methodology and how it aligns with Kanban.
A brief introduction to Agile
The Agile movement was born in 2001 in response to complex and ineffective development and management approaches. Unfortunately, even today many organisations fail to understand that Agile is not a set of practices; this is a set of values that covers interactions between individuals, software delivery, customer collaboration and respond to change.
As seen from above, Agile is not a process or method; this is a frame of mind. It’s also used a collective name for approaches that follow Agile principles, including Scrum, Extreme Programming (XP), Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM), etc.
To put simply, Agile development means delivering value to the business frequently and at a sustainable pace. It focuses on keeping the code simple, testing often, and delivering functional bits of the application as soon as they’re ready. Agile is time-focused and allows to build a product step-by-step, which gives the ability to adapt and change at any step.
Kanban: what is it?
Unlike Agile, Kanban isn’t a methodology; it’s a tool a team might choose to manage its workload, limit work in process (WIP), and make its progress visible.
Kanban was introduced by the Japanese corporation Toyota in the 1940s. The word “kanban” means “signboard” in Japanese. So Kanban revolves around a visual board for managing work in progress. Tasks start on the left side of the board and move across the board until they are considered “done”. The Kanban board is used to limit the amount of work in progress, remove waste and focus the efforts on the items that bring value to the end customer.
The advantages of Kanban include increased productivity – there is no waste or overproduction – people are focused on the current work and manufacture products only when they are needed.
Is Kanban Agile?
Kanban is NOT an Agile tool or framework. But what’s important, Kanban came out of lean manufacturing techniques which align with the core principles of Agile:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
Lean manufacturing and Lean software development are also based on respect for people and creating knowledge. All team members have time and resources to learn and improve so that the team can keep finding ways to work better and increase quality.
The closeness of Lean and Agile principles makes it possible to combine Kanban with Agile frameworks, e.g. the most popular hybrid Scrumban (Scrum + Kanban) which allows to get the best of two development approaches and save time, focus on quality control and minimize waste, eliminating everything that is not adding value to the customer.
Those companies that are not ready to make a radical change, for instance, in the form of Scrum, may start using Kanban practices combining them with Agile values. Either way, it’s worth experimenting with different types of planning and tracking mechanisms to find what works best for your team.