Kanban vs. Scrum: Why This Argument is Futile

Kanban is a Group Tool or Group Methodology.

Scrum is a Team Framework.

Confused about the difference? It all has to do with the definition of a team. The Agile community loves to talk about teamwork and teams but does not share a common definition of a team. Is this a problem? It is if you are trying to coach a group of people to function as a team when their work/tasks have a low level of interdependency.


A distinguishable set of two or more people who interact dynamically, interdependently, and adaptively toward a common and valued goal/ objective/ mission [1].


Kanban is a great group methodology that allows you to start where you are and focus on flow. However, Kanban is not time-boxed like a sprint in Scrum. Why does this matter? Look at the second part of the above definition of a team: “…common and valued goal/ objective/ mission” implies time. Think back to SMART goals (by-the-way, I hate SMART goals). Can you have a goal to lose 10lbs without a time-box? You can in Kanban. I’m on that diet now and I have not lost a pound.


Scrum is a great team framework that exists in its entirety and is a container for other practices, techniques, and methodologies. You can use elements of Kanban in Scrum without renaming Scrum as long as Scrum exists in its entirety (three roles, five events, three artifacts).

Scrum is ideal for a set of two or more people who work interdependently toward a common goal. But hold on a minute, we all know that there are three roles in Scrum. So does a two-person Scrum team violate the definition of Scrum?

But There’s More…

According to research conducted by R. Wageman, placing a team framework on people whose work or tasks have a low-level of interdependency is a bad idea [2]. There is danger in thinking a pull system designed for the simple domain can be applied as a framework for teams who work in the complicated, complex, and chaotic domains.

Bottom Line

Kanban is a great group methodology and Scrum is a great team framework. They are not perfect, they have flaws, but knowing where to use them is as simple as understanding what a team is and what a team is not.

Brian “Ponch” Rivera is a recovering naval aviator, co-founder of AGLX Consulting, LLC, and creator of the High-Performance Teaming™ workshop – an evidence-based, human systems solution to rapidly build and develop networks of high-performing teams.


[1] Salas, Eduardo; Stephen M. Fiore; Letsky, Michael P. (2013-06-17). Theories of Team Cognition: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives (Applied Psychology Series) (Kindle Locations 7794-7796). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

[2] “But if managers inadvertently create hybrid groups by importing group processes into a high-performing system with individual tasks and reward systems, they may find that what they have actually have brought in is a Trojan Horse.” Wageman, R. (1995). Interdependence and Group Effectiveness. Administrative Science Quarterly, 40(1), 145-180. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2393703

© 2019 AGLX Consulting, LLC. All Rights Reserved.