There is a lot of talk about Agile when discussing projects and what methodology is used in managing them. A 2017 study by Project Management Institute (PMI) indicates that 71% of organizations use Agile approaches on their projects sometimes, or more frequently than in the past. Organizations say they ‘are/do/use Agile.’ And in more cases than not, they say they are Agile because they use Scrum. And somewhere someone brings up Kanban and everyone nods knowingly.
When I was first introduced to Agile, it was explained to me in the context of Scrum. The words Agile, Scrum, and Kanban were used a lot, and I wasn’t clear how all these things connected or if they connected at all? At first, I felt this ‘Agile’ thing was just another flavor of the month and would go away until I learned it had been formalized with the Agile Manifesto in 2001! So rather than being the flavor of the month, I realized it was actually picking up momentum.
Once I decided to get onboard the Agile train, I sought to clarify for myself what Agile, Scrum, and Kanban are and what they have to do with each other. Having the organized mind of a programmer, I thought that first there was Agile, then came Scrum, followed by Kanban. Imagine my surprise, and confusion, when I discovered that Scrum was introduced in 1986! And that Kanban surfaced in the 1940s and is not even mentioned in the official Scrum Guide!
As I have learned more about Agile, Scrum, and Kanban, I have really had to resist the urge to rearrange them to say that first came Kanban, followed by Scrum, and ‘completed’ by Agile. Instead, I have come to appreciate that for once. We have new ideas that dusted off previously developed solutions rather than trying to invent yet another, ‘better’ mousetrap.
Based on my own experience, and the confusion and frustration that I experienced for a great length of time, I like to explain Agile, Scrum, and Kanban together because they are invariably talked about together. But I also want to start from the tool, describe the process, and end with the methodology.
In a very short explanation, Kanban (Japanese for ‘Billboard, Sign’) is a visual board developed to manage work and inventory at every stage at maximum efficiency. That’s it.
While I have identified Kanban as a tool in this article, I must point out that it is the Kanban Board, which is the tool. Kanban as a whole comprises of processes, and expected behaviors, that enable the success of using a Kanban Board.
But no tools or processes will make the organization Agile if the values and principles described in the Agile Manifesto are not adapted and embraced by the organization. Like with Scrum, I do have a lot of thoughts about Agile, but for this article, I will sum up an Agile Mindset with one word: Trust! Trust your people to identify issues and to solve them. Trust your people to know how to do their job and seek help when they need it. Trust your people to do the right thing for your organization and your customers. Trust allows people to speak up and present their ideas and respect for each other. If your organization has a strong sense of trust, you are already on the verge of Agile – just let them run with it!
Agile Coach, Planstreet Inc.
January 13, 2020