Kanban: Agile, Scrum, or Both? Unraveling the Mystery

kanban agile scrum board
Last Updated: September 19, 2023

Ever open your fridge and think, “This looks like a disaster zone?” You’re not alone.

You might have seen this TikTok video where a family uses Kanban to turn their fridge from chaos to order. It’s not just a fun video, it’s Kanban in action. And it’s not just for cleaning fridges.

@_jewelsie_ Do you understand what your spouse does at work? Cody and I work in very different industries and there’s a lot of jargon when we talk about our day. I decided to introduce him to sprints during one of his favorite activities: deep cleaning 😂 #scrum #scrumathome #scrummaster #agile #kanban ♬ Vlog BGM_03(953483) – Fujiwo

Agile is a mindset. It’s a way of thinking about how to get work done. Both Scrum and Kanban are part of the Agile family, but they’re like siblings with different personalities.

Scrum is a specific way to do Agile. It’s got roles, it’s got sprints, it’s got a whole system. Imagine you’re cleaning your house for 4 hours on Sunday. You plan it, you do it, and then you review it – all within a set timeframe. And Scrum’s defined roles, like the Scrum Master and the Product Owner, provide clear structure and responsibility.

Kanban is a visual system for managing work as it moves through a process. So it’s more like clearing off the table, rinsing dishes, and putting them in the dishwater right after you eat. It’s a continuous flow of work, with new tasks being added as others are completed. There’s no set timeframe, and work is continuously assessed and prioritized. Kanban doesn’t have set roles, which allows for more flexibility within the team.


The Kanban Methodology

Kanban may be popular in the tech industry, but its roots go back to a very different field: automobile manufacturing. Back in the 1940s, Toyota introduced a system to improve its manufacturing efficiency and flexibility. This system was Kanban, which literally means “billboard” or “signboard” in Japanese.

At its core, Kanban is all about visualizing work, limiting work in progress, and optimizing flow. It’s like a GPS for your work – it shows you where things are, where they’re going, and how fast they’re moving.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Visualize Work: In Kanban, every piece of work is represented as a card on a Kanban board. The board is divided into different stages (like “To Do”, “In Progress”, and “Done”), and cards move from one stage to the next as work progresses. This gives everyone a clear, visual snapshot of the state of work at any given moment.
  2. Limit Work in Progress: Kanban encourages teams to only work on a few tasks at a time. By limiting work in progress, teams can focus better, reduce multitasking, and ultimately, get more done.
  3. Optimize Flow: Kanban is all about making work flow smoothly from one stage to the next. By monitoring the flow of work and identifying bottlenecks, teams can continuously improve their process and become more efficient.

In the world of software development and product management, Kanban has been a game-changer for getting things done. It’s flexible, it’s simple, and it’s visual.


The Six Essential Rules of Kanban

Kanban may seem simple on the surface, but it’s powered by six fundamental rules. These aren’t just arbitrary rules, they’re the engine that makes Kanban work. Let’s break them down:

  1. Visualize the Workflow: The first rule of Kanban is to make your work visible. This is typically done with a Kanban board, where each task is represented by a card that moves from one column to the next as the task progresses. For a product owner, this could mean visualizing the entire product development process, from idea generation to product launch.
  2. Limit Work in Progress (WIP): Kanban encourages you to focus on a few tasks at a time. By limiting WIP, you can reduce multitasking and improve productivity. For example, a product owner might limit the number of features being developed at the same time to ensure quality and focus.
  3. Manage Flow: This rule is all about monitoring the movement of work items through the workflow and making adjustments to improve efficiency. For a product owner, managing flow might involve identifying bottlenecks in the development process and finding ways to resolve them.
  4. Make Process Policies Explicit: Clarity is key in Kanban. Everyone on the team should understand how things work and what to do at each stage of the process. For a product owner, this could mean clearly defining the criteria for moving a task from “In Progress” to “Done”.
  5. Implement Feedback Loops: Regular meetings like stand-ups, retrospectives, and reviews are crucial in Kanban. They provide opportunities for feedback and adjustment. A product owner might use these meetings to gather feedback from the team, review progress, and adjust plans as necessary.
  6. Improve Collaboratively, Evolve Experimentally (Kaizen): Kanban is all about continuous improvement. The goal is to continually identify and implement improvements to the workflow. For a product owner, this might mean regularly reviewing and refining the product development process based on feedback and results.


The Four Guiding Principles of Kanban

While the six rules of Kanban provide a practical framework for implementing the methodology, the four guiding principles of Kanban give us insight into the philosophy behind it. These principles are the heart and soul of Kanban, guiding the way teams approach their work. Let’s take a closer look:

  1. Start with What You Do Now: Kanban isn’t about overhauling your entire process overnight. Instead, it encourages you to start with your existing workflow and make incremental changes. For a product owner, this might mean implementing a visual Kanban board to track the existing product development process, without making any immediate changes to the process itself.
  2. Agree to Pursue Incremental, Evolutionary Change: Kanban is all about small, continuous improvements. Rather than making drastic changes that could disrupt the team, the focus is on making gradual adjustments that improve the process over time. For a product owner, this could mean gradually adjusting the team’s workflow based on feedback and observations, rather than implementing a new process all at once.
  3. Respect the Current Process, Roles, Responsibilities & Titles: Kanban recognizes the value in existing processes and roles. The goal isn’t to eliminate what’s already there but to improve upon it. This means a product owner implementing Kanban would respect the current roles and responsibilities of team members while working to enhance the overall process.
  4. Encourage Acts of Leadership at All Levels: Kanban empowers everyone on the team to be a leader. It’s not just the product owner or manager who can suggest improvements or make decisions – everyone is encouraged to contribute. This could mean a product owner fostering a culture where all team members feel comfortable suggesting improvements to the product development process.


Experience Kanban with CardBoard

Now that you’ve got a handle on what Kanban is all about, it’s time to put theory into practice. And that’s where CardBoard comes in.

CardBoard is designed to help teams collaborate more effectively. CardBoard’s Kanban template provides a ready-made Kanban board you can customize to fit your workflow. It’s like a Kanban starter kit – with all the basics you can tweak to fit your needs.

Sign up for a free trial of CardBoard here.



We’ve taken quite a journey through the world of Kanban, from its origins in a Toyota factory to its place in modern product management. Along the way, we’ve seen how Kanban fits into the Agile mindset, explored its six fundamental rules and four guiding principles, and even got a taste of how to implement it with CardBoard.

But what does all this mean for you, the product owner? Simply put, Kanban offers a flexible, efficient, and visual way to manage your workflow. It’s not about rigid structures or drastic overhauls. It’s about starting where you are, making incremental improvements, and respecting the roles and processes that are already in place.

With Kanban, you can visualize your work, limit work in progress, and optimize your flow. You can see where your work is, where it’s going, and how fast it’s getting there. And with tools like CardBoard, implementing Kanban is easier than ever.

So, whether you’re developing a new product, managing a team, or even just cleaning out your fridge, Kanban can help you get from chaos to order. It’s time to embrace the flow and see what Kanban can do for you.