What Is the Best Agile Project Management Methodology? Kanban vs Waterfall vs Scrum vs Lean.

While the Agile methodology is really helpful for structuring teams and creating an efficient workspace, there are many different branches that each take their own approach to project management. All of these strategies fall under the Agile umbrella, and in this article, we will compare four of the most popular project management strategies.

To provide some context, the agile methodology is a set of principles that provides a guide of how to effectively structure teams and projects to maximize efficiency. These are a fairly generic set of principles, and because of this, there have been many different strategies that build off the agile methodology in their own unique ways.

Among these strategies are the four that we discuss below: Waterfall, Kanban, Scrum, and Lean. This guide will show how each is unique and will outline the major advantages of employing each of them. If you want to learn more about the Agile methodology more generally, check out our articles answering various agile questions and discussing how agile teams have an advantage.

Brief Overview

If you need a quick overview of each strategy and how they are unique, here’s a brief rundown.

  • Waterfall is focused on linear project completion with defined guidelines and documentation throughout.
  • Kanban creates flexible project that can accommodate frequent changes.
  • Scrum is focused on improving efficiency with strict cyclical sprints.
  • Lean development eliminates waste of any kind, both in the product and the process.

Waterfall Overview

Waterfall is a very linear project management strategy. It breaks projects down into a procedural set of elements and demands that these steps be strictly followed. Unlike other project management strategies, this means that teams cannot go backward and must complete one step before another to progress forward.

Based on this there are two important pieces to all waterfall projects: comprehensive documentation and distinct stages.

Documentation is crucial to the waterfall process because there’s no going back. This means that the requirements for the entire project need to be cleared up before it begins. Everyone needs to share an understanding of these items so that the project can be completed properly.

Additionally, Waterfall having strict phases dates back to its origins in manufacturing, where stages could physically not be completed without the others being finished. This linear nature is central to the entire waterfall process, so it’s critical that teams maintain a strict regiment to keep the gears moving.

Waterfall Advantages

Sets a Clear Outline

One of the biggest advantages of using Waterfall is it creates an incredibly clear outline of how teams get from point A to point B. With other project management methodologies, this can be somewhat of a mystery, so if your team needs a really clear structure this is a good way to provide it.

Additionally, it helps communicate goals and expectations to the team as a whole so everyone is able to operate from the same set of information.

Creates Simple Communication Channels

Another advantage of having a really clear project outline is it creates very simple channels of communication. Especially when introducing other teams to specific phases of the project, they will come in knowing exactly what the end goal of the phase is, what it should look like, and how their contributions are necessary.

For teams working in collaboration, this is super helpful because it provides everyone with a level playing field and a clear path forward.

Uses Achievable Expectations

Using a rigid structure to manage projects means the expectations and timetable are cut and dry. Especially when completing projects for clients, giving them a specific deadline and knowing the project will be delivered in full on that date is a nice security to have. Additionally, since everything is communicated upfront, the expectations from the client are locked in place and can’t change depending on their desires. This can make things easier for teams to remain focused on the end goal.

Fresco Kanban Board
Fresco Kanban Board

Kanban Overview

The Kanban methodology is probably the project management strategy that is most aligned with the principles of Agile. Kanban seeks to improve workplace efficiency by giving teams a flexible work environment and providing them room to shift their bandwidth throughout a given project.

The central element of Kanban is the Kanban board. This is a board that the team uses to organize their sprint and manage their work in progress. The board is split into multiple categories: Backlog, On Deck, In-Progress, and Completed. These sections allow for the team to visualize their workflow, effectively gaining perspective on what their current bandwidth is and what’s coming up next.

This board provides multiple things to the team by keeping everyone on the same page, tracking tasks through to completion, and ensuring there aren’t too many things being juggled at once. As tasks move through the cycle, the board will be updated by the team to reflect these changes.

Another key emphasis of Kanban is that it delivers projects in increments, sharing results and deploying changes as time goes on. Doing this has its own set of advantages that we’ll discuss below.

Kanban Advantages

More Informed Clients

Delivering projects in increments helps customers feel that their solution is in progress and gives them benchmarks to see how it’s coming along. It also allows them to be more involved in the development process. If they see something they don’t like, they can make a note of that and the team can reprioritize their next sprint to accommodate those concerns.

Creates Shared Understanding

Having a shared visualization of the team’s workflow is super helpful not only to clarify the tasks that are being worked on but to give everyone a shared understanding of what the project looks like on the whole. Having a shared workflow means everyone is fully involved not only in their tasks but in the success of the project as a whole, something that is critical to Kanban.

Increases Team Flexibility

Another advantage that comes with having a visualized workflow is that the team has a solid understanding of what their current project looks like from the top down. This means they can prioritize the most important tasks in each sprint from the start while completing some of the less important requirements as time goes on. Having a visual workflow allows them to do this and helps increase the efficiency of completing a project.

Scrum Overview

Scrum project management is one of the most popular strategies housed within the Agile methodology. Unlike Kanban, Scrum is based on very strict sprints that look to improve team efficiency in cyclical development cycles.

There are multiple important roles within a Scrum team including a product owner, scrum master, and development team. These roles all have their own specific duties and responsibilities within the lifecycle of a specific sprint and they collaborate to achieve a successful result.

In an effort to improve team efficiency, scrum utilizes short sprints that create repeatable cycles of development. By completing short projects in succession, teams can analyze their workflow efficiency and make improvements. Using retrospective templates helps organize these improvements and can catalyze a team’s ability to improve upon their previous work.

Scrum Advantages

Creates Team Cohesion

Working as a part of a scrum team means you will be involved in many different sprints with the same group of people. Consistently working with the same team creates predictable expectations and helps foster a healthy team dynamic, two things that make scrum helpful for development teams.

Improves Overall Polish

Scrum operates in strict sprints with clear guidelines, and because of this, the final product is always in sight. Being able to consistently guarantee results means the end product of each project will have a guaranteed level of polish. Being able to consistently deliver solid results is a reason many teams use scrum.

Increases Efficiency

As previously mentioned, the main goal of scrum is to increase the team’s workflow efficiency. This means that each sprint must be better than the last. The way scrum structures projects means this improvement is very achievable and most teams use scrum simply to help increase their personal and shared efficiency.

Lean Overview

The final project management methodology we’ll discuss is Lean Software Development. This is an agile strategy that is based around the ideology that eliminating waste is critical, and by doing so teams can achieve an efficient end product with only required features.

Lean development is built on the principle that the MVP (minimum viable product) is the baseline of the product that will be offered and everything else should be built upon this. Teams, therefore, attempt to strip features away until the MVP is clear and proceed to add things based on feedback provided by users.

The theory behind this is that once you have a barebones product, the feedback customers provide will guide the development of the product and will ensure that all of the added features will be valuable to the user. This removes the unnecessary waste associated with project completion and ensures that it is informed by real customer opinions.

Lean Software Development is not just about eliminating the waste in a product but eliminating waste in procedures as well. This could apply to the individual level, as a team, or at any other level of the process. Eliminating waste in procedures is really important in order to improve team efficiency and is really helpful as teams move forward with future projects.

Fresco Lean Canvas
Fresco Lean Canvas

Lean Advantages

Eliminates Waste

As we’ve mentioned, the principal goal of Lean development is to eliminate waste. Whether that is on an individual level or within a product, creating a streamlined solution is always helpful both internally and to the customer. Additionally, eliminating waste is one of the best ways to improve overall efficiency and helps teams reach their full potential.

Provides Creative Freedom

Lean development allows for a lot of creative freedom within teams, especially when improving their processes. Seeing as increasing efficiency and eliminating waste are crucial parts of the development process, it’s up to teams to decide what is waste and what is crucial. This allows people to be creative in how they maneuver around a project and find the most efficient route to completion.

Creates Consistent Improvements

Improving processes is an important feature of lean software development and is something that can happen over time for lean teams. As teams become familiar with eliminating waste, stripping down projects, and improving efficiency, they will begin to do this internally to their own workflows. This is a way that lean development can help improve efficiency for teams over time.

Conclusion

The Agile methodology has a ton of different branches and these strategies make up just a few of the popular project management variations available to Agile teams. If you want to learn more about how online whiteboards can help Agile teams operate, make sure you check out Fresco

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