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If there's one thing that can be said about modern software development, it's that there are plenty of options when it comes to choosing how to approach the project.

Two popular methods for software delivery are Kanban vs agile, with each having its own set of unique advantages—but what exactly is the difference between them? 

As a project manager, you need to know which method works best, depending on the goals of your project. In this blog post, we'll dive into the key differences between Kanban and agile, so you can decide which agile method is right for your team!

What Is Agile?

Agile is a project management methodology that was developed in the early 2000s. Since then, the increased use of the agile methodology has been one of the major trends in software development and workflow organization.

The Agile Manifesto recognizes that change is inevitable and allows project managers to account for this in a project's progress through a series of agile steps.

The agile approach allows for frequent inspection and adaptation based on user feedback, as well as technologies that enable fast delivery cycle times. 

Beyond agile principles such as continuous improvement, continuous delivery, iteration, and product backlog maintenance, the agile methodology involves several stages such as release planning, sprints, reviews, and retrospectives

By using agile strategies at each step of the software development process, agile teams, including product owners and Scrum masters, are able to achieve maximum effectiveness in their projects while maintaining a high degree of control over quality assurance.

What Is Kanban?

Kanban is a Japanese word that means "signboard" or "billboard." It is a method of workflow planning and task management that was developed in the 1940s by Toyota to improve manufacturing efficiency.

This streamlined approach can be thought of as an ‘anti-lean’ process (more about lean here), where each step is taken to deliver maximum efficiency and value every time.

The Kanban system was later adapted for use in software development, and it is now one of the most popular project management methodologies.

Unlike other systems or processes, Kanban works by linking tasks together in a Kanban board, which allows users to quickly progress from one process to another.

This is achieved with the utilization of visual representations such as Kanban cards. Assigned tasks are kept within the board for organization and follow-up purposes.

With the Kanban method, teams have seen vast improvements in time management and job satisfaction due to the clarity of assignments and improved transparency within their working environment.

Is Kanban Part Of Agile?

Throughout the software development world, there is often talk of agile methodologies and the benefits they provide. What some might not realize, however, is that Kanban can be considered a subset of agile methodology.

Those familiar with Kanban recognize it as a flexible and innovative visualization tool, complete with its own set of rules and components such as Kanban boards, cards, and works to facilitate workflow organization.

Used in conjunction with agile principles, Kanban provides an easy-to-visualized way to tackle projects large or small efficiently. By bringing together these two proven strategies, it makes sense why they have become such popular approaches among development teams today.

8 Key Differences: Kanban vs Agile

Even though Kanban is a subset of the agile methodology, there are several key differences between Kanban and agile:

  1. Kanban emphasizes continuous flow and limits the number of tasks in progress, while agile focuses on iterative cycles that divide tasks into sprints, and allow teams to deliver user stories in small batches.
  2. Kanban is more suited to incremental changes, while agile is better suited for larger-scale projects
  3. Kanban focuses on visualizing workflows and limiting work in progress, while agile encourages collaboration and frequent feedback 
  4. In Kanban, the team works on one task at a time until completed, while in agile each sprint may involve multiple tasks being completed at once
  5. Kanban does not require specific roles or job titles within teams, whereas agile has specific roles like Scrum master or product owner
  6. Kanban utilizes pull systems and has WIP limits, whereas Agile relies on push systems with no limit to work-in-progress.
  7. Kanban focuses on process improvement, whereas Agile focuses on product delivery
  8. Kanban is not tied to specific project timeframes, while Agile requires sprints and iterations.

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Agile Principles vs Kanban Principles

Now that it’s clear where to place Kanban from a theoretical perspective, let’s quickly brush up on agile and Kanban principles:

Agile Principles 

  • The overall objective is to achieve customer satisfaction by continuously releasing improved software increments (a set amount of work)
  • Changes are welcome at all stages of a project
  • Deliver working software increments in time-boxed durations usually ranging from 14 to 30 days
  • The stakeholders and the development team work daily until project completion
  • Creating working software is of primary importance
  • Promotes sustainable development 
  • Focus on technical expertise

Kanban Principles

  • The flow of work is visualized and easily understandable
  • Boosts leadership across all levels
  • Collaboration gets improved and becomes measurable
  • The existing work process including roles and responsibilities is taken into account
  • Progress is easily visible to the team and stakeholders

Agile Board vs Kanban Board

Agile boards and Kanban boards are two popular project management methods used by product managers and project managers. 

Both of these boards can be used to manage entire projects, but they have different approaches on how to get the job done. Understanding the differences between agile boards and Kanban boards can help you determine which method is best for your team.

Agile Board

An agile board is a visual representation of tasks that need to be completed according to a sprint timeline. A sprint is a predetermined amount of time (usually 2–4 weeks) in which a development team works towards completing specific tasks or goals. During this period, tasks are broken down into smaller chunks, which are tracked using an agile board.

The board will often include columns like ‘To Do’, ‘In Progress’, ‘Done’, and ‘Blocked’ so that team members can easily see what needs to be done, who is responsible for it, and when it needs to be completed. 

This approach allows teams to stay focused on their goals while also allowing them flexibility as they move through each sprint cycle.

screenshot of an agile board created in Miro
An example agile board from Miro.

Kanban Board

A Kanban board is similar to an agile board in that it also uses cards and columns for a visual representation of tasks that need to be completed. 

However, instead of organizing the tasks based on a sprint timeline, the tasks are organized according to priority levels—usually high priority (most urgent), medium priority (doable but not urgent), and low priority (not very important). 

This helps teams prioritize their work more effectively since each task is assigned its own level of importance.

Furthermore, Kanban boards allow teams to set limits on how much work should be done at any given time so that they don't overwhelm themselves with too many activities at once. This helps ensure that all tasks get done in a timely manner without any unnecessary stress or delays.

a kanban board with various cards for features and bug fixes in the to do in progress testing done and backlog columns
An example Kanban board.

Agile boards and Kanban boards are both effective tools for managing projects efficiently, but they have different approaches on how they should be used.

Ultimately, choosing one over the other depends on the type of project you are working on as well as your team's preferences when it comes to organization and task management.

When To Use Kanban vs Agile

When it comes to deciding between Kanban and agile, it can be difficult to know which option will work best for your project. Thankfully, the two are different, but both have their own strengths.

The Kanban methodology is an excellent choice if you require a visual representation of how your workflow is progressing, as it provides clarity and focus by organizing your project into tasks on a Kanban board, represented as cards.

With its use of metrics, the Kanban method ensures tasks are allocated correctly and distributed efficiently.

However, when you need a more flexible approach that adjusts quickly to unexpected changes, agile is the better choice due to its iterative approach with feedback loops involved at each step of development.

So when it comes to knowing when to use Kanban vs. agile, just ask yourself which works best according to the specific needs of your project!

What About Scrum?

By now you might be thinking: but what about Scrum? So let’s briefly go over what Scrum is, how it differs from Kanban, and how you can effectively combine the two.

The Scrum framework is a popular agile methodology for navigating team projects that require members to be highly productive in a short period of time. By creating Scrum teams and holding Scrum meetings, communication is improved and workflows are streamlined.

Through daily Scrums and retrospectives, the Scrum framework allows for flexibility and adaptation as projects move forward. It is perhaps the most effective way for teams to produce creative output and rapidly deliver results, thanks to its focus on accountability and transparency!

Kanban vs Scrum

The decision between Kanban vs Scrum starts with understanding the differences between the two. Kanban is a methodology that helps maintain a visual representation of work, using the Kanban board, card-based framework, and various signals to facilitate efficiencies in progress.

On the other hand, the Scrum framework is an iterative structure that works in short cycles. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to these methodologies, and success depends on finding what works best for your team and operations.

With Kanban's visual indications and verification steps, problems can be identified quickly, which makes this method particularly useful for teams hoping to increase their visibility, while Scrum boosts productivity by introducing regularity and repetition into workflows.

So if you’re kicking off a project, simply evaluate both methods based on suitability before jumping in head first—you may be surprised at how well Kanban works!


Now you might be asking yourself: what on earth is Scrumban? Well, it's a delightful combo of two popular project management approaches—Kanban and Scrum. As I’ve discussed, a Kanban board and methodology help you visualize your workflow, while the cards each represent a task that needs to be done.

This is where the Kanban method works great in conjunction with Scrum: when used together, they form a hybrid called Scrumban. This method gives structure to your projects while still allowing you to adjust as needed by using items from the Scrum methodology, such as sprint planning meetings, to define the sprint backlog for the next sprint, daily stand-ups, sprint review meetings, and retrospectives.

All while giving you the opportunity to use traditional methods like prioritization via the sprint backlog, assigning deliverables, and setting deadlines via the timebox of the sprint cycle. So if you're looking for an efficient way to manage projects, Scrumban may just be the answer!

Kanban Tools vs Agile Tools

Depending on which agile framework you choose in the end, you will have different requirements regarding your Kanban vs agile tools and therefore for the software you will use to manage your project. 

Given that Kanban and agile methodologies such as Scrum are very popular and widely used in software development, all major tools can support both options. Here is a selection of popular Kanban tools


Trello is a collaborative Kanban software that enables self-organizing teams to easily organize tasks and projects into boards. It allows users to create cards, prioritize them, assign new work items and tasks to team members, upload files, and discuss progress in real-time.

Trello also provides built-in tracking tools such as labels and due dates to help teams stay on top of their project's progress and collaboratively achieve project goals.


Jira is an agile project management software designed specifically for agile software development teams. It allows users to manage projects through customizable workflows, backlogs, sprints, and more. 

With its powerful issue-tracking capabilities, Jira helps teams collaborate on all stages of the development process, from concept to delivery. Besides that, it provides advanced analytics, which lets you and your teams better understand their project data and make strategic decisions based on it.

Miro is an online collaborative whiteboarding tool designed for remote teams. It features an infinite canvas with an array of tools such as sticky notes, shapes, charts, and more that can be used to brainstorm ideas or map out complex strategies visually. 

Miro also integrates with Jira and other popular software solutions, which makes remote collaboration a breeze. If you haven’t heard of it, give this tool a try. I have been using it since 2019 on various projects and I absolutely love it!

All of these tools—Jira, Trello, Miro, and others—enable teams to manage projects through boards where there are columns for planning, execution, testing, or completion.

No matter which Kanban or agile system you use, virtual whiteboards have become essential tools to make sure everyone remains on the same page while teams continue to work remotely.

Now It’s Your Turn

In the world of software development, there are many different options to choose from when it comes to agile methodologies. Kanban vs agile are two popular approaches that each offer their own set of advantages. 

Understanding these and the key differences between Kanban and agile is crucial for any project manager looking to implement either. While they may seem similar at first, the devil is in the details—and those details can mean success or failure for your software development project.

As always, we’re here to help, so be sure to subscribe to The Digital Project Manager newsletter for more information on how to deliver successful software projects!