Scrumban: A Hybrid Software Development Approach Redefining Agile Practices

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Scrumban redefines agile practices by combining the strengths of Scrum and Kanban. It brings adaptability, continuous flow, and waste reduction to software development. With Scrumban, teams seamlessly adapt to change, improve workflows, and deliver high-quality products. Visual boards, work in progress limits, and retrospectives add transparency and drive improvement. Scrumban's flexibility suits long-term and evolving projects. Despite challenges like establishing practices and transitioning, Scrumban fosters collaboration, autonomy, and continuous improvement.

Agile software development has recently evolved as a development paradigm to overcome the limitations of traditional software development models.

Limitations of Traditional Development Models

Traditional development approaches, such as waterfall, spiral, and others in the industry, have long development cycles. Therefore, these approaches are inflexible in accommodating changes.

Moreover, the lack of customer involvement in the development process and starting the testing activities sufficiently late in the development cycle often results in undesirable project outcomes for both the customers and the development teams.

Benefits of Agile Development

On the other hand, agile development emphasizes:

  • Faster product delivery
  • Continuous adaption
  • Strong collaboration and communication
  • Frequent and early testing

As a result, the developers of agile projects can deliver high-quality software systems flexibly and effectively, leading to increased customer satisfaction and faster market entry.

Among the many agile methods, Scrumban is gaining popularity as a hybrid approach combining Kanban and Scrum features. A framework for managing large projects by timeboxed iterations and formal procedures is provided in the Scrum methodology.

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The Kanban method, however, focuses on constant flow and visual management so that workflows can be optimized and efficiency gains are achieved. The Scrumban approach combines these two methodologies and offers the benefits such as:

  • Adaptation to changing requirements
  • Improved transparency
  • Reduction of time and resource waste
  • Continuous improvement strategies for various projects and teams.

Understanding Scrumban

Scrumban, a combination of Scrum and Kanban, has emerged as a powerful software development approach. The methodology is adaptable and can effectively handle new priorities and unanticipated challenges during project management tasks. The Scrumban approach aims to improve productivity, strengthen collaboration between teams, and facilitate continuous improvement by coupling the best aspects of both methodologies.

Key Scrumban principles include:

  • Iterative and incremental development
  • Promoting the continuous flow
  • Emphasizing visual process management
  • Defining work-in-progress bounds
  • Encourage a culture of continuous improvement

With a balanced framework that considers the dynamic nature of software development projects, Scrumban enables teams to respond to changing requirements while ensuring consistent and efficient working practices.

How Scrumban Exploits the Best Practices of Scrum and Kanban for Success?

The iterative nature of Scrum is fundamental to successful software development project management, where typically, tasks are performed in sprints which are iterations that last two to four weeks. Development teams select user stories or backlog items according to priority for each sprint. Team members can receive feedback early and often with the iterative approach, allowing them to adjust and improve the product throughout development.

The Scrum methodology enhances transparency, accountability, and customer satisfaction by breaking up work into smaller, manageable pieces.

On the other hand, Kanban emphasizes visualization and optimization of the workflows in an organization. Projects are represented visually in Kanban through a series of cards on the Kanban board. Many Agile practitioners find this approach effective and easy to use. Kanban assists teams in improving their efficiency and enhancing productivity by identifying and resolving potential performance bottlenecks and issues related to resources.

The following four Kanban principles help create the Kanban board to make sure that the team works on the tasks effectively and productively:

  • Visualize the workflows
  • Limit the Work-in-Progress (WIP)
  • Focus on workflows
  • Define explicitly clear policies

Workflow visualization refers to visually representing the status of different activities on the visual board to keep track of progress. On the other hand, the philosophy behind limiting WIP is to enable teams to easily manage the work in progress without overburdening. Similarly, it is equally important to focus on workflows through the metrics, such as cycle time and lead time, etc. Finally, defining explicit work policies enables the teams to follow the defined practices systematically to achieve the set goals.

By adopting some of the practices of each methodology, Scrumban brings together the strengths of Scrum and Kanban. Scrumban borrows key elements from Scrum, such as:

  • Effective planning
  • Regular reviews
  • Retrospectives for continuous improvement
  • Task prioritization
  • Determining the appropriate amount of work for each sprint

Such Scrum techniques ensure that a team understands project objectives, receives constructive feedback from stakeholders, and evolves continuously to meet them.

From Kanban, Scrumban embraces pulling work items based on team capacity and availability rather than assigning specific roles. This approach ensures a collaborative environment where team members can exercise their responsibility for tasks and take up new duties.

In addition, Scrumban uses flow diagrams and Kanban charts to provide a more detailed view of the working process so that progress can be monitored and identified as bottlenecks or inefficiencies.

What Makes Scrumban Unique?

Although Scrumban adopts several practices from both Scrum and Kanban, it also has certain unique features.

Unique Features of Scrumban Description
Team hierarchy Scrumban does not have a team hierarchy. All decisions and choices are made by the team members through consensus.
Leadership in Scrumban teams In Scrumban teams, there is no permanent leader. Important decisions are made collectively by the team members, highlighting the collaborative nature of the approach.
Time limit for projects Unlike other agile methodologies, Scrumban does not necessarily require a fixed time limit, such as sprints in Scrum. Team members work on tasks for two to four weeks, focusing on specific tasks until revision or changes are needed.
Suitable for long-term and evolving projects Scrumban is a suitable choice for long-term projects with evolving requirements or projects with vague goals. It provides flexibility and adaptability to handle changing project needs.

How Do Scrumban Projects Work?

By breaking the project into smaller cycles, Scrumban borrows the process of rapid adaptation to changes in the project from Scrum. These cycles, however, are termed iterations rather than sprints in Scrumban. Moreover, similar to Scrum, in the Scrumban project, initial planning meetings are held, and backlogs are created. The backlog list is a set of tasks to be performed or a “To DO,” list, and as each task gets completed in a certain iteration, it is removed from the backlog list.

Likewise, software teams use Kanban tools to manage the workflow in Scrumban projects. To portray a better picture of the tasks and their progress, Scrumban uses visual boards. Moreover, another important feature that Scrumban adopts from the Kanban is limited WIP to avoid overburdening teams to do a lot of different tasks simultaneously.

Kanban’s continuous workflows enhance operational efficiency and thus remove tasks from the backlogs. Furthermore, another prominent feature Scrumban uses is called retrospectives, which means looking back on the previously completed tasks to reflect upon the team’s progress and identify the strategies for improvement, if needed.

Key Scrumban Elements

Roles in Scrumban Projects

In Scrumban, the roles of Product Owner and Scrum Master are not required when transitioning from Scrum. These roles are optional, and if assigning roles is deemed important for a team structure and project responsibilities, only then the roles can be assigned.

Tools in Kanban

Some tools, such as visual Scrumban boards with WIP limits, task cards, and lead cycle times, are used to better manage and monitor processes in Scrumban projects. The tools help control the project activities and keep them aligned with the project goals.

Scrumban Board

A key visual element in Scrumban is the Scrumban board, designed to visualize the entire process tasks. Each task phase is monitored from left to right as it transitions from initial planning to completion. With sections for different project team needs, the Scrumban board can be modified, and it can contain different sections, such as Backlog, WIP, and Done, with the relevant names.

Scrumban Process Example

Suppose a Scrumban team is working on a Web development project for a client. Typically, the team will perform the following activities:

  • Create backlog: The team will first create the task backlog, including the features, user stories, etc., for the project. Subsequently, the items are prioritized based on the customer or business needs.
  • Create Scrumban board: The Scrumban board contains the product or sprint backlogs and workflow stages, such as “To Do,” “In Progress,” and “Done.” The task from the backlog is pulled to the “To Do,” thus removing the task from the backlog.
  • Define WIP limits: To ensure better manageable workflows, the team next defines the limit of WIP items they can handle effectively.
  • Continuous workflow: Each team member selects the corresponding task from the “To Do” list and works till it is completed. In case of revisions, the task is moved back to the “To Do.”
  • Daily stand-up meetings: Teams meet daily to discuss progress, challenges, or other bottlenecks. This helps resolve the issues immediately as they evolve.
  • Reflection for continuous improvement: Teams continuously attempt to optimize their performance by reflecting on their progress and practices followed during development.
  • Customer feedback: As the work on the Website to be developed progresses, the team gets customer feedback. The feedback helps improve the areas which require further attention.

Scrumban Challenges

In general, it might be easy to claim that the hybrid Scrumban approach makes more sense for the development team, but putting it into practice can be tricky due to various challenges.

Some of the challenges are:

  • Lack of oversight: Though team independence and autonomy help members work with confidence, often, lack of managerial oversight may also complicate the process.
  • Lack of established processes and practices: Being a new development methodology, Scrubman does not have sufficiently established work practices. Therefore, the teams also need to learn a lot from the experience they gain by working on the projects and should iteratively refine the work practices.
  • Transitioning from other methodologies: For teams that are used to working with traditional methods having role hierarchies, it might be difficult and time-consuming to transition to the Scrumban approach, which mainly emphasizes self-organization in teams.
  • WIP management: Deciding about WIP limits can often be a challenge due to the different capabilities and levels of expertise of team members in different development technologies

The Bottom Line

Scrumban provides a strong and flexible approach that combines the best elements of both Kanban and Scrum. It redefines agile practices for success by emphasizing adaptability, continuous flow, waste reduction, and capacity planning.

Scrumban enables the teams to enhance their efficiency in responding to changing requirements, improving working practices, and delivering high-quality software.

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Assad Abbas
Tenured Associate Professor
Assad Abbas
Tenured Associate Professor

Dr Assad Abbas received his PhD from North Dakota State University (NDSU), USA. He is a tenured Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at COMSATS University Islamabad (CUI), Islamabad campus, Pakistan. Dr. Abbas has been associated with COMSATS since 2004. His research interests are mainly but not limited to smart health, big data analytics, recommender systems, patent analytics and social network analysis. His research has been published in several prestigious journals, including IEEE Transactions on Cybernetics, IEEE Transactions on Cloud Computing, IEEE Transactions on Dependable and Secure Computing, IEEE Systems Journal, IEEE Journal of Biomedical and Health Informatics,…