Scrum vs Agile: What are the differences?

People constantly mention Scrum vs Agile (and sometimes Kanban as well) as sides of the same coin, using them as interchangeable concepts when in fact they’re not.

To begin this comparison, before pointing you the differences between these methods you must know that both Scrum and Kanban are Agile methodologies. Confused already? Don’t worry, by the end of this article you’ll see things clearer! 

When you focus on understanding what sets them apart you’ll be able to choose the one that’s best for your context so, in order to do that, we’ll begin with a quick overview of what do these terms mean.

What is Agile?

According to this definition by Agile in a Nutshell:

Agile is a time-boxed, iterative approach to software delivery that builds software incrementally from the start of the project, instead of trying to deliver it all at once near the end. It works by breaking projects down into little bits of user functionality called user stories, prioritizing them, and then continuously delivering them in short two week cycles called iterations.

Short for Agile Software Development, Agile is a different way to manage the work of IT development teams and projects. The manifesto that created this concept came to light more than 15 years ago (in 2001 to be more precise) when a small group of IT professionals got together to compare and contrast the existing approaches for software development.

They came to the conclusion that “traditional” software development methodologies were flawed and, therefore, decided there had to be a better way to manage their work. Based on their discussions they came up with the Agile Manifesto: a set of twelve principles revolving around 4 important values:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Ok, got it! But what is Scrum?

According to this definition by Scrum.org:

Scrum is a management and control process that cuts through complexity to focus on building software that meets business needs. Management and teams are able to get their hands around the requirements and technologies, never let go, and deliver working software, incrementally and empirically.

Scrum itself is a simple framework for effective team collaboration on complex software projects.

Okay, but what does that mean? It means that Scrum is a tool that can be used by teams that want to organize their work by breaking it down into smaller, manageable deliveries. Scrum is especially useful for cross-functional teams working on a fixed timeframe called sprint, which normally lasts from 2 to 4 weeks.

In order to manage and optimize this iterative and incremental framework, Scrum defines (at least) 3 main roles:

  • Product Owner;
  • Scrum Master;
  • Team Members.

By definition, the Product Owner is the person in charge of the sprint’s initial planning, prioritizing the activities and communicating with the rest of the team. The Scrum Master is defined as a facilitator – he or she will be responsible for overseeing the process throughout the sprints while the Team Members will be responsible for the actual work demanded by the sprint, such as coding a new software.

Scrum teams commonly use a few tools to make the process easier such as the Scrum Board. According to this definition by scruminc, a Scrum Board:

is a tool that helps Teams make Sprint Backlog items visible. The board can take many physical and virtual forms but it performs the same function regardless of how it looks. The board is updated by the Team and shows all items that need to be completed for the current Sprint.

Scrum vs Agile: what’s the same and what changes?

Scrum is an Agile Software Development methodology so it would be rather counterproductive to put them within a single comparison. Comparing Agile to Scrum would be like comparing water and ice.

Scrum is an Agile framework, which means it’s Agile in a specific context. Comparing Scrum and Kanban means comparing two Agile methodologies but comparing any of the two to Agile would be like comparing an example to its principles (and that’d be quite pointless). For this reason, it makes much more sense comparing Scrum and Kanban, as we already did on this guide.

For starters, when choosing between scrum and kanban you need to really assess what is it you’re looking for: did your company reach a point where it needs a complete shift towards a more effective process management methodology or are you just looking for a way to improve existing processes?

If your situation is the first, Scrum is the way to go. If you’re just looking to improve your processes without making any abrupt changes, Kanban is what you’re looking for.

Both Scrum and Kanban make it possible to break down big, complex projects into smaller tasks that can easily and efficiently complete. Both methodologies focus on continuous improvement as well as process optimization focusing on a highly visible workflow to keep the entire team in the loop.

So it doesn’t matter which one you choose. The important is to adapt the methodology into a way you and your team can work better and more efficiently. And if that’s your case, Pipefy can help you with that. Take a look at Pipefy’s best use cases and start improving your management:

Written by
Isabelle Wuilleumier Salemme
Head of Customer Support @Pipefy. She uses her extensive Pipefy knowledge to help users make the best of Pipefy via support and writing informative content pieces. Besides being in charge of support, she's an avid reader, a coffee lover, and a professional photographer.