Contrasting the Daily Scrum with Kanban’s Daily Retrospective

In the Scrum Guide, the Daily Scrum suggests using these three questions:

  • What did I do yesterday that helped the Development Team meet the Sprint Goal?
  • What will I do today to help the Development Team meet the Sprint Goal?
  • Do I see any impediment that prevents me or the Development Team from meeting the Sprint Goal?

Notice that the focus is on the individual.  In a Kanban retrospective, the questions would be different;

  • What did we do yesterday?
  • What will we do today?
  • What challenges are we having?

With a good Kanban board the first two questions will take very little time. Now the difference between “I” and “we” may not seem to be that much, but it actually is. Here’s why.

Focusing on the individual is not Lean. The biggest difference between Scrum and Kanban is that Scrum is based on empirical process control and Kanban is based on systems-thinking. Systems-thinking suggests that most of the challenges are due to the system and not the individual. Hence a focus on the individual’s progress or problems doesn’t’ make much sense. It also suggests having explicit workflow so that people can have a common frame of reference. This enables the Deming Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle with the team building a better understanding of their work. This is the second biggest difference between Scrum and Kanban. Kanban suggests full visibility of the workflow while Scrum has every story have it’s own delineated with tasks. This again highlights that there is not an overall systems view.

Another advantage of talking about “we” is that the team can run experiments and no one is wrong; it’s a “we” thing. We can run experiments and learn together.

We don’t want to put people on the spot. In many companies adopting Scrum the teams are not well-gelled. People don’t really like talking about their challenges. Talking about their blockages feels like there is something wrong with them. I’m not saying that there is something wrong with them, but it feels that way.  Again, it’s a team, not an individual having a problem.

We are trying to collaborate and therefore should work as a team. By having explicit workflows, people on the team know what individuals are doing. You therefore don’t need to discuss what individuals are doing. A good Kanban board will tell you that. The time of the daily retrospective can therefore be spent on solving the problems of the team.

The bottom line

While “I” or “we” may look insignificant, it is a significant indicator of the mindset. The systems-thinking basis of Kanban means looking at the system to see how to improve it. We have an agreed upon workflow and agreements that we explicitly state. It’s all of us in it together, not a collection of individuals working together. This is a significant difference.

Sidenote: History of the Kanban daily retrospective

Q: David Anderson, one of the co-creators of Kanban, does not talk about the daily retrospective in his book, so where do I find these teachings of Kanban with a daily retrospective?

A: We learned these distinctions of the daily retrospective through both David Anderson remarking on them, and then observing them. Good Kanban teams in 2010 were doing this. We realized that what enabled good daily retrospective was full visibility of the work and explicitly defined workflow. That when these were present individuals didn’t need to focus on themselves or the individual work items as they were clear on the board. This is consistent with the nature of Lean improvement, the focus is on the workflow and not the individuals, so it made sense and is consistent with Lean.