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Jurgen Appelo calls himself a creative networker. But sometimes he's a writer, speaker, trainer, entrepreneur, illustrator, manager, blogger, reader, dreamer, leader, freethinker, or… Dutch guy. Since 2008 Jurgen writes a popular blog at, covering the creative economy, agile management, and personal development. He is the author of the book Management 3.0, which describes the role of the manager in agile organizations. And he wrote the little book How to Change the World, which describes a supermodel for change management. Jurgen is CEO of the business network Happy Melly, and co-founder of the Agile Lean Europe network and the Stoos Network. He is also a speaker who is regularly invited to talk at business seminars and conferences around the world. After studying Software Engineering at the Delft University of Technology, and earning his Master’s degree in 1994, Jurgen Appelo has busied himself starting up and leading a variety of Dutch businesses, always in the position of team leader, manager, or executive. Jurgen has experience in leading a horde of 100 software developers, development managers, project managers, business consultants, service managers, and kangaroos, some of which he hired accidentally. Nowadays he works full-time managing the Happy Melly ecosystem, developing innovative courseware, books, and other types of original content. But sometimes Jurgen puts it all aside to spend time on his ever-growing collection of science fiction and fantasy literature, which he stacks in a self-designed book case. It is 4 meters high. Jurgen lives in Rotterdam (The Netherlands) -- and in Brussels (Belgium) -- with his partner Raoul. He has two kids, and an imaginary hamster called George. Jurgen has posted 145 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Some Day Kanban Will Fail 75% of the Time

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Yesterday I had a bit of an argument on Twitter about differences between Scrum and Kanban. Personally I don't care which is better than the other, because I believe that all models are wrong, but some are useful. And both Scrum and Kanban can be useful, given a certain context.

In yesterday's keynote speech at the Scrum Gathering in Orlando Jeff Sutherland said he had seen teams that were "doing Scrum" while they didn't even have a backlog. And there are reports of "Scrum teams" not practicing daily standup meetings, and teams not delivering a new product release every week.

These are not Scrum teams. They are ScrumBut teams. They do Scrum, *but* without some of the key ingredients.

Unfortunately, some people arguing against Scrum include these ScrumBut teams in their evaluations of the "high failure rate" of Scrum. They love quoting that "at least 75 percent of Scrum implementations fail." And I think "Yes of course, 75% fails when that includes the teams that don't understand what they're doing."

I believe that right now Kanban doesn't suffer from this problem. Kanban doesn't have a high failure rate because Kanban is still at the start of its adoption curve. Only very smart people like David Anderson and Karl Scotland are practicing it. And they know how to do it right!

But just wait a few years and see. When idiots like me get their hands on Kanban, we will start implementing KanbanButs, but we'll be calling it Kanban. We will have absolutely no idea what we're doing, because value stream mapping is not as simple as story point estimation. And we will introduce "Kanban teams" without limited WIP, or "Kanban teams" without a vizualized workflow.

Then the world will see a 75% failure rate of "Kanban" implementations.

And then there will be a great new software development method called Bonkiborki (which is the Mongolean word for 42). And I will have invented it. And it will have a much higher success rate than Scrum and Kanban, because I will be the only one who knows how to do it right.

(image by Misserion)

Published at DZone with permission of its author, Jurgen Appelo. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)


Jim Benson replied on Fri, 2010/03/12 - 10:43am


Human beings excel at two things.

1. Building Things
2. Breaking Things

They have gone through history doing #1 and then doing #2.

Over 50% of all small businesses fail in the US fail in their first four years. Why? Because we are flawed creatures. We build it up, and rip it down.

The strange thing is, we love to do this to such an extent that we build things and treat them as zero sum games. We built Agile, and we built Lean. And now we are treating them as a zero sum exchange. You can do Agile or you can do Lean.

There are no problems with the methods behind Scrum. They are fine. There are no problems with the methods behind Lean. They are also fine.

Kanban, a method of Lean, can be used any time, by any Scrum team, for positive effect. It's just a white board where people can see what's going on.

Will teams using Kanban fail? Absolutely.

Will teams using Kanban perfectly right fail? Absolutely.

Will teams doing Scrum perfectly fail? Absolutely.

Because people break things.

The important things to me are: Does the team know what it is doing and why? and . This is what Scrum and Kanban, alone or together, have the potential to do for an organization. If either is not doing this - then that is a red flag.

People can be using Scrum, Kanban, or Voodoo Dolls to manage the team - if they don't have clarity of purpose and value, then the potential for failure is greatly increased.

Thanks for the post, as always I love your writing,

Jim Benson

(And Agile Zone, get a CMS that allows for line breaks in comments, inserting a million < br >'s is a lot of work.)

Alan Shalloway replied on Fri, 2010/03/12 - 5:18pm

I have no doubt we'll see some failure rate of Kanban.  The point isn't Kanban vs Scrum. The point is why do we have a 75% lack of success with Scrum.  Here are some of the things I've seen:

1) lack of an understanding of the nature of software work in Scrum (no managing how much you are doing)

2) team centric approach that disconnects the team from the rest of the organization

3) no common vision of the organization's intent across the organization in Scrum

4) lack of a defined workflow

 there are many many more.  Not to mention the huge can of worms I'd open by talking about what happens when you restrict who can teach it - which limits the growth of ideas.

Another reason for failure is that Scrum trainers/coaches typically do not ask themselves - "where should this organization start?"  They have the ready answer - "Scrum."  There are many place you should start an organization in agile - the team is not always the right one.  see

In any event, the Scrum community shouldn't point fingers at the Kanban community saying - "you'll be here too" rather it should be looking at why it has such a failure rate and then adjust to fix it.  Saying teams fail because they aren't motivated or disciplined enough is just disrespectful.  On the other hand, perhaps people who aren't motivated or disciplined enough need to use an easier method, more powerful method. :)

Alan Shalloway replied on Fri, 2010/03/12 - 6:13pm

Scrumbut happens because people find the practices  of Scrum don't work in their situations and they don't have principles on which to lean.  After trying for a while they eventually get frustrated and give up. To be doing Scrum requires a lot of things -sometimes things that aren't possible for the organization.  This is why people don't do all of them.  Kanban can work with any structure and only requires 2 things: limit your work in process and provide visibility into what the team is doing.  This lowers the bar to start.  Value comes over time.  The implementation is evolutionary and hence, more successful.

I doubt there will be a kanban but because if you manage your wip and create visibility into the team process, you're doing Kanban. If you don't do this, you're not doing kanban.

On a positive note, those of you struggling with Scrum I suggest you check out my Scrum clinic page at

In particular, look at the topic - How to vastly improve yoru scrum team in an hour.

Troy Tuttle replied on Sun, 2010/03/14 - 12:02pm


Your argument on this is weak IMO.  Kanban has failures now, and will in the future, that's a given.  But your logic seems to go like this:

Scrum is an Agile software process.
Kanban is an Agile software process.
Since Scrum has experienced reported high failure rates, Kanban will too by extension.

It speaks to none of the significant differences between Kanban and Scrum.  If you would address substative points like the differences in adoption, managing WIP, and the levels of prescription, you would strengthen your argument.  

Troy Tuttle 

Sindy Loreal replied on Sat, 2012/02/25 - 9:50am

it's not easier or harder to fall into a bad implementation of one method of the other.

The point is that if you have a population large enough (like we have with Scrum now) there will always be plenty of failed implementations.

Kanban implementation failures are just less known (and less frequent) now, but if Kanban is a success those failures will also be visible and others will start claiming that Kanban is this or that. Well, they will be wrong!

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