Dual Track Agile: Scrum + Kanban

Dual Track Agile

Agile development has become mainstream, but many teams struggle to apply it effectively. 

In particular, teams that need to coordinate multiple agile frameworks and methodologies have found that traditional approaches cause more problems than they solve.

Product development is a complex process. 

It’s impossible to deliver the best possible user experience if we don’t continuously test and iterate on our ideas.

The field of product management is still developing, and the best practices are still debatable. 

There are many methods and frameworks such as:

  • Waterfall
  • Agile
  • Lean startup
  • Design thinking

Some companies run their experiments with these above methodologies. 

And some companies adopt hybrid models that combine elements of each.

Dual-track agile is one such hybrid methodology, and it combines two agile methods:

  • Scrum 
  • Kanban

This post explores dual-track agile, how it works, and why you should consider adopting it. 

Product managers need to balance managing the backlog (prioritizing and sequencing what you should build next). They need to do all this while responding to immediate customer issues raised. 

They often find themselves reactive when responding to customer issues, which means that the backlog never gets the attention it deserves. 

When scrum and kanban come together, this dual-track agile approach can help:

  • The product managers to focus on the backlog on one track
  • Can help them to respond to customer problems in another way

Dual-track Agile Origin

Dual-track agile is a practical methodology for combining two separate but robust agile processes into one development process. 

By leveraging the best of scrum and kanban in tandem, development teams can deliver a higher-quality product in less time than either method on its own.

The history of dual-track agile traces back to the early days of scrum in the late 1980s. 

As teams began using scrum, they discovered that they benefited from using kanban in tandem. It helped them to:

In 2013, Spotify was the first company to describe what is now known as dual-track agile publicly. 

The company used scrum for several years when Henrik Kniberg and Mattias Skarin wrote “The Agile Samurai’s Journey – From Waterfall to Lean and Flow.” 

The article describes how Spotify had adopted kanban. 

They used it to manage a parallel development track for long-term user stories on the product backlog. But on the other hand, they continued to use scrum for sprint planning.

Jeff Sutherland and J.J. Sutherland, in 2017, published “Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time.” 

The book describes how dual-track agile has worked at other companies, including Google, Intuit, Cisco, Siemens, and GE.

How Does Dual-track Agile Work?

In dual-track agile, product management and engineering teams start with a broad problem to solve. 

They break it down into features and then user stories. 

You then divide the process into two tracks:

  • Discovery 
  • Delivery

Discovery is where we generate possible solutions to the problems we’re solving. 

We aim to grasp before we commit to building a feature or story as much as possible. 

These experiments can produce:

  • Rough prototypes
  • High fidelity designs
  • “Fake doors” (websites that look like they work but don’t)

Delivery is where we take what has been learned from discovery and build the final feature or story. 

We move quickly on this track because we’ve already done some of the learning in discovery. Hence there are fewer surprises.

Discovery allows us to do something called “continuous delivery.”

Continuous delivery means that every change we make gets released to real users right away.

Traditionally, a company would start with defining a product. 

They would then do some business analysis to figure out how to build the product. 

After that, they’d go into waterfall development to plan the project and then implement it.

Agile changed all of that. Agile broke down the work into small, manageable pieces and then iterated on those. 

But even agile isn’t perfect. 

One of the essential things that we run into is balancing what we’re doing can be challenging. 

Balancing with interest in innovating the product can be difficult, especially if you’re an enterprise company. 

What Is Dual-track Agile? 

Dual-track agile is a new way to approach product development that combines the best of scrum and kanban. 

It’s a digital product process developed by Spotify, as mentioned earlier.

This agile method has become prevalent in the agile community over the last few years.

If you haven’t heard of dual-track agile and are looking to improve your software development process, you need to consider it. 

This agile development method is becoming increasingly popular because of two reasons. 

Product teams across industries find that as compared to the traditional scrum, this method offers greater:

  • Flexibility 
  • Versatility
  • Beneficial when coping with multiple teams and managing value streams

Why Use Dual-track Agile?

Dual-track agile is an exciting option for software development teams looking to improve their efficiency and their chances for success. 

While it can be a bit more challenging to implement than single-track agile, dual-track agile can save time and money in the long term. 

There are several reasons why you should consider using dual-track agile on your next project. 

Agile has been here for now and is quickly becoming the industry standard. 

The following three methodologies are great at getting work done while ensuring that the team is happy and productive. They are:

  • Scrum
  • Extreme programming
  • Kanban

While there are many different approaches to agile methodologies, they all have in common the use of a “story” to describe what you need to do. 

For those not familiar with a story, a story briefly describes what you need to do and why. 

A story is usually in the form of a few sentences. And you can use it to describe to the team:

  • What work do they need to do 
  • The business value of that work

You can break down the work into a few “stories.”

Breaking down the stories helps to make:

  • The estimate of the work 
  • Easier to get a sense of progress

All of this is great for agile. But what about for a team that wants to use scrum, kanban, and a bit of XP? 

How can they do that? And what are the benefits?

The advantage of using scrum, kanban, etc., is that:

  • It allows organizations to take advantage of the benefits of both methods
  • It provides a clear plan for what you can do upfront
  • Providing flexibility in how you do things later on

Implementing Dual-track Agile

If you’re a product manager, you can’t afford to ignore agile software development methodologies. 

Many companies are transitioning to agile, becoming the dominant framework.

When tech companies first started adopting agile, many focused on the development team. 

Tech leaders would apply agile practices to their development team and leave the rest of the organization behind. 

As a result, business teams were in the dark, and they didn’t know what was happening with their projects. 

Teams often felt that their cross-functional partners didn’t understand their priorities.

The initial step in implementation is to set up user stories and a discovery track. 

The next step is to set up a delivery track, and then finally, you track your progress. 

Dual-track Agile With Scrum

The dual-track agile approach combines the scrum and waterfall methodologies, pushing out manageable releases at regular intervals. 

This approach lets you taste the best of both worlds to deliver successful projects completed on time and with minimal work.

The team first develops, tests, and iteratively releases the product in this approach. 

The team then starts to work on new features requested by the stakeholders or required by the client.

Scrum is a process framework that product managers have used to handle complex products since the early 1990s. 

Scrum was born for software development projects.

But it works well for any complex, innovative scope of work, and the possibilities are endless.

Scrum focuses on delivering working software at the end of every sprint. Each sprint typically lasts 30 days or less. 

Scrum has the following benefits to offer:

  • It keeps the team members focused on current work.
  • Provides a framework for managing scope changes, estimating costs, and setting schedules.

Dual-track Agile With Kanban

Kanban is a visual, process-oriented system for managing work at the team level. 

A kanban board is a bunch of columns, with each column representing a state in the team’s workflow. 

You can label the columns based on their function or state, such as:

  • To do
  • In progress 
  • Done

One of the most exciting and effective ways to use kanban is a dual-track agile approach.

Kanban is more like a “pull” system that allows team members to pick up new work when they finish their current tasks. 

This process makes it more flexible than scrum. 

Scrum uses fixed sprints to manage scope changes and plan releases. 

But kanban doesn’t provide a straightforward way to estimate costs and timeframes unless you’re doing maintenance work on existing systems.

If you want to learn more about how to estimate in Kanban to boost your workflow, click here.

Scrum and kanban are the two most popularly adopted agile methods globally. 

Scrum is a good fit for projects with high uncertainty and changing requirements. 

At the same time, kanban is better suited to high-volume operations or environments with many interruptions. 

Many teams, however, are adopting both approaches to meet the needs of their entire organization. 

The fundamental principle of agile is delivering value to customers as fast as possible. 

But there are many paths to achieve this goal. 

By combining scrum and kanban, dual-track agile helps organizations deliver value faster than either method could on its own. 

By splitting the research and delivery phases into two tracks, you can achieve this. Such as:

  • An investigative track based on kanban 
  • An execution track based on scrum

Scrum and kanban are both agile frameworks that have been around for several years. 

Both have their pros and cons. And selecting one or the other depends on your team’s particular needs. 

You will have to keep the needs of your teams in mind because teams that work on various projects need to balance two things:

Dual-track agile provides an exciting solution to this problem: combining kanban and scrum strengths into a single framework. 

Two parallel processes characterize it:

  • Envision Track — Here, you develop new features. This track uses kanban.
  • Delivery Track — Here, you deliver existing features. This track uses scrum.

As for agile, which process is suitable for your project, there is no outright answer. 

Everything comes down to several considerations:

  • How do you want to organize your team?
  • What kind of methods that team members could be more familiar with?
  • Who are your clients?
  • How far are you from them (local or remote)?
  • What core processes do you need to follow regularly?

Let’s assume there is no such thing as a perfect methodology. 

In that case, you could still go with an out-of-the-box method that requires the least amount of additional changes and investments.

Conclusion

The beauty of dual-track agile occurs when people’s minds are open and not set in stone with a closed thinking process. 

Dual-track agile is the happy medium between a pure scrum and pure kanban. 

It provides several benefits from each method and allows for more flexibility.

We’ve discussed it thoroughly, but in short, dual-track agile is a good and highly effective way to manage high variability. 

Its values and principles are congruent with scrum. 

Even if it borrows some concepts from kanban (the most prominent being the total flow of work), We believe it only makes it better!

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