Scrum Master vs Project Manager

Date: 09/06/2020| Category: FAQ| Tags: ,

For those who are approaching an Agile environment for the first time, the role of “Scrum Master” and the role of “Project Manager” could appear very similar. However, that is not the case. The Scrum Master and the Project Manager are two different professional figures. In this post we will analyze both in order to catch all the peculiarities of both professionals.

The Project Manager is a leader, he/she owns the responsibility of reaching all the project goals. This is done by coordinating business and technical delivery aspects of the projects throughout its duration. The Project Manager provides management direction and coordination.

The Scrum Master on the other hand is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team. This Scrum professional helps everyone to understand Scrum theory, practices, rules, and values inside and outside the Scrum Team. A Scrum Master is more like a coach than a manager. In fact, a Scrum Master:

  • does not manage the team but is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum and the Agile principles
  • supports the Product Owner
  • is responsible for Scrum processes and their correct implementation with and within the Scrum Team.
  • is devoted to maximize the value created by the Scrum Team.

In a few words, the Project Manager manages all the planning for the project execution. The Scrum Master on the other hand supports the Scrum Team by working side by side with its members. The Scrum Master also verifies that the Agile principles are implemented correctly.

The Scrum Master, contrarily to the Project Manager, does not assign tasks to the team members. The Scrum Master is a process facilitator by leading the team to achieve an efficient self-management and self-organization. The self-organization is a core principle of the Scrum Team: the Scrum Team is not managed by a hierarchical structure. Every member of the Scrum Team knows what to do and how to do it, no external direction is involved.

In an Agile project, the responsibilities that a Project Manager has in a traditional project, are shared among several figures:

  • Product Owner
  • Scrum Master
  • Development Team

The activities of a Scrum Master change on a daily basis depending on the exigencies of the team. The Scrum Master has the responsibility of the correct functioning of the team by protecting it from external dangers. The Scrum Master is a fundamental role because he/she supports the team towards the project success.

The main focus of a Project Manager is on the overall project while the Scrum Master focuses on the team and its team members. The aim of the Project Manager is to ensure the success of the project whereas, the scope of the Scrum Master is the success of the team.

The Project Manager in an Agile environment: The PM and the Scrum Team

When an organization switches from traditional to Agile methods, the Project Manager might feel uncomfortable with the Agile processes. This is due to the differences in the functioning between an Agile self-organized and a traditional, externally managed team.

In an Agile context, the Project Manager has to delegate the detailed planning to the Scrum Teams. The relationship between the Project Manager and the Development Team is more of an informal kind. The project manager will not constantly check on the team performance, he/she will instead verify that the teams work in a right context. The Project Manager has to collaborate with the Development Teams, he/she offers guidance and helps to handle issues. The responsibility of a Project Manager is to ensure that the Development Team understands the objectives agreed at the beginning of a timebox.  He/she is also responsible for the on-time delivery.

Finally, the Project Manager and the Scrum Master can coexist but they are two distinguished professionals. Thinking that the Project manager should become a Scrum Master is a mistake. In fact, several Project Managers are unable to fit the Scrum Master role perfectly. This because they are likely to enact the “command and control” style within the Scrum Team. This is not the aim. A successful Scrum Master is a professional that is passionate about Agile. He/she wants to share their knowledge through the servant leadership, disregarding the technical or managerial background one could have.

Curious to learn more about the role of the Scrum Master? We hosted a webinar about the role with our expert Kim Delgadillo.  Watch our webinar recording for free!

Source: Schwaber and Sutherland, The Scrum Guide; DSDM Agile Project Management Handbook v2; Agile Project Management and Scrum v2, DSDM Consortium

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