• Project management
  • by Krzysztof Sowa
  • 05/09/2019

Project Manager vs. Scrum Master: Key Differences & Similarities

If you’ve ever thought about the different roles that contribute to software development, you’ve probably stumbled upon the project manager vs. Scrum Master dilemma. Just to be clear: these two roles are distinct and separate. For those who are new to agile, the Scrum Master role might sound like a…

Project Manager vs. Scrum Master: Key Differences & Similarities

If you’ve ever thought about the different roles that contribute to software development, you’ve probably stumbled upon the project manager vs. Scrum Master dilemma. Just to be clear: these two roles are distinct and separate. For those who are new to agile, the Scrum Master role might sound like a project management position. But while they share many similarities, these two roles have entirely different aims. And it’s important to recognize these differences to understand where their tasks may overlap and see how they complement one another, especially during the development of large-scale projects.

Read on to find out the key differences and similarities between a project manager and a Scrum Master.

Who is a project manager?

A project manager is a person in charge of the project timeline, scope, and resources. Their central responsibility is making sure that all these elements meet specified business requirements.

Here are some typical responsibilities of project managers:

  • Defining the project scope and communicating it to the team
  • Preparing the schedule for team members
  • Defining resource requirements for the project
  • Gathering project requirements
  • Preparing the project budget
  • Monitoring the work
  • Managing relationships with clients and stakeholders
  • Assuring quality
  • Ending the project

That definition is clear until we consider teams that move away from the traditional waterfall approach to software development and embrace the agile methodology. What does a project manager do within the agile framework? The project manager doesn’t just switch their title to the Scrum Master. That’s because the responsibilities of a typical project manager typically don’t directly translate over to a Scrum Master role. In fact, not all project managers have the skills required to act as Scrum Masters.

When moving into agile, the responsibilities of the project manager are split between different team members: Product Owner, Scrum Master, and team members. Note that transitioning from waterfall to agile is a challenging process.

Who is a Scrum Master?

A Scrum Master is part of the Scrum Team, as defined by the agile methodology framework called Scrum. The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team. He promotes and supports Scrum as it is defined in the Scrum Guide, and he helps the Team to understand the rules, values and practices that are a part of this framework. His main goal is to maximize the values created by the Team.

The project manager is responsible for meeting the project objectives; the Scrum Master doesn’t realize this role in the Scrum Team. This responsibility is closer to the Product Owner, whose focus lies on maximizing value from the product. The Scrum Master usually helps the Product Owner in backlog management and product planning – after all, the Scrum Master’s expertise is in the tools and techniques that help teams stay productive and well-organized. The Scrum Master also makes sure that the product domain, scope, and goals are clear to the team.

Here are some of the most common responsibilities of a Scrum Master in a Scrum Team:

  • Facilitating Sprint Planning and other Scrum ceremonies (Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, Sprint Retrospective)
  • Coaching the Product Owner
  • Monitoring the sprint’s progress
  • Promoting continuous communication
  • Removing blockers that hinder project progress
  • Helping the Scrum Team estimate and increase velocity
  • Monitoring and improving team dynamics
  • Supporting parts of the project that require assistance

Note that in Scrum Teams, the development team organizes its work and doesn’t rely on anyone to indicate how to build a given product increment. The Scrum Master’s job is ensuring that the team performs the work in the best possible way, quickly removing blockers and motivating the team every day.

Project manager vs. Scrum Master: the differences

Project manager vs. Scrum Master: even when their roles overlap a little, they’re divided by a large number of differences.

Here are the most important between the two roles:

  • Consider the ten project management knowledge areas. The Scrum Master contributes to resource, communications, scope, and quality management knowledge areas within the organization. The project manager contributes to all of them.
  • The Scrum Master follows the Scrum rules and fosters the Scrum framework. The project manager, on the other hand, is free to customize their approach to match the unique needs of the team, department, or the entire organization. They can select the right approach by taking into account the project requirements.
  • While the project manager prepares a meeting schedule and project communication plan, the Scrum Master facilitates Daily Scrum meetings and other meetings in accordance with the Scrum framework.
  • The Scrum Master works in small Scrum Teams and is responsible for the performance of this team. Project managers usually handle larger teams and sometimes even multiple project teams. The project manager is responsible for the performance of various project teams.
  • Project managers prepare the work schedule and assign responsibilities to team members. Scrum Masters coach the team on the Scrum framework and motivate team members to do their best.
  • While the Scrum Master cares more about maximizing the product value based on user stories, the project manager plans and schedules the project scope, sometimes baselining the budget.
  • Since these two roles require different skills, project managers usually focus on PMP or Prince2 certifications for project management roles. Scrum Master needs certification from the Scrum.org or from Scrum Alliance.

Project manager vs. Scrum Master: the similarities

Naturally, the two roles sometimes overlap when it comes to their responsibilities. Here are the fundamental similarities between project managers and Scrum Masters:

  • They don’t have supreme authority. Project managers have to report to clients and other project stakeholders. Scrum Masters have to report to clients, project stakeholders, and Product Owners.
  • Both the project manager and Scrum Master communicate with the team, receive feedback, mitigate risks, and ensure greater bonding within a team.
  • Project managers and Scrum Master are concerned about the team’s performance and always look for ways to help the team improve its efficiency.
  • The Scrum Master engages with the team for coaching and facilitation of Scrum ceremonies. The project manager also engages with the team, especially for resolving conflicts and issues.
  • Both roles focus on quality and adhere to industry best practices that ensure it.
  • They face many challenges and work in demanding industries.
  • Both roles require years of experience and specific skill sets to succeed.

Conclusions

Project managers play an essential role in large projects that are covered by multiple teams, often working together with dependent teams. This is when the skill set of a project manager comes in handy: they coordinate the work of numerous teams, collaborate on resource needs, outline dependent features, and combine timelines.

The Scrum Master’s responsibilities aren’t directly aligned with a deliverable. That’s because the activities of the Scrum Master change every single day, depending on the team’s needs. Teams rely on the Scrum Master to help them get their work done and protect them against external forces or blockers. The idea here is that the Scrum Master supports the team to the finish line of a successful project.

Are you looking for Scrum Teams led by experienced Scrum Masters and project managers who know how to build successful digital products? 

Get in touch with us; we help companies like yours get ahead of the competition with the help of innovative technologies.

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Krzysztof Sowa

Technical Project Manager in Concise Software with a developer background, especially in mobile apps (Google Certified Associate Android Developer) and automotive systems. Scrum lover, certificated PSM I, PSPO I & AgilePM, who loves sharing their knowledge with IT communities (e.g. GDG). Husband, father and passionate photographer @ The Owls Photography.

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