Skip links
scrum master project manager

Understanding the difference between a scrum master and a project manager

With a major shift towards agile delivery, there has been some confusion around the role of the project manager within this new world.  Agile thinking introduced the concept of a scrum master, which may seem similar to a project manager on the surface, but is in fact distinctly different.

The 2 most important things to understand are:

  1. A scrum master is not a project manager (and vice versa)
  2. One person cannot fulfil both these roles, particularly when it’s a large-scale project that touches many different teams

So what makes them so different then? Let’s take a closer look…

A project manager is responsible for:

  • Managing the project scope & deliverables, schedule & timelines, budget & costs
  • Ensuring that a quality product is delivered that’s aligned with the project goals & objectives
  • Proactively identifying and managing risks
  • Problem solving and issue management
  • Creating a work breakdown structure & allocating tasks
  • Prioritisation of requirements
  • Tracking & reporting of project progress
  • Keeping stakeholders engaged throughout the project lifecycle
  • Coordinating interdependencies between teams
  • Project communication, both internal & external, and to all stakeholder levels
  • Aligning to company policies and procedures

Project managers are typically strong leaders who have sight of all the moving parts of a project.  Their strength comes from their ability to delegate tasks appropriately while playing the overall coordination role to ensure everyone and everything is moving forward.

Scrum masters, on the other hand, are responsible for:

  • Managing the scrum process from beginning to end
  • Building trust & promoting open communication between team members
  • Coaching, mentoring & motivating their team members
  • Helping the team with their estimations
  • Facilitating sprint planning sessions & scrum meetings
  • Removing any obstacles to ensure sprint tasks are on track
  • Shielding the team from any external factors
  • Monitoring and reporting on sprint progress
  • Enforcing timeboxes (aka sprint durations)
  • Engaging with the product owner to ensure his/her product vision is being adhered to
  • Creating a shared team vision & building a self-organized team

Scrum masters typically have a certain level of technical expertise, which is what backs up their ability to be a mentor to the team.  They have a good understanding of their team’s capabilities and are always on the lookout for ways to increase their output.  Some may even say that they’re the glue that keeps the team together.

From this we can see that project managers and scrum masters have different focus areas; but by looking at their specific skills and responsibilities hopefully it’s also become clear that these two roles can (and should) complement each other.  Therefore, instead of entering into an “either/or” debate, companies should rather be focusing their energies on identifying ways in which these two roles can work together more effectively.

Need a project manager or scrum master (or both) for your next big project? We can help fill that gap by ensuring that you have the right person with the right expertise to get the job done.  To discuss consulting options, Get in touch.

Leave a comment

This website uses cookies to improve your web experience.