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Is a Project Manager Different From a Scrum Master?

15-Jun-2018 15:17:36 Scrum Project management Scrum Master
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Are the roles of the Scrum Master and Project Manager the same?Bubbles
I’m a Project Manager; can I be a Scrum Master?
What’s the difference between a Scrum Master and a Project Manager?
Does Scrum make the Project Manager role redundant?
What is a Scrum Master?

These are likely to be frequently asked questions for Project Managers who are new to Agile, considering a career move or involved in an Agile Transformation within their organisation.

Perhaps you have asked these or very similar questions yourself.

In this blog post, we hope to address the frequently asked questions to help you cut through the confusion and debate. As ever, roles are different in each organisation, however the discussion in this blog is based on typical behaviours/roles and responsibilities for each of these roles.

So, let’s suppose you’re a Project Manager, new to Agile and/or your organisation is transitioning from a Waterfall environment. You’re now a Scrum Master, right? Wrong!  It’s not always that straightforward.

The traditional Project Manager is a leader, a decision maker, a planner who manages the project and his/her team, and is the person accountable to the business for accomplishing the project objectives.  

Whereas the role of the Scrum Master is more a coaching and facilitation role, a role that sits between the project and the customer. A Scrum Master helps ensure the Scrum team is successful.  

Here are some of the typical responsibilities of the roles:

Typical Role Responsibilities

The Project Manager:

  • Ensures a project meets its vision.
  • Breaks down work for the team.
  • Manages scope, dates and budgets.
  • Manages Stakeholder communication.
  • Creates a project plan with work allocation, dependencies and milestones.
  • Monitors and controls the project plan.
  • Reports on progress.
  • Removes impediments from the team.
  • Identifies activities, dependencies, sequencing, and time estimates.
  • Coordinates day-to-day resources, team members, and vendors.

The Scrum Master:

  • Is a coach and servant leader.
  • Removes noise and impediments.
  • Facilitates the Agile events (Sprints, Sprint Planning, Daily Scrums, Sprint Reviews, Sprint Retrospectives).
  • Is the process guardian.
  • Helps the Scrum Team continuously improve.
  • Helps the Scrum Team improve visibility.
  • Coaches the Organisation as to how to best adopt Scrum.

The Product Owner:

  • Holds the product vision.
  • Prioritises work to maximise the value that development provides.
  • Communicates with the business stakeholders.
  • Is an empowered decision maker and assists with issues.
  • Owns budgeting and timelines, communicating progress to stakeholders.
  • Approves the work.

The Development Team:

  • Breaks down work and decides how best to do the work.
  • Decides who does the work.
  • Estimates the work.
  • Delivers quality work.

As you can see, the responsibilities of a traditional project manager don’t directly translate over to a Scrum Master role.  In fact, they are more shared by all three of the Scrum roles (the Scrum Master, the Product Owner and the Development Team).

It’s also key to remember that not all project managers are aware of the different ways of working required to be a Scrum Master.  

Theory X and Theory Y Diagram

Douglas McGregor’s book “The Human Side of Enterprise” is considered one of the most influential management books of the 20th century. It presents two theories relating to management styles.

Theory X assumes that the average human being dislikes work and avoids it whenever possible. Therefore, most people must be controlled and threatened so that they can produce an adequate level of output. Responsibility is avoided by the average human being, who desires security above all. The average human being has little ambition and has to be closely supervised at all times.

The Theory Y set of assumptions, on the other hand, is based upon the idea that employees are generally enthusiastic about their work, they are creative and self-directive, and also readily accept responsibility. The expenditure of physical and mental effort in work is as natural as play or rest. Methods of making people work are not limited to control and punishment; a high level of commitment in organisation aims and objectives can result in self-direction. Commitment to the organisation can be achieved by designing satisfying jobs. If proper conditions are created, the average human being can, not only learn how to take responsibility, but they can also learn to seek responsibility.

We are not saying a Project Manager can’t evolve into a Scrum Master.  They can. However, it does require a different mindset and way of working which involves relinquishing directive control and adopting a coaching leadership mindset.

Becoming a Scrum Master is a thoroughly rewarding role, you get to opportunity to create a collaborative, innovative, fun, highly productive, and continuously improving environment,  where a team can work together with the business stakeholders, customers and end users to deliver products that deliver real business value.  

Are you a Scrum Master or Project Manager? Share your thoughts with us.


Jo Sharp

Jo Sharp

With a determination to succeed and great enthusiasm, Jo’s dynamic approach fits perfectly with her role as Training Manager in our busy Training Team. Jo joined the Team in 2013 when she began her own Agile journey learning, understanding and applying Agile principles and practises developing and adopting the company's Agile mindset. If you're new to Agile or considering undertaking additional training Jo would be happy to share her own experiences and support you in your Agile transformation. Read more