Nov 22, 2021, Consulting

Scrum master vs. Project Manager

Karolina Gabzdyl Junior Marketing Specialist

Every project involves a team whose members have specific roles. In order for the work to run smoothly and for the project to be completed efficiently, there is a need for a leader, a person who will watch over the course of the work, keep track of deadlines, support the team and remove obstacles that may arise during the project’s development. Most of you probably associate this role with a Project Manager, but there is someone with a similar position – a Scrum Master. What, if any, is the difference between these roles, and can these terms be used interchangeably? We will answer these and a few other questions in today’s post! 

Scrum Master’s responsibilities 

Our previous blog post revealed a bit about the Agile methodology and the team that works on the project using this approach. One of this team’s members is a Scrum Master. It’s a person who leads the team, takes part in all tasks performed during the development, and addresses all the issues emerging in the process. But that’s not all. 

First of all, a Scrum Master has to make sure that a team successfully implements Scrum principles in a project. What’s more, such a person is also a kind of coach for the team, taking care of good communication and working atmosphere. 

Apart from that, SM’s job is to ensure that the Product Owner communicates his needs and visions clearly to the team, understands how to manage the Product Backlog, and maximize the value. To sum this role up, one could say that a Scrum Master provides facilitation on different levels for people in the team.

Project Manager’s skills

What about Project Managers then? They oversee the project in a slightly larger capacity.  Their job is to make sure the project is completed on time, fits within the projected budget, and meets the objectives. Their main tasks include for example maintaining consistent communication with stakeholders, creating schedules, chairing meetings, and managing risks. 

There are many other things on a Project Manager’s task list:

  • starting and closing the project,
  • managing the project throughout its life cycle,
  • planning the resources needed for implementation,
  • clarifying project scope and business objective,
  • monitoring key project parameters,
  • controlling quality,
  • managing changes, analyzing their impact on the project,
  • implementing tools, standards, and communication plans,
  • maintaining and updating project documentation,
  • designing and improving processes,
  • collaborating and executing contracts with subcontractors.

What’s the difference between Scrum Masters and Project Managers?

The above characterization of each position gives a clear picture that the roles of Scrum Master and Project Manager are two completely different jobs and therefore these notions cannot be used interchangeably. 

The major difference between Scrum Masters and PMs is that Scrum Masters work only in Scrum projects, whereas Project Managers’ scope of activity isn’t limited to one particular type of project. One should also note that Scrum Masters are focused on the success of their own team, whereas Project Managers are responsible for the whole project to work properly and to be delivered on time and within the budget.

Can a Project Manager act as a Scrum Master?

The short answer is – yes. However, it may not be a good idea. In most cases, it doesn’t work very well. Although, of course, it depends on the person who is performing such a role. 

The main difficulty is transitioning from the PM role to the Scrum Master role in specific project situations. It’s also a big challenge for the people on the team. When do they talk to a Project Manager and when do they talk to a Scrum Master? When are you a coach and when are you a coordinator? 

There are a few common character traits that both a Project Manager and a Scrum Master should exhibit. They can make it easier for them to find their way in both roles discussed. These are:

  • efficient leadership,
  • functional organization,
  • successful communication.

Scrum Master vs. Project Manager – the answer suitable in every context doesn’t exist

It is impossible to choose one of these roles and mark it as a better option in every situation. It’s because the choice strongly depends on the current needs of a given project. A Project Manager’s role is concentrated on leadership while Scrum Master’s duties include more facilitating and coaching activities. 

Some people may think that a Project Manager’s role can be transferred into Scrum Master – but it’s not true since both of these roles vary in their respective responsibilities and approaches. It is important to remember that even though some characteristics of these two occupations – such as leadership, organization, communication – are similar, there are also other important traits. For instance, a Scrum Master should be an Agile expert and a PM needs to be skilled in negotiating, as well as time and risk management.