February 11, 2020

Scrum Master vs Project Manager — An Overview of the Differences

What is a Scrum Master? What are the differences between a Scrum Master and Project Manager? Isn’t a Scrum Master some kind of an Agile Project Manager? These are some of the questions we often get from people in our Scrum.org classes. Before we dive into an overview of the differences between a Scrum Master and a Project Project Manager, let’s start with the conclusion, which is: The Scrum Master is not an Agile Project ManagerThere is almost no overlap between the role of Scrum Master and the position of Project Manager. In this blog, we’ll dive deeper into the topic: “Scrum Master vs Project Manager”. If you’re having a similar question about the Product Owner vs the Project Manager, then see this blog (coming soon).

What is a Scrum Master?

The key responsibility, or the purpose of the Scrum Master role is to manage the (implementation of) the Scrum Framework, by promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. The Scrum Master is accountable for helping people to understand and enact Scrum theory, practices, rules and values. The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team who helpes the Scrum Team and it’s environment to collaborate and interact, in order to maximize the value delivered by the Scrum Team.

What a Scrum Master does

Some examples of what a Scrum Master should do include:

  • A Scrum Master might be teaching people about Agility and the Scrum Framework. You could therefore see the Scrum Master as a teacher;
  • A Scrum Master might be having some coaching conversations with the Product Owner, managers, customers, Development Teams and other people or stakeholders in the organization, in order to help them gain a better understanding of Scrum. You could therefore see the Scrum Master as a coach for the Product Owner, Development Team(s) and the organization;
  • A Scrum Master might be facilitating some of the Scrum Events, such as the Sprint Planning, Sprint Review or Sprint Retrospective. This doesn't mean booking (conference) rooms. It means gathering observations, preparing the Event, coaching and facilitating people during the Event, etc. You could therefore see the Scrum Master as a facilitator;
  • A Scrum Master might be leading an Agile or Scrum implementation in the organization, working with all the different stakeholders (employees, managers, customers, the board of directors and others) in order to plan and manage the Agile implementation. A Scrum Master is therefore a (servant) leader;

If you want to learn more about the tasks, accountabilities and authorities of the Scrum Master, then check out this article. In addition to stating what a Scrum Master is, let’s also explore what the Scrum Master is not.

What a Scrum Master does not do

So, what a Scrum Master should not (ever) do is creating, managing or communicating:

  • Creating and managing the business case;
  • Managing changes and change requests (to Scope, Time and Budget);
  • Creating and managing project plans, including the Project Initiation Document, Project Plan, Gantt Charts and others;
  • Tracking and measuring project/team progress;
  • The project results and/or output;
  • The Product Backlog and/or the Product Backlog Items. The Scrum Master has no role regarding the business requirements;
  • Project Risks & Opportunities (unless scrum implementation related);
  • Team Performance and HR-processes (including Performance Management);
  • And many others… (Including the accountabilities/ responsibilities of a Project Manager…);

If you want to learn more about all kinds of misunderstood Scrum Master stances, make sure to check out this whitepaper by Barry Overeem.

What is a Project Manager?

Now that we have explored the Scrum Master role, let us move on to the “vs Project Manager” part of this blog. So, what is a Project Manager? And what are his/her responsibilities? Looking at some of the well-known Project Management methodologies, such as PM-Bok or PRINCE2, we find the following:

The Project Manager manages a project on a day-to-day basis and is the only one with this day-to-day focus on the project. As a result, this role can never be shared. The Project Manager runs the project on behalf of the Project Board within specified constraints and liaises throughout the project with the Project Board and Project Assurance . The Project Manager usually (preferred by PRINCE2) comes from the customer. They are responsible for all of the PRINCE2 processes except for the Directing a Project and Managing Product Delivery process.

Source: https://prince2.wiki/roles/project-manager/

In addition to the definition above, a Project Manager is also responsible for Project Support and Team Management, in case there are no team managers in the organization. This means that a Project Manager will manage (the work and performance of) individual team members on a daily basis.

What a Project Manager does

The role/job of being a Project Manager is a very broad one. There are many tasks and responsibilities related to the Project Manager role. Some of these include:

  • Creating and managing the business case;
  • Managing changes and change requests (to Scope, Time and Budget);
  • Managing the project organization;
  • Creating and managing project plans, including the Project Initiation Document, Project Plan, Gantt Charts and others;
  • Tracking and measuring project/team progress;
  • Managing quality;
  • Identifying, tracking and managing project risk;
  • Delivering administrative services for the project;
  • Advice and guidance on project management tools or configuration management;
  • Administering configuration management procedures of the Change Control Approach.

What a Project Manager does not do

In addition to all the accountabilities, responsibilities and work to do, there must be something that a Project Manager is not right? So, what a Project Manager should not do is:

  • To be accountable for the success or failure of the project (is done by the Project Board);
  • To provide unified direction to the project (is done by the Project Board);
  • To provide the resources and authorize the funds for the project (is done by the Project Board);
  • To provide visible and sustained support for the Project Manager (is done by the Project Board);
  • To ensure effective communication within the project team and with external stakeholders (is done by the Project Board);
  • Specifying the needs (requirements) of the Users that will use the project products (is done by the Senior User);
  • To liaise between the Project Management Team and the Users (is done by the Senior User);
  • To make sure the solution will meet the needs of the Users, especially in terms of quality and ease of use, and against requirements (is done by the Senior User);
  • To supply the benefits information for the Benefits Management Approach (is done by the Senior User);

If you want to learn more about the Project Manager role, then there are plenty of books and articles you could read. Based on what we covered so far though, we expect that you can already spot some big differences in the Scrum Master vs Project Manager roles. Therefore, we would like to move on to the skills for both roles.

Shared Characteristics and skills for the Scrum Master and the Project Manager

There are many relevant skills and characteristics that great Scrum Masters have. There are also many characteristics and skills that great Project Managers should have. Therefore, a more generic list of characteristics and skills for both of the roles is:

  1. Communication — Both Scrum Masters and Project Managers should be able to communicate well with all the stakeholders in the organization. They should be able to communicate effectively with customers, management, team members, users, suppliers and many others.
  2. Leadership — Leadership is an important skills for both roles as well, however, the type of leadership is different. The Scrum Master is more of a Servant Leader, who leads and manages the Scrum Framework (implementation) and the organizations’ growth in agility. For a Project Manager, having great leadership skills is also important. For example for motivating teams, convincing people about the project approach, leading people in the project process, etc. Although not intentional, a Project Manager could be acting more from a autocratic (dictative) style, while that would be very unlikely for a Scrum Master.
  3. Organization — Both Scrum Masters and Project Managers should be well-organized people. They should be quite good at organizing their own work, balancing work and private life, and also in seeing the bigger picture of where we are.

Characteristics or skills of a Scrum Master

There are many relevant skills and characteristics that great Scrum Masters have. In order to not create an exhaustive list, we’ll share just our top-3 skills/ characteristics in this article. If you want to learn about even more skills or characteristics of great Scrum Masters, then check out this article.

  1. Agile Expert — Great Scrum Masters are experts in Agility. They have mastered the Scrum Framework, but they are also highly skilled in other Agile frameworks, methods and practices. Scrum Master are experts in Agile values & principles and know how train, mentor, coach and facilitate other people in adopting these values.
  2. Coach-Consultant — Great Scrum Masters are a ‘coach’ for the Development Team, Product Owner and Organization. They are able to coach people, by asking powerful questions for example, hereby changing peoples’ mindset and behaviors. They’re also consultants, who are able to offer advice, share practices and provide support for organizations regarding Agile governance or Agile contracting for example.
  3. Servant-Leader — The Scrum Master is a servant-leader. He or she leads by example. The Scrum Master leads the way by showing the behavior necessary to make the change happen.

Characteristics or skills of a Project Manager

Like with the Scrum Master role, there are many characteristics and skills of great Project Managers as well.

  1. Time management — Time management is a big part of project management. Project Managers should be able to bring their project in on time. They need to manage the project timelines. They therefore need to ensure that no part of the process takes longer than it should. Besides managing their own time as a project manager, they need to help their team to manage their days and get the most out of the nine to five.
  2. Negotiating — Project Managers need strong negotiating skills, which will help them keep the project on track and clear significant roadblocks. Project Managers should be able to negotiate effectively with the Project Board, teams, users, customers and suppliers for example.
  3. Risk management — Project Managers should be good at managing risks. They need the ability to identify, manage and address risks effectively.

Conclusion

As you may have noticed, there are quite some differences between the roles of Scrum Master vs Project Manager. There is of course some overlap in the (more generic) characteristics and skills for both of them. However, looking at the accountabilities, there is quite little overlap between the Scrum Master and Project Manager role. Let us summarize with a top-3 overlapping and a top-3 differentiations between these two roles:

Top-3 responsibilities overlap Scrum Master vs Project Manager:

  1. Both the Scrum Master and Project Manager are responsible for coaching the organization and teams, in order to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the organization and teams;
  2. Both the Scrum Master and Project Manager are not accountable for the success or failure of the project. In a Scrum context, the Product Owner would be ultimately accountable for the Products’ success. In a project setting, the Project Board (the project Executive) would be accountable for this.
  3. Both the Scrum Master and the Project Manager help the organization to remove impediments / blockers. However, a Project Manager typically tries to resolve impediments him- or herself, while a Scrum Master (preferably) coaches the organization and teams to resolve the impediments themselves.

Top-3 responsibility differences Scrum Master vs Project Manager:

  1. The Project Manager creates, manages and updates all forms of documentation (Project Brief, PID, Budget, Risk log, Project Plan, Gantt chart, etc, etc.). The Scrum Master creates, manages and updates no documentation at all. Nothing.
  2. The Project Manager creates, manages, devides and distributes work-packages amonst team members. The Project Manager also manages the scope for the stakeholders. So, the Project Manager has a requirements / content-related responsibility. The Scrum Master doesn’t have any content, requirements or product relationship. The Scrum Master does not manage work packages, people, resources, materials or others.
  3. The Project Manager role is a very broad position. It contains many different responsibilities, which sometimes don’t have any clear relationship (e.g. writing a business case VS coaching and motivating people). The Scrum Master role is however more focused. The Scrum Master increases the organizations’ agility, by being a servant leader and helping people to understand and enact to the Scrum Framework.

Want to learn more?

Hopefully this article was useful for you. If you have any follow up questions or if you want to learn more about Professional Scrum, then please contact us.

One of the reasons that many Scrum implementations fail, or don’t offer the maximum possible advantages, is because there is a lot of misunderstanding about Scrum, and especially the Product Owner and Scrum Master roles. If you’re a Product Owner, Product Manager, Scrum Master or Agile Coach with about a year (or more) of experience under your belt, go and explore the Stances of the Product Owner in the Professional Scrum Product Owner-Advanced class. Find a trainer to your liking or in your area, and deepen and expand your Product Management knowledge and skills. And let us know what you think about the training! What did you like? What can be improved? Let’s collaborate to take the profession of Product Ownership to the next level.

If you’d like to experience the all-new Professional Scrum Product Owner-Advanced class, go to Scrum.org to find a class in your area. If you’d like to participate in one of our classes, check out our Xebia Academy page for more information or inquire for an in-house class via training@xebia.com.