Scrum Master vs. Project Manager: Their Roles and Differences

Editorial Team

Scrum Master vs. Project Manager

Project Manager and Scrum Master are two of the common buzzwords in industries these days. Both the project manager and scrum master play a vital role in the projects. However, young professionals who have just started their project management often get confused with these terms. It also leads to confusion for freshers who want to start their career in this field. Hence, they end up wondering which role they should prefer to start their career. Actually, they don’t even know whether their roles are the same or different. If they are similar, why there are different terms?

Some people even confuse the agile project manager as a scrum master. Though they go hand in hand somewhere, they are completely different.  Scrum master handles agile projects supported by the principles of scrum project management. On the other side, the project manager works on traditional and specific principles of project management.

This is the complete guide to discuss the key differences between both roles. If you want to become a scrum master from the project manager or vice versa, you are at the right place to learn every detail about such roles. But before jumping on the differences, let’s discuss their roles and key responsibilities to lay a basis for a better understanding of the subject matter.

1. Who is a Scrum Master?

Scrum Master is responsible to ensure proper compliance with scrum principles. They should ensure the team follows proper rules on the projects. Let’s dig deeper into Scrum Project Management to have a better understanding of scrum master.

About Scrum Project Management

Instead of being an approach or tool, Scrum Project Management is a framework which enables people addressing complex issues related to agility and to deliver the best products. The framework of Scrum Project Management is widely used in complex scenarios. Scrum defines some specific roles and rules to go with agile development.

Scrum Master plays a vital role in the team. He or she is a lot like a serving leader to their core team. They ensure that the core scrum team properly understands and follows the rules and responsibilities assigned to them. Scrum Master always does the hard work to ensure maintaining proper agile scrum rules and practices. Scrum Master plays the role of a scrum manager in adaptive roles. They are mainly aimed to improve value created by their team. 

2. Major Challenges faced by Scrum Masters

  • Exceeding the expectations

Scrum Master is often confused with Project Manager in many organizations, especially in upper departments. Scrum master is basically a facilitator for the organization and the team. Sometimes expectations of the upper management are different. Due to this reason, it is not so easy for a scrum master to manage things. He or she serves as a guide, facilitator, a serving leader, and process follower.

  • Serving as admin

Scrum master starts by event schedules, booking conferences, inviting people and taking notes. These are some of the main roles of Scrum Master and all these roles make the team more effective.

  • No agile training

Scrum master is liable to provide basic agile training to all the team members. It is one of the main challenges faced by them.

  • Resist Changes

Resistance usually comes from individuals and change creates resistance. Individuals avoid changing to scrum, not departments. Scrum master plays as the change agent when it comes to scrum implementations. It is one of the major challenges for a scrum master. Change resistance is very common when it comes to bringing a new change.

  • Being time bound

Every event is expected to be time bound to get the best results when implementing sprints. For example, daily scrum lasts only around 15 minutes. But team members are often seen discussing technical problems and the meeting lasts longer than the time assigned. 

  • Dealing with emergency requests

When it comes to implementing Scrum, scrum masters don’t accept changes in between the sprint. They can manage the change requests at the beginning or end of the sprint but not along the way. However, customers, owners of the product, and stakeholders send urgent requests for bug fixes and changes in the real world.

  • But you cannot follow the process as usual without knowing market and business. It is always wise to collaborate, communicate with stakeholders, plan again and make decisions wisely.
  • Team distribution

When teams are split by geographic locations, network issues, delays, regional or cultural issues, working hours and time zone difference, and other hurdles are common barriers for a scrum master. It is not always easy to keep everyone connected and collaborate with all. Luckily, there are many tools and technologies available to overcome this difficulty, such as video conferencing.

3. What is the relationship between the Project Manager and Scrum Master?

Now you might want to know what the project manager has to do in scrum? The responsibilities of the project manager cannot be converted into the role of scrum master directly. When it comes to transitioning from Waterfall to Agile, the title of ‘Project Manager’ can be moved to ‘Scrum Master’.

When moving from Waterfall to Agile model, Project Manager distributes the responsibilities between several team members. Program Manager takes some responsibilities, Product Owner takes some, some responsibilities go to Scrum Master while some to rest of the team. On the other hand, it is not easy to switch from Waterfall to Agile.

The role of a Product Owner is associated closely with the role of the Project Manager. In a project, the Product Owner is highly responsible. Along with maintaining product backlog, they also have to ensure that the product meets the business needs.

In case any change takes place, it is the duty of the Product Owner to re-schedule and adjusts the existing backlog to meet with these changes. Well, it is not easy for Product Owner. Hence, the Scrum Master serves as a consultant to take good care of the project. They help the Product Manager in managing teamwork with sprint planning, product backlog, and meetings.

It is the Scrum Master who guides the team, manages the teamwork, and ensures the team is aligned well for Product Owner. They manage the whole process, ensure it is implemented well, and improve the scope of benefits on the project.

4. Scrum Master vs. Project Manager

In order to know how they work together in large projects, you should consider the key differences between Project Manager and Scrum Master.

Simply speaking, Scrum Master serves as a facilitator and coach, while the Project Manager serves as a decision maker, leader, and manager of the project, scope of business needs, and resources. The Project Manager is often responsible to ensure that the project meets all the vital business needs, while Scrum Master takes care of the core team. Scrum Master also plays a connection between the customer and a project.

Here are some of the key differences between Scrum Master and Project Manager –

  • Quality Assurance – A project manager considers the value of quality but unaware of achieving this. This way, a consultant is needed to fix issues. On the other side, the Scrum Master knows the importance of quality and assures it very well.
  • Goals – A project manager has specific goals like planned budget, scope, and timely completion of the project. On the other hand, a Scrum Master ensures proper training of the core team to stick with proper Agile principles. In addition, they also coach the teams and specify the project deadlines.
  • Team – Project Managers are used to working with a large team with a big budget. As a result, they are promoted to program managers. On the other side, Scrum Manager prefers to work in smaller teams, no matter what the budget is.  
  • Key Responsibilities of Project Manager –
    • Creating a budget, planning, and documentation
    • Collaborating with upper-level management to handle a project
    • Communicating with other departments, when needed
    • Working individually or guiding the team to accomplish a certain goal
  • Key Responsibilities of Scrum Master –
    • Controlling the whole Scrum process and resolving conflicts
    • Training the team about Scrum and Agile
    • Arranging for Scrum events
    • Executing product backlog according to priorities of Product Owner
    • Ensuring the smooth running of the project with tools
    • Motivating the team
    • Keeping all the Scrum processes on track to improve productivity

Organizations which are not aware of the complexities of Scrum and Agile make some serious mistakes. Not having a proper understanding of the roles of Project Manager and Scrum Master is one of the most common mistakes. It is more common in smaller teams where these roles go hand in hand.

Well, there are also some things similar to the roles of Project Manager and Scrum Master. But it doesn’t mean you can ignore the key differences between the Scrum Master and Agile Project Manager.

5. What are the Similarities between the Project Manager and Scrum Master?

Both the Scrum Master and Project Manager can make mistakes. They both are humans and learn from their mistakes. Both can get feedback, communicate, enable proper relationships with the team, and reduce the risks.

Roles of both authorizes are similar. None of them are superior to others. Project Manager is responsible to report to the stakeholders and clients, while Scrum Master is responsible to report to clients and stakeholder, along with Product Owner.

Both Scrum Master and Project Manager cannot overlook the basic principles which should be adhered to. If they do so, they fail. They are not supposed to be less than skilled and knowledgeable professionals. They cannot also disrespect the opinions of their team members. It is because these are some of the main reasons behind their failure.

Let’s discuss some of the key roles and job outlook of Project Manager and Scrum Master.

6. Key Roles and Job Outlook of a Scrum Master

Scrum Master is basically a facilitator, as discussed earlier. They are responsible to handle the team engaged in an Agile approach. In a smaller team, the Scrum framework is ideal for developers. Scrum Manager can split their work in Sprint to accomplish the project by the end of all sprints.

Scrum Masters are well known to finish their work in the time limit. They are very reliable for organizations. However, being the Scrum Master is not easy. It all depends on release planning and sprint planning processes to ensure great clarity of Scrum Manager so the team can accomplish the work assigned in the best way.

  • Scheduling the Scrum conferences every day
  • Sprint planning
  • Handling Scrum processes well
  • Removing hurdles so the team can work well
  • Working with Scrum teams to go with Scrum practices
  • Managing Product Backlog
  • Avoiding external distractions to protect the team
  • Coordinating with Project Owner to design Backlog products for upcoming Sprint
  • Avoiding external hurdles for the team
  • Guiding the Product Owner
  • Assisting and Recording for team spirit
  • Promoting discussions
  • Keeping track of the sprint processes
  • Helping teams in promoting processes
  • Encouraging the team
  • Cementing relationships with the team

7. Key Roles and Job Outlook of a Project Manager

The project manager is responsible for handling the project and meeting the needs and deadlines. There are a place and time specified for a project manager when it comes to handling large projects. The project manager can work with other teams and cover several teams in the project. A project manager can handle timelines, involve other team members and collaborate whenever they need resources. Here are some of the job responsibilities and roles of a project manager –

  • Keeping track of the project timeline
  • Defining the scope of the project with the team
  • Meeting project requirements
  • Preparing the schedule for working with the team
  • Assuring work quality
  • Preparing project budget
  • Defining the project needs for resources
  • Keeping track of the plans
  • Controlling the risks
  • Gathering feedback from the users
  • Accomplishing the project before the deadline
  • Handling bonds with stakeholders and clients
  • Managing the budget and other issues related to finance
  • Allocating duties
  • Reporting to top-level business leaders about the progress
  • Keeping track on processes
  • Risk management
  • Setting priorities related to the project
  • Working with other teams as per the project needs

Final Thoughts

Both Scrum Master and Project Managers have different responsibilities. So, it is not easy to decide between Project Manager and Scrum Master for an organization. It calls for proper planning and considerations of the prospects involved. However, relying on a Scrum Master is very vital to ensure the success of a project. Both Project Manager and Scrum Master play different roles and have different responsibilities. Both are looking for the right person and the right skills to accomplish the tasks. We hope this guide has helped you to gain a better understanding of Project Manager and Scrum Master.