Project Manager vs. Scrum Master

Scrum Master and Project Manager have become the latest buzzwords in the current era. For young professionals/individuals who have recently stepped into the IT industry, the job roles of Scrum Master and Project Manager seem quite similar. Both these roles are similar in their contribution to the completion of the project. Though the Project Manager and Scrum Master roles look similar, the fact is both are separate and distinct.

These two buzzwords have created chaos for the freshers aspiring to create a career in this domain as to which role they need to select to start their careers. 

Thus, prior to discussing the differences between these two roles, let’s take a clear look at the roles, responsibilities, and skills of each. This provides better clarity and understanding of the subject. 

Scrum Master- A Brief Explanation 

A Scrum Master is a mentor and servant-leader for Agile development teams. They assist the team including Kanban, SAFe, Extreme Programming, and Scrum to ensure that the scrum process is being followed. They are accountable for managing information exchange between the team members.

Scrum methodology allows the team to self-organize and make necessary changes accordingly owing to Agile principles. Scrum Masters does every possible thing to aid the team to perform at its highest level. They remove all sorts of impediments hindering projects progress, facilitate meetings, and provide a high-performing working environment. 

What does a Scrum Master do?


Here are a few examples of what a Scrum Master does:

  • A Scrum Master could also be considered a teacher as their main job role is to teach the people about agility and Scrum Master.
  • The Scrum Master can be considered as a facilitator as they are involved in facilitating some of the scrum events such as sprint planning and sprint review. These activities just don’t mean booking rooms for meetings; instead, it means gathering observations, coaching the people for the event, and preparing for the upcoming events.
  • A Scrum Master can be seen as a coach for customers, stakeholders, product owners, and development teams so as to assist them to get a better understanding of the scrum process.

What is not Part of the Scrum Master’s Job Role?

A Scrum Master job role doesn’t include the following aspects:

  • Measuring project progress.
  • A Scrum Master is not involved with business requirements.
  • Project risks, team performance, HR process, and performance management.
  • Creating and handling project plans like project initiation, project plans, and others.

Scrum Master Roles and Responsibilities 

The Scrum Master job role doesn’t provide the authority to take strategic decisions regarding a project. It’s not the sole responsibility of the Scrum Master to handle project progress or failure; instead, it’s the responsibility of the entire team. Their main focus is to manage the process towards project completion.

The Scrum Master role facilitates services to the following people within the organization:

Product owner 

  • Organize scrum events upon requirement.
  • Formulate techniques for effective product backlog management.
  • Thoroughly understand and practice agility.
  • The Scrum Master ensures that goals, scope, and product domains are thoroughly understood by every member of the team.

Development team 

  • To eradicate impediments hindering the team’s progress.
  • Facilitate scrum events upon requirement.
  • Help the development team to create high-value products.
  • Teach the development team in organizations where scrum is not fully implemented.

Organization 

  • Scrum Master assists the stakeholders and the employees in thoroughly understanding and implementing the scrum process.
  • They are considered a change agent to increase the productivity of the team. 
  • Scrum Master takes part in scrum implementation within the organization.
  • The Scrum Masters work closely with other Scrum Masters to improve scrum applications in the organization.

Here are a few responsibilities of a Scrum Master:

  • The Scrum Master ensures that a good rapport is developed between the product owner, members within the team, and outside the team as well.
  • Protects the team from distractions and interruptions.
  • The Scrum Masters are responsible for creating a work environment wherein the teams can perform effectively.

Challenges Faced by Scrum Master 

  • Handling role expectations 

At times, managing the expectations of upper management is indeed confusing to the Scrum Master, which makes their life a little harder. It should be understood that Scrum Master is a mentor for the team, a process follower, and for the organization as well.

  • Lacking Agile training for the teams

The major issue faced by a Scrum Master is to ensure all the team members have a basic level of Agile training. 

  • Distributed teamwork 

When the team is geographically distributed, there arises cultural/regional issues, different time zone, and network issues. In fact, it is quite difficult to get connected to all the team members in a single stretch.

  • Conflict to changes

Scrum Master is considered as the change agent while considering any scrum implementations. Resistance to changes is not a matter of surprise. In fact, it’s expected upon introducing a new change in the process.

  • Maintaining a time-boxed process 

When implementing sprints, it should be noted that all the activities undertaken should be accomplished within the given time. 

For instance: let’s consider the daily scrum events. It should not exceed more than 15 minutes. But it can be seen that the team starts discussing the impediments, be it technical issues or anything else, and gradually the meeting extends.

Skills Required to Become a Scrum Master

Scrum Master requires certain essential skills to progress in their career. In order to become a proficient Scrum Master, here are a few Scrum Master skills to consider:

  • Remove Impediments and keep the team on the progress path

The main target of the Scrum Master is to keep the team members on the progress track and find out the impediments hindering their work quality. Work distractions can be like work environment, unnecessary meetings, and procedural complexity

  • Coaching capabilities 

An efficient Scrum Master should be capable of explaining WHY and HOW everyone in the team should be involved. Only a great scrum coach knows the strengths and weaknesses of the team. They assist the team members through self-organizing teams, project tracking, creating project vision, and executing simple methodologies.

  • Growth Mindset and agility 

When implementing new ideas at the organizational level, setbacks and failures are quite common. The Scrum Master must educate the team to accept the setbacks and keep learning from them. 

Unlike agility, persistence is yet another skill for the Scrum Master. It’s their duty to ensure that all the team members attend the meeting. Maintaining regular persistence help the team to accomplish its goals.

  • Servant leadership and optimism

Having optimism in the work environment improves the efficiency of the team members. The main role of the Scrum Master is to motivate the team members to give their best results to the company by minimizing their weaknesses.

Project Manager- A Brief Explanation

Project management is considered to be the most complex field in the industry. The best part of getting into this profession is, that there is no space for boredom. 

A project manager plays a lead role during the entire project phase starting from initiation, planning, executing, monitoring, controlling, and closing of a project. They are responsible for defining the project scope, forming a team, and resources.

To put it in simple words, a project manager is considered to be the champion of the project. He provides the overall vision and scope of the project to their team members and keeps their focus fixed on the same. They ensure that the project gets sufficient resources and manages good rapport with the stakeholders. A project manager is responsible for the success or failure of the project.

“By 2027, it is estimated that approximately 22 million will be added to the industry 2027 by generating 88 million jobs worldwide, which in turn represents 33% growth in the industry.”

If you aspire to pursue a career in project management, let’s take a look at the various roles and responsibilities of a project manager in the below section.

Project Manager Roles and Responsibilities 

By taking look at the complexity of the project starting from its inception to completion, the project managers have the potential to shape the project’s success, help to reduce the cost incurred, enhance profit, and maximize efficiency. 

The responsibilities of a project manager vary based on the organization and type of projects you are tasked with.

Responsibilities of a project manager typically include the following:

  • Time management 

During the completion of any project, adhering to deadlines is vital for success of a project. When the requirements come for a project, they are responsible for communicating with the concerned department stakeholders to ensure the project is completed on time.

  • Budget

Project managers are given the responsibility of devising the budget and adhering to it accordingly. If certain phases of the project cost more, then PMs will be responsible for re-allocating the funds wherever required. 

  • Documentation

It is the responsibility of the project manager to measure the success of the project and it is being developed as planned in the planning phase. There are a few strategies to include while documenting a project such as verbal and written communication skills and the data collection process.

  • Maintenance 

Even after the completion of a project, there needs to be a perfect plan for maintenance. They are accountable for devising proper maintenance techniques, though not taking look at the day-to-day operations.

Challenges Faced by the Project Manager

The major task of the project managers is to handle various projects and ensure that project is accomplished with positive outcomes while adhering to deadlines. Nevertheless, there are certain issues that can affect the progress of the work, be it internal or external issues. 

Apart from having the capability to complete the work manage deadlines and handle resources, one must also be capable enough to handle challenges that might hinder the progress of a project. 

Let’s take a look at a few of the challenges that a project manager can expect to encounter while the project is in progress:

  • Organizational issues

The major issue for a project manager will always be with the enterprise. At times, the organization may not clearly define goals/objectives, this in turn becomes a major problem for the project managers in the long run. 

  • Keeping the team in the same phase 

Managing a globally spread-out team is one of the biggest challenges for project managers. Managing all of them during the phase will let all the members of the team know about the latest updates within the team, where they are lacking behind, and what they are working towards.

  • Managing expectations 

Being in a team means, that each one in the team should know others’ expectations. Having a clear idea of each other’s expectations will make the team much easier to reach the planned goals. Having regular meetings and discussions within the team will help to overcome critical issues like project deadlines, and the availability of resources. 

  • Indistinct goals and objectives 

The key to project success is well-defined goals. Having unclear goals and objectives in a project can easily push a project into danger. The project manager and the team together will have to face chaos and confusion, when they are not aware of the “what”, “when”, and “,” why” of the project.

Shared Skills/Attributes of a Scrum Master and a Project Manager

There is a certain generic list of skills and characteristics shared by the Scrum Master and project manager. Here are a few of them:

  • Well Organized

Both the Scrum Master and project manager should be well-organized and capable of handling their work efficiently.

  • Communication

Professionals working in these job roles should possess excellent communication skills to communicate effectively with the stakeholders, team members, suppliers, users, customers, management, and many others.

  • Leadership 

Leadership is the most important skill to consider for both roles. Nonetheless, the type of leadership varies according to the job role. For a project manager, it is essential to have great leadership skills such as directing people towards progressive paths in a project and motivating people. On the other hand, the Scrum Master is a servant leader and manages organizational growth in agility.

Take a look at the Differences Between a Scrum Master and a Project Manager

To know how these two job roles work together in large projects, consider the key differences:

PARAMETERSPROJECT MANAGERScrum Master
GoalsA project manager has a specific set of goals like timely completion of a project, scope, and planned budget.A Scrum Master ensures that proper Agile practices are inculcated in the entire team. They coach the team to accomplish the task within the given deadline 
Quality assuranceA project manager knows the significance of quality but is unaware of how to accomplish it. That’s the reason why a consultant is hired to fix the issues.Scrum Master also knows the significance of quality and takes every measure to assure quality.
TeamProject managers prefer to work in large teams with a huge budget. Thus, they are promoted to program managers.A Scrum Master always prefers to work with a team irrespective of budget.
Number of tasksA project manager has to handle multiple projects at a single stretch to accomplish a project successfully and align with the business objectives.A Scrum Master has to handle one project team at a time.
KnowledgeA project manager should be well-versed in planning, execution, monitoring, and closure of a project to make a project successful.A Scrum Master should have sound knowledge of scrum and should serve as a good coach to the team.
IndustryA project manager works on different projects belonging to different industries.A Scrum Master works specifically related to the IT industry or any other allied industry.
CertificationA project manager requires Prince 2 certification or PMP.A Scrum Master should have CSPO/CSM certification issued by Scrum Alliance.
ReportingA project manager reports to stakeholders/clients.A Scrum Master usually reports to the product owner.

Conclusion

The Scrum Master and the Project Manager are two varied and unique job roles. Both these roles require particular skills-sets, knowledge, expertise, and suitable individual to make things happen. Individuals and enterprise teams should get trained in both Project Management courses and Agile training programs to understand the best of both worlds.

It should be noted that the Scrum Master roles are more of a facilitator and coaching role, whereas a Project Manager is more into a leadership role. With the upcoming introduction of the PMBOK® Guide Seventh Edition, the project manager’s role will become even more varied. They are no more limited to the traditional approach, but also can go with an incremental iterative approach. 

Both of these job roles are far different in their respective job responsibilities.

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Billie Keita is known for her exemplary skills in implementing project management methodologies and best practices for business critical projects. She possesses 10+ years of experience in handling complex software development projects across Europe and African region. She also conducts many webinars and podcasts where she talks about her own experiences in implementing Agile techniques. She is a Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) and PMI Project Management Professional (PMP)®, and has published many articles across various websites.

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