The Difference Between the Scrum Master and the Project Manager

The Difference Between the Scrum Master and the Project Manager

Do the roles of Scrum Master and Project Manager look the same to you? In business-related circles, we often come across these two terms. Even though both contribute to the completion of projects, these two terms tend to confuse young professionals who recently ventured into the project management world.

While their roles overlap to some extent, they couldn't be more different from each other. Once we start exploring Scrum Master vs. Project Manager, we will discover a couple of similarities and a lot more differences.

This comprehensive research will hopefully help you understand their roles better.

What is a Scrum Master?

The Scrum process doesn't involve Project Managers - it has Scrum Masters instead. The Scrum framework heavily relies on the Agile project management approach. Japanese professors Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi first conceptualized Agile project management in 1986.

But, before we explain what a Scrum Master is, we have to dive into Agile. Agile, as opposed to traditional project management, practices splitting a project into shorter cycles, also called sprints, so they're easier to handle.

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After the completion of each Agile development cycle, the team presents the product to the customers for the final feedback. Before teams move on to the next cycle, the customers' feedback is taken into account and implemented. Depending on how many cycles they have, Agile teams repeat this process until they complete the project.

Now we can go back to our main topic. The Scrum Master ensures that team members working on the project comply with Scrum and Agile practices.

The role of Scrum Masters

When it comes to roles and responsibilities, the Scrum Master isn't involved in the decision-making process, which means their role is narrower than the project managers'. Now, let's jump into their primary responsibilities, the Scrum Master:

  • makes sure that all team members understand the goals and scope of the project
  • helps them organize themselves and work together, to perform their job as efficiently as possible
  • removes obstacles that slow down the team, such as outdated hardware or unnecessary approvals and processes that block their progress
  • receives and passes on information to the project stakeholders about development progress and status
  • supports and guides the product owner while working alongside them to design product backlog items for the next sprint
  • makes daily Scrum meetings easier
  • supports and promotes the Scrum framework defined in the Scrum guide while helping teams comply with Scrum values, rules, practices, theory, and implementation
  • maintains team dynamics

It is important to note that Scrum Masters aren't involved in planning or managing the project, nor are they responsible for its success or failure. Their main priority is to help teams focus and deliver the best product they can.

How does a Scrum Master provide the most value to the team?

Helps them understand limits: teams often struggle with an idea of self-organization because they don't know what it means. However, the Scrum master helps them understand the boundaries within which they can operate.

Makes them feel secure: to produce high-quality work, teams need to feel relaxed and carefree in their working environment. For instance, not being reprimanded or yelled at if they don't finish everything they've started.

Praises them: everyone likes being praised or told that they are doing excellent work. The Scrum Master has a positive influence on team members and makes them feel better about themselves.

Supports the team: every team requires a certain level of support, regardless of how well they are self-organized. That's why Scrum Masters strive to minimize the issues before they become impediments. They talk to team members, so they always feel supported during challenging times.

Knows when to bypass the rules: even though Scrum rules are minimal, they exist for a reason. A good Scrum Master recognizes when to break the rules for a greater cause.

A Project Manager's role in Scrum

The Project Manager has direct communication with the customers, divides tasks among development teams, and makes decisions that will affect the project.

Some of the key responsibilities include:

  • Creating the project plan and understanding the project scope
  • Managing the project timeline, resources, budget, and assignments
  • Making sure that all projects are completed on time
  • Notifying stakeholders about the progress and the state of the project
  • Coordinating and communicating with multiple development teams
  • Mitigating and managing risks
  • Handling the relationship between stakeholders and customers
  • Ensuring that the final product meets the customers' demands
  • Collecting the necessary documentation and reports

In many organizations, a single Project Manager is in charge of several Scrum teams. However, each Scrum team should have its own Scrum master.

The key difference between a Scrum Master and a Project Manager

While their roles slightly overlap, the differences between these two roles overpower their similarities.

A Scrum Master religiously follows Scrum rules and endorses the framework. On the other hand, the project manager has more freedom and can customize the approach, from waterfall to adaptive, depending on the project demands.

A Scrum Master significantly contributes to scope management knowledge, quality, and resource management, while the Project Manager has to cover all ten knowledge areas of project management.

We already mentioned that the Scrum Master works with smaller Scrum teams, improving their performance. However, when it comes to Project Managers, they work with slightly bigger teams, especially when handling multi-project groups.

The role of the Scrum Master is to facilitate daily Scrum meetings while the Project Manager prepares and schedules meetings.

The Project Manager assigns responsibilities and prepares the work schedule; the Scrum master teaches the team about Scrum and motivates them further.

These two roles require a different set of skills as well as different certifications. A Project Manager pursues Prince2 certification or PMP. On the other hand, the Scrum master needs a certificate from the Scrum alliance.

Both roles are industry-specific. For instance, the Scrum master mostly operates within IT or related industries, while the Project Manager is in charge of a project which can be part of any industry.

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