This is a question that I’m quite often asked to explain. The difference between the two roles exists but many organisations and individuals struggle to identify the difference or more importantly, struggle to ensure that these roles are filled by two different people.
To be clear, a Project Manager can be a Scrum Master, and vice versa but the roles are not interchangeable. Whilst they may do similar activities (e.g. organizing meetings, addressing impediments when they arise), there are still some fundamental differences to be aware of between the two roles. What are the core differences to be aware of?
- A Project Manager can lead many different types of projects, whereas a Scrum Master is a role solely in a Scrum Team that is implementing via the Scrum Framework.
- Learn more about the scrum framework here
- A Scrum Master is often called a “Servant Leader” as they tend to have more of a supporting role in a project rather than leading. A Project Manager tends to focus on how to make sure that the project runs (e.g. financial control, risk / stakeholder management), whereas the Scrum Master is focused on making sure that the Scrum Team is successful. The focus is switched from the deliverables to the people delivering it
- The Scrum Master remains an expert in the tools and techniques of Scrum. This means that they can support the Product Owner with tasks such as managing the product backlog, ensuring that the scope, value and goals are clearly defined and understood by all parties. Whereas the Project Manager may do similar roles, but their focus remains around planning, executing and delivering a project according to the agreed upon requirements (Scope, Time, Quality)
- A Scrum Master is focused on maximizing the value of a product rather than delivering a project may comprise a lot of different elements (e.g. Infrastructure).
Why are they often confused?
I think the main reason is that people often get confused by what the roles are, but perhaps more importantly because organisations rarely do Scrum in a “pure” fashion so the lines between the roles can often be blurred.
If you find yourself in the position that you’re being told that you can be a Scrum Master or a Project Manager, it’s worth entering into a discussion about the difference between a Project Manager and a Scrum Master or alternatively encouraging them to look at how they manage their projects / deliverables and what makes the most sense.
A lot of organisations are looking to move towards a more agile delivery method but they need to do this in a manner which will lead to longer term project success rather than cherry picking the bits from Agile they want and the bits they want to avoid (like not having control over timelines).