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The difference between a Project Manager and a Scrum Master

The difference between a Project Manager and a Scrum Master

By the nature of the work that Project Managers and Scrum Masters do, the two are not particularly closely aligned, even if it seems at first glance that they are. Managing a project is not the same as being a Scrum Master. Scrum Masters have the role of mentoring, teaching, coaching and facilitating, while the role of the Project Manager is to ensure that the project runs to time and budget. This means that the Scrum Master relies on more of the so-called “soft skills” involved with helping people to move forward, while the Project Manager takes a more methodical, and arguably more of a “hard skills” approach. While both roles have an interest in ensuring a high level of team performance and driving efficiency within the team, the ways in which they go about this are very different. The Scrum Master facilitates and coaches, while the Project Manager assesses risk and manages issues and conflicts. 

Looking closer at what Project Managers and Scrum Masters do in terms of activities, differences can be seen here too. Project Managers manage projects, while the role of the Scrum Master is to make sure the rules of the Scrum are followed and that the Scrum Framework is adhered to. Project Managers work across all areas of the project spectrum, while Scrum Masters will largely only focus on the three areas of scope management, quality management and resource management. The Project Manager can commonly be responsible for a very large team, while Scrum Masters work within scrum teams which can be quite a lot smaller.

Project Managers also plan regular project meetings as needed, but the Scrum Master will hold a meeting every day for the scrum. Even the emphasis of the work is different, since Project Managers schedule and plan, and narrow in on costs, while Scrum Masters are concerned with the value of the product. Importantly, Project Managers can serve in any industry, delivering projects. However, Scrum Masters only work in the IT industry, or similar related field. As can be seen therefore, there are both subtle and not-so-subtle differences between the skills and activities of Project Managers and Scrum Masters. 

Ultimately, the Project Manager has a role that is focused on control. Project Managers are responsible for project costs, time spent, and scope, quality of the end result, stakeholder management, risk and more. If the Project Manager is unsuccessful, they are accountable for this, and they will usually be blamed for issues. This means that the role of the Project Manager has to be based on control. This is achieved through each of the different stages of the project, such as its initiation, planning, design, running, monitoring, change control and even the final evaluation. On the other hand, the Scrum Master does not have an emphasis on control at all. Their role is ensuring everyone understands what their role is in the Scrum, getting rid of impediments, coaching people and ensuring that Scrum events occur. Importantly, they encourage the team to self organize. This is not the same at all as the level of control that is involved with ensuring that project is managed effectively. 

As a Project Manager, being controlling is a good thing. It means that projects get delivered to time and to budget. But being controlling by nature is hard to change, and Scrum Masters are not controlling. It is very difficult for a person that is used to leading in a command and control style to adopt the very different, softer leadership style of the Scrum Master. 

If, having considered the evidence above, and there is still believe that a Project Manager is the right person to be the Scrum Master, then there are some important steps to be taken. Review the experience they have working in the Scrum, and additionally provide some Scrum training. Perhaps most critical of all, determine if the Project Manager has energy, enthusiasm and interest for putting the Scrum in place. If they do not, then the initiative will be likely to fail, because any effective Scrum needs a great Scrum Master who is interested in and committed to making it work. The good news is, it is possible to learn how to be a great Scrum Master, ensure that the passion to do so is there in the first place for this to succeed.

As has been seen, despite common misconceptions, the Project Manager is not the Scrum Master. The roles are different and require skill sets and activities that might be considered conflicting in nature. This is perhaps why less than a third of organizations assign the Project Manager to be Scrum Master. This is not to say that a Project Manager cannot be Scrum Master under any circumstances – they can – but the circumstances and level of interest have to be just right to get it to work. 

The importance of a good Project Sponsor

Establishing and maintaining a good working relationship with the project sponsor is a key ingredient to project success. The project manager may think that understanding process and having a tight schedule and established governance is enough to guarantee project success. The unfortunate truth is that project success is not just about these things, nor is it simply applying the tried and tested disciplines of project management. There is a critical component to project success that is extremely underrepresented in project delivery advice and that is the pivotal role that a sponsor plays in project success. Regardless of what the Project Manager may or may not do, one of the key ingredients to successful project delivery is what an exceptional sponsor brings to the table. And it’s up to the Project Manager to be able to identify and leverage them.

The project sponsor can come from an assortment of avenues, most come from the ranks of senior executives who have clear skill sets to do a line management role and who’ve been brought on board to deliver in that capacity. However, rarely are they interviewed about their skills in delivering major projects. Exceptional sponsors do exist and they honed their skills through experience. It really is the only way.

So what happens when a Project Manager lands a project that he or she will deliver on behalf of an exceptionally gifted sponsor?

Here are our Top 5 Characteristics:

  • Time they have it – And not just for their direct reports. They understand the importance of their role and thus they are engaged and make the time to be present as required to fully participate in the project.
  • They can manage up and down – This is critical, they will at times need to influence peers and senior executives and other stakeholders for the good of the project but may also need to intervene downwards to help bring their teams along for the ride.
  • They can tell the difference between a risk and an issue – and help manage their impacts – and it is the management of these two things that will go a long way to deciding whether a project is successful or not. Overlook or misrepresent a key risk and the project may be caught flat-footed. Likewise, with major issues, the input of a sponsor with a cool analytical approach is often required to get the best remedy.
  • Everyone is a critic – They get it. Change is difficult, not everyone will be a fellow traveler and a good sponsor knows it is nothing personal just human nature. They will protect the project as best they can from the negative influences (both within and without) and understand it is often nothing personal—just a by-product of driving change.
  • Scope can change – but not without change control. The experienced sponsor understands implicitly that project governance is their friend. Projects can always pivot if required but this should only ever happen via the correct chain of command with the right sign offs, so everyone is aware of impacts to meddling with scope.

While this is a high-level list, it does provide some important insights into the characteristics of what an exceptional sponsor will ‘look like’. Those who are lucky enough to be working with one, coupled with a project manager with strong project fundamentals, know that the opportunity to be successful when delivering a project is infinitely greater.

Task Management Essentials

Task Management Essentials

Tasks are the building blocks of a project, when used correctly it can manage tasks more effectively, then set the project up for success. Projects are made up of tasks, and knowing how to manage these tasks is the secret to getting projects completed on time. At its simplest, task management is having a to-do list, but it can be so much more, for simply having a to-do lists isn’t going to cut it for managing project workloads.

At its core task management is a process where one identifies, monitors and progresses the work that needs to be done during the day. It assists with being efficient if all that happens to be reactive to whoever shouts the loudest at work. Efficiency is not purely answering the next email in an inbox. Tasks need to be treated by a group because what comes in next might not be the most important. Time needs to be managed to spend the right amount working on the next priority task. Task management provides the ability to stay on top of work and helps teams hit their deadlines. The benefits of task management are:

  • The ability to see everything being worked on at once
  • Understanding priorities
  • Time available to do those tasks
  • Tasks can be grouped together to work on similar things at the same time

Above all, a balanced workload can adjust or delegate tasks and deadlines⁠—preventing from being overworked.

There are many tools available for managing tasks. Some of the more common tools are.

To-Do Lists

In its simplest form a pen and paper is required where tasks can be written down. The downside of this simple approach is that it’s hard to move tasks around to group them and prioritize them. And then the list would have to be rewritten every few days or it gets too messy with all the crossings out. Many people do manage simple lists on paper, but when managing a project or multiple projects then something more sophisticated is required.

Online Task Lists

The online task list is a step up from a to-do list. Since its online, it can be accessed from anywhere, and it can be updated and edited easily. Online tools enables the ability to have complete control over tasks. Add due dates, priority levels, attachments, notes and even tags for easy sorting. When working in a team, tasks can be assigned to other team members to help carry the workload.

Online Kanban Boards

If more than lists are required, Kanban can be used to manage tasks. Kanban boards provide a visual means to manage tasks. Tasks are created using Kanban cards, which are then placed in relevant columns. Columns are typically labelled as “to do, doing, done”. The visual interface allows the ability to quickly spot progress levels for tasks, and where a bottleneck or overdue task might be lurking.

Task Management Software

Comprehensive task management software, allows all of the most common task management tools in one software. Plus, it’s great for project teams because they can make a list of all the tasks required for the project, known as a work breakdown structure.

One of the big challenges for project managers is making sure that tasks are done by others. When other people take an action in a meeting, make a note of it and add it to your task management app. Assign it to the right person and it will show up in their personal to-do list. Progress can then be monitored and actioned if required. Filter the project’s task list by resource to see what work everyone has got on: this gives provides an at-a-glance view of the workload for each person. Where they can be reminded from time to time about what has been agreed to do, making sure it is completed before the deadline.

This enables a link to resource planning, where details of who has too much to do and who has some capacity to take on more work, using the information in the task list. It saves a lot of time and duplication of effort. The main things seen in the task management system are tasks. Ensure the Tasks page of the project management tool is first accessed every day. Where assigned work can be seen for that day and the upcoming tasks so they can be checked that the priorities align to what is felt work is needed and make changes as necessary

Tasks that are overdue will be highlighted. This is helpful to see what should have completed but have not. AN agreement can be reached with the team that the target date for completion needs to be changed or get cracking on making sure that work is finished off.

Tasks can be tracked on the task management tool via the ‘Progress’ column. This is an indication of how far through a task the project is, anything that is greater than 0% means the task has started and when it gets to 100% the task will be considered complete.

The to-do list should be updated once any individual item on it is completed. If that sounds like too much to remember, check the to-do list at the end of every day and mark the tasks finished that day as complete. Mark anything that has commenced as ‘in progress’,  It only takes a minute or two and it means that on the following day there is a clear understanding on the priority for that day.

Task lists should be shared as management works best when everyone can see what needs to be done. Online task management software makes this easy because project task list can be shared with the team. Don’t worry about people getting confused about what they personally need to do: each task will be allocated to an individual so there is a whole picture for the project while still knowing what is personally responsible.

Managing tasks, and those of the team, takes up valuable time in the day. This can be achieved by;

  • Tip #1: Use Calendar – Use the calendar or project schedule to add deadlines for tasks. Then can forecast busy and times of extra capacity.
  • Tip #2: Stick With One Method – Using online software or an app is the best way because a laptop or phone is readily available. An app on a smartphone or tablet can quickly be opened to record the task.
  • Tip #3: Prioritize tasks – Creating one central list of tasks for the project team is a big help. There are two ways to do this: what’s urgent and what’s important. Of course, a task can be urgent and important at the same time and the priority of tasks can change from day to day!
  • Tip #4: Track time – Using time sheets to track time is a great way to manage tasks. Because it helps see exactly where time is being spent during the day and this information lets effective priority.
  • Tip #5: Delegate – Look at what can be delegated, projects are a great development and learning opportunity for team members, so think about what can be delegated to others.

There are many task management app available, take the time to test drive a few products and find one that suits your style. has a list of easy to use, quick to set up apps for managing task lists. Start your free 30-day trial.

The Cognitive Awareness of a Project Manager

Best planning aside, projects have a habit of not ending up where and when they are originally planned to end up, changes occur, at times by stealth. Costs, schedules and objectives shift and change. People come and go. Impacts on other projects and operational activities may be underestimated. Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity are facts of life for many, maybe most, project managers.

As project managers to ability for Cognitive readiness is the capacity to apply knowledge and behavioral skills in the context of teams, organizations and their environments to perform in complex and unpredictable situations. It is being prepared mentally with the right skills, abilities, knowledge, motivations, understandings and personal dispositions so that one is ready for anything.

There are five factors that contribute to being ready for anything, they are

  • Technical and interpersonal skills and business acumen to enable initiating, planning, controlling, monitoring and closing projects
  • A realistic view of the way things are — Interacting systems and processes, the reality of not always getting what you want, and the inevitability of change — to have a solid foundation for planning and managing expectations and conflict
  • Emotional and Social intelligence to enable effective relationships
  • The courage and insight to confront and overcome barriers like bias, anger, fear, frustration, confusion, clinging to untenable beliefs and to impossible expectations, etc.
  • Mindful awareness to bring inner workings to light with the courage and candor to objectively assess performance and improve it as needed. Mindfulness enables a realistic perspective and the application of knowledge and experience. It is the basis for emotional and social intelligence. It enhances performance.

Delving deeper in Mindful awareness, the experience of objectively observing everything occurring within (thoughts, feelings, physical sensations) and without (sounds, environmental conditions, relationships, communication and behavior).

Objectively observing means stepping back from whatever is happening and seeing it as a scientist sees the subject of their experiment – suspending judgement in the face of biases, values and beliefs, and becoming responsive rather than reactive.

When in action, deep within the project, maybe about 5% of mental activity is expended on mindful awareness. It is a background task that joins with the thinking, talking, writing, planning, decision making and doing. It does not get in the way. It enhances performance.

Mindful awareness means being increasingly conscious of emotions, conditioning, beliefs, biases and all the things that drive speech and action. It is about using that consciousness to moderate behavior. For example, to not freak out when a vendor goes out of business in the middle of a project, or a key player leaves, or a client insists on an impossible schedule.

Living above the line enables responsive as opposed to reactive behavior. It is the key to being ready for anything.

Mindfulness meditation practice is a method for cultivating the concentration (the ability to focus on a chosen object or activity) and mindful awareness (the ability to objectively observe whatever comes up internally or externally) required to live above the line.

There are two kinds of mindfulness practice: formal (requiring time and effort) and informal/moment-to-moment (requiring effort but no time). The formal practice supports the moment to moment practice. Formal practice is a great stress reliever, a rest and relaxation aid. The informal practice brings mindfulness into everyday life under practical conditions. It is as simple as taking a moment when the phone rings or pings to take a conscious breath and become relaxed and grounded in the present, objectively observing.

Mindfulness meditation is often referred to as Insight meditation. It is called insight meditation because the practice leads to insight into the nature of mind and the life process we are all a part of. Insight leads to wisdom. Wisdom is experimentally knowing how things are.

Insight is “an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing.” The insight mindfulness brings is experiential as opposed to intellectual. It boils down to these realities:

  • Everything is impermanent – Change is a natural part of life
  • Not everything is pleasant – there will be some pain and suffering
  • Everything, including yourself, is continuously being created by ever changing causes and conditions – you are a work in process – nothing exists by itself.
  • What one thinks, says and does matters – your actions create a ripple effect
  • There is uncertainty. You never really know how it will turn out in the end
  • Awareness is the basic ground for everything that we sense, feel, think or do.

As these insights are experienced the most profound kind of stress relief is felt. There is no longer the same kind of attachment to things being in a certain way. Expectations become realistic. Choices become easier to make. Decisions and creativity emerge without unnecessary doubts. Stressful conditions become more manageable as one becomes capable of working through unpleasant feelings. There is a letting go into skillful flow.

Knowing that change is a given, that nothing is permanent, feeds resilience. One learns to go with the flow and influence it to the degree one can. One learns to trust in one’s own skills and knowledge to navigate the situation without expectations.

All there is, is a continuously changing process. One cannot stop the flow. One door closes, others open. Every change becomes an opportunity to practice and to cultivate increasing cognitive readiness – the ability to live happily and successfully amidst volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – ready for anything.

Risk Management Tools and Techniques

Risk is normal within any project, how it is mitigated needs to be the focus, when a risk is not controlled it can cause no end of project pain. Welcome to risk management, which is as important as planning to making sure a project comes in on time, within budget and of quality. The better a project manager identifies and responds to risk, the better the outcome. That’s why there are never enough risk management tools and techniques to have at your disposal when planning for a project.

The following are some of the best risk management tools and techniques that professional project managers use to manage their projects against the inevitable risks, issues and changes.

Brain storming is the first, to begin the brainstorming process, there must be an assessment of the risks that could impact the project. This starts with reviewing the project documentation, looking over historic data and lessons learned from similar projects, reading over articles and organizational process assets. Anything that can provide insight into issues that might occur during the execution of the project. Once research has completed, start brainstorming with anyone who might have insight.

A variant of this is the Delphi technique, which is when a request is sent to experts and they reply anonymously. Or the project manager can interview experts, team members, stakeholders and others with experience in similar projects.

Another tool is the root cause, or another way to say the essence of something. Therefore, root because analysis is a systematic process used to identify the fundamental risks that are embedded in the project. This is a tool that says good management is not only responsive but preventative.

Often root cause analysis is used after a problem has already come up. It seeks to address causes rather than symptoms. But it can be applied to assessing risk by going through the goals of any root cause analysis, which ask: What happened? How did it happen? Why did it happen? Once those questions are addressed, develop a plan of action to prevent it from happening again.

The SWOT process, or strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, is another tool to help with identifying risks. To apply this tool, go through the acronym.

Begin with strengths and determine what those are as related to the project (though this can work on an organization-level, too). Next, list the weaknesses or things that could be improved or are missing from the project. This is where the likelihood of negative risk will raise its head, while positive risk come from the identification of strengths. Opportunities are another way of referring to positive risks and threats are negative risks.

When collecting SWOT, illustrate findings in a four-square grid. The top of the square has strengths to the left and weaknesses to the right. Below that is opportunities to the left and threats to the right. The left-hand side is helpful to achieving the objective of the project and those on the right-hand side are harmful to achieving the objective of the project. This allows for analysis and cross-reference.

The risk assessment template for IT although primarily developed for IT projects, it can be expanded to speak to any project. An IT risk assessment template offers a numbered listing of the risks, to keep them in order, and then an out that risk is and the control environment. It basically provides a space in which to collect the risks of a project, which is also helpful when executing the project and tracking any risks that become reality.

One of the aspects of the risk assessment template for IT is that the spreadsheet has a built-in calculator that figures out the likelihood of a risk in fact occurring and then multiples that against the impact it would have on the project or the organization. This way, a project manager knows the potential harm of the risk and so can prioritize their response to it if or when the risk happens.

The risk register, is similar to the risk assessment template for IT. It also is a list to track risk, a tool that can be as simple as a spreadsheet or as dynamic as project management software. Basically, what a risk register does is identify and describe the list. It then will provide space to explain the potential impact on the project and what the planned response is for dealing with the risk, if it occurs. Furthermore, the risk register allows a project manager to prioritize the risk, assign an owner responsible for resolving it and gives a place to add notes as needed.

The risk register is a strategic tool to control risk in a project. It works to gather the data on what risks the team expects and then a way to respond proactively if they do show up in the project. It has already mapped out a path forward to keep the project from falling behind schedule or going over budget.

Another tool for project managers is the probability and impact matrix. It helps prioritize risk, which is important, as time should not be wasted chasing a small risk and exhaust resources. This technique combines the probability and impact scores of individual risks and then ranks them in terms of their severity. This way each risk is understood in context to the larger project, so if one does occur, there’s a plan in place to respond or not.

The matrix is a box, broken up in probability on the left, ranging from rare on top to very likely on the bottom. The top is the impact, going from trivial on the left to extreme on the right. The individual boxes then are coloured, so that the top left corner is green for low risk. The middle, rising from the bottom left corner to the top right corner is yellow for medium risk. The bottom right corner is red for high risk. This provides a road toward reaching a priority list that gives project managers the head’s up as to when to act and when they can keep a risk on the backburner of a project.

With a risk data quality assessment technique, project managers use data that has been collated for the risks they’ve identified. This is used to then find the level to which information about the risk is relevant to the project manager. It helps the project manager understand the accuracy, reliability, quality and integrity of the risk as related to the collected data about it.

For each risk listed, the risk data quality assessment requires that the project manager determine the extent of the understanding of the risk, collect what data is available, what the quality and reliability is for that data and its integrity. It is only by examining these parameters of the risk can an accurate assessment be reached.

Whichever of the above tools or technique are considered, they are exponentially helped when using one of the available tools found in Having the risk assessment and tracking tool in a larger project management software keeps everything under one roof and accessible to the whole project team.

The importance of a project road map

It’s natural to jump right into a new project without a plan once it has been allocated, this can be due to pressure or excitement.  It’s essential to set the goals before work begins so the project manager, the client, and team are all on the same page. Starting without good goals is an invitation for failure. Good goals need to be realistic, clear, and measurable.

  • Realistic– Are time frames realistic and resources available.
  • Clear– Is the scope of the project understood?
  • Measurable– Are there quantifiable indicators.

There’s no way to know if a project is a success without set goals, with good goals as the foundation of a project roadmap, there is an understanding that the project is headed in the right direction.

Many project managers have a mental picture of exactly what needs to be done and how. The problem is when it remains a mental picture. A vision contained in just one person’s mind can’t be realized by a team of people. There are multiple stakeholders in any project– the client, the company, the team, the end users, and sometimes the larger community. All of these people have questions that need to be answered and even concerns that need to be addressed. A project roadmap can help with that.

Without a clear roadmap, each member of the team is left to interpret the vision of the project for themselves. No matter how skilled the individuals are, every team needs the direction of a clear project plan. Beyond clearly defined goals, the team needs deadlines, communication guidelines, and a way to track their individual progress and that of the project. Lack of direction can result in de-motivation, poor performance, and even high turnover, all of which are bad for both short and long-term outcomes. Without direction, the team and the project outcome may end up in chaos.

Project management involves resource management because the team and company have a finite number of resources to work with. Good resource planning often includes taking other projects into consideration to ensure that the resource demands of one project aren’t in conflict with any concurrent projects. It is common to conduct financial resource planning to cover for human resources, physical work spaces, outside vendors, and any knowledge or skill gaps within a team. Including all of these factors in the project roadmap from the beginning will help avert collisions along the way.

Scope creep is when, over the course of a project, the vision is expanded to include things that were not part of the original scheme. It’s a common cause of project failure, but having a clear plan can prevent it. Scope creep happens when either a) the parameters of the project were not well-defined from the outset or b) there’s pressure–either internally from the team or externally from customers or bosses. If you’ve drawn a good roadmap for your project, you can point back to the plan any time someone suggests an idea that would expand scope and possibly derail of the project.

In the realm of projects and processes, transparency means creating a system in which all team members can access all relevant information about a project easily and efficiently. While some managers feel that providing transparency poses risks to the project, the benefits of transparency far outweigh these risks. Some of those benefits include clear communication, establishing collectively recognized expectations and standards, and improved motivation on the team and individual levels. When combined with a clear roadmap in the form of a string project plan, project transparency leads to better outcomes for both the team and the project itself.

With a clear roadmap from the beginning of a project, advantage can be taken of the power of automation.

  • Have clear goals– Having measurable goals enables automation reminders and status checks to keep projects on track.
  • Communicate the vision– Automated communication on missed deadlines, task completion, and changes to the project can remove the time burden of composing emails and also prevent lapses in communication.
  • Provide direction for the team– Using automated processes to help guide a team’s activities can take a huge burden off the project manager, allowing only focus on larger issues as they arise.
  • Manage resources– Automated resource tracking helps prevent conflicts among projects and gives time to adjust if resources become delayed or unavailable.
  • Avoid scope creep– With automated process management, there’s less room extra tasks to creep in and disrupt the tasks and goals at the core of your project.
  • Effortlessly promote transparency– Transparency is important, but manually generating and sharing status updates other reports can consume valuable time. Automated reports and updates provide transparency without burdening the team.

Automation and roadmaps go hand in hand. If not clearly defined then automation becomes a challenge, but once there is a good plan in place, automation can take project management to the next level.

The Art of Project Management, a discipline for initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing the work of a team to achieve a specific goal. A project is a temporary endeavour designed to produce a unique product, service or outcome. The end to end delivery of the project, known as the project lifecycle is affected by resource, time management and a fixed budget. The purpose of project management is to enhance a particular situation through the avenue of delivery and change. The primary challenge of project management is to achieve all the project goals within the given constraints, normally defined in a user or project manual, created at the beginning of the development process. The primary constraints are scope, time, quality and budget. The secondary and more ambitious challenge is to optimize the allocation of necessary inputs and integrate them to meet a pre-defined objective.