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. 

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