Is there a difference between a Scrum Master and a Project Manager (PM)? As we move further into the ‘Agile Age’, the role of Scrum Master is becoming frequently misinterpreted as the Project Manager position within organisations.
Both of these roles are vital to projects; however, they seem to cause confusion, especially for new professionals who are stepping into the project management arena for the first time or looking to build a career in project management.
For some people it is a struggle to understand, whether there are any differences in these roles or are they just the same? And if they are same, then why are there different job titles? The Scrum Master is often viewed as the Project Manager in an Agile environment.
Now, imagine that there is a plain undecorated cupcake and muffin on a plate right in front of you… Both delicious treats appear to be the same, but there is a difference in the baking process and texture between the two. A Scrum Master and Project Manager might share some similarities, but the roles are completely different and require unique skill sets.
In this article, we are going to correct this common misconception and distinguish the responsibilities, soft skills, differences and similarities of the roles, and whether a Project Manager should transition to Scrum Master.
First Of All, What Is The Scrum Framework?
Before we discuss the roles in-depth, we need to understand the concept of the Scrum Framework for better clarity on the subject for discussion. Scrum is growing in popularity in Software Development and is basically a simple framework for effective team collaboration on complex projects.
Agile and Scrum are also not the same thing, even though Scrum is focused around Continuous Improvement, which is a core principle of Agile. Think of Scrum as the framework for getting work completed and Agile as a mindset.
The Scrum framework will enable you to start thinking in the way of delivering value to your customers and practice building all of the important Agile principles into your everyday tasks. Scrum is both lightweight and heuristic, simple to understand but it can also be tough to master it.
Scrum Master VS Project Manager
So, it’s time to understand these two roles in more details – let’s go!
What Is A Scrum Master?
The role of Scrum Master was created as part of the Scrum Framework and the name was initially intended to mean someone who is a Scrum Expert and can therefore teach others.
A Scrum Master is typically the term used to refer to this role, even by team who do not follow the Scrum Framework, other terms also include Iteration Manager, Agile Coach or Team Coach.
A good Scrum Master knows exactly what tools and resources a team needs in order to accomplish their goals and is able to remove any roadblocks or distractions that could slow the team down in a Sprint.
Whilst, there are no defined levels of skill for Scrum Masters - in practice there are different levels of experience:
Rotating Scrum Master
This is where team members rotate Scrum Master responsibilities (mostly the administrative ones) amongst each other on a Sprint by Sprint basis.
Part Time Scrum Master
This is where one individual on the team takes on the responsibilities of a Scrum Master in addition to their own responsibilities.
Full Time Dedicated Scrum Master
This is where one individual’s sole responsibility is to become Scrum Master and is best suited for a team learning Agile principles.
This is where on individual does not have a specifically assigned team but works with several teams on certain needs.
The role of Scrum Master does not typically have any actual authority and the professionals who fill this role have to lead from a position of influence and often take a servant-leadership stance.
What Is A Project Manager?
A Project Manager (PM) is a professional who will plan, lead teams, keep projects on time and within budget and are ultimately responsible for the success or failure of each project. We have found that there are four different kinds of Project Managers:
Technical Project Manager
The Technical Project Manager has full command over project management practices and does not compromise on key deliverables and key performance indicators of projects. The Technical Project Manager uses their analytical and problem-solving skills, in combination with their decision-making abilities on every project.
Adventurous Project Manager
The Adventurous Project Manager lives by the rule of the higher the risk, the higher the reward and is not afraid to take risks on a project. The Adventurous Project Manager does stay inside strategic boundaries when taking risks and often do it to meet the organisation’s strategic objectives.
Expert Project Manager
The Expert Project Manager has both experience and knowledge in their arsenal and focus on business opportunities, which increase business growth and provide trustworthy evidence to support its case. The Expert Project Manager is able to execute various project management methodologies to perfection and deliver high quality results.
Supportive Project Manager
There are three aspects to project management – processes, people and technology. The Supportive Project Manager puts a lot of emphasis on people but does not neglect processes or technology. The Supportive Project Manager believes in inspiration, motivation and delegation in order to achieve project success. The Supportive Project Manager shares a bond with their project team, who help them to deliver exceptional results.
Each Project Manager plays to their own strengths and works hard to achieve their desired project goals.
What Does A Scrum Master Do?
We will now take a closer look at the responsibilities of a Scrum Master in Agile Development. The Scrum Master will:
• Facilitate Daily Scrum, Sprint Planning, Sprint Demo & Sprint Retrospective meetings.
• Resolve any conflicts by focusing on the Scrum values of openness, honesty and respect.
• Forecast the number of deliverables possible in an iteration based on evidence.
• Estimate and plan for the whole Software Development Project.
• Coach the team in Agile practices and emphasise on individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
• Help the team members in clarifying goals and actions to achieve the goals.
• Shield the team for any distractions or interference.
• Ensure the correct application of the Scrum process
• Serve the team rather than direct the team.
The role of Scrum Master throughout the whole Scrum process will result in the increase of satisfaction levels of both the end-user and customer.
What Does A Project Manager Do?
Project Management has always played an important part in the business and is only getting more crucial as time goes by.
Here, we are going to take a closer look at key Project Manager responsibilities:
Planning A Project
A Project Manager will formulate project plans around the project’s objectives, budget and timeline. These project plans will guide the entire project team from ideation to fruition and will include the scope of the project.
Delivering Business Needs
Projects are the lifeline of a viable business and Project Managers have become integral to the continued success of a company in general. A Project Manager must ensure the business value of a project is clearly defined from the outset and understood by all stakeholders.
A Project Manager should follow these steps to deliver Business Value:
Understand The Vision – The sponsor of the project will be able to identify their vision for the project and the vision should include a high level view of the scope of the project and the reason why the project was created in the first place. The Project Manager should sit down with the sponsor and document the vision. The Project Manager really needs to believe in the purpose of the project and feel that it’s worth of the effort involved.
Be Clear About The Business Value Of The Project – After the Project Manager has captured the vision of the project, the Business Value will be documented. It is crucial that the organisation identifies the value the project will deliver and how the results will be measured during the project. The Business Value should be stated in monetary terms whenever possible, but there are times where non-monetary benefits will be identified.
Use the Vision And Business Value To Inspire The Project Team – A key responsibility of a Project Manager is to motivate the Project Team. It is important for the Project Manager to inspire the team with the vision and business value of the project. If the Project Manager can get the Project Team on-board, then they will become more engaged in their work and enthusiastic about delivering value to the customer.
Measure The Realisation Of The Business Value – The Project Manager is responsible for reporting on the progress of a project and the realisation of business value as deliverables are completed. The first realisation of the increased value might not be measurable for a while after the project is completed.
Setting Realistic Timescales
Every Project Manager should possess the essential skill of being able to set realistic timescales for projects. It not only keeps stakeholders happy; it helps to ensure that things get done in a timely manner and builds a positive reputation.
A huge risk in Project Management is under-delivering, if you set deadlines which are too tight, then you will add stress to your team, but if the deadlines are too loose, then you might slow the project right down and won’t be able to move forward as quickly as you’d like.
Here are some tips for setting realistic deadlines in a project:
• Break the project into manageable steps and set sub-deadlines for each step.
• Think about previous projects and its delays, assume that it could happen again and factor this into your timeline.
• Identify what else might be going on at the same time as the project, members of the Project Team may be on annual leave or it could fall into a busy period with other conflicting priorities.
• If you are setting deadlines, which rely on the work of other people, then check in with them and make sure that these timescales are reasonable.
• Get into the habit of reviewing and meeting your sub-deadlines as this will give you a better chance of avoiding any unpleasant surprises.
• If possible, work on tasks well ahead of deadlines and you might have the bonus of completing the project early.
Ensure Quality Of Products
A Project Manager must ensure that the services and products that the project delivers are at the required quality level and keep the quality of deliverables consistent. If you use quality management processes in the project, then you will continue to have happy customers.
Working Within A Budget
Are you someone who consistently overspends in life?
Well, you will need to learn quickly how to negotiate, make the most of a budget and save money where you can. A Project Manager is responsible for creating, moderating and being in control of the budget for a project.
The organisation will expect you to keep to the budget as closely as possible and if certain aspects of the project end up costing more than forecasted, then it will be up to you to reallocate funds when necessary, or go back to the customer and ‘ask for more’.
Leading A Team
The role of Project Manager requires excellent communication, people and leadership skills as well as the ability to identify other’s strengths and weaknesses in a team.
Documenting A Project
A Project Manager is tasked with coming up with effective ways to analyse the success or failure of each project. You will write and send status reports and ensure that all actions are approved and signed off throughout the project.
Reviewing A Project
Just because the project is completed, it doesn’t mean your work is over…
A Project Manager will review the performance of a project, take note of the lessons learned, identify key areas for further development and determine the satisfaction of stakeholders.
Becoming An Agile Project Manager
Agile Project Management is the modern, flexible approach to Project Management as it allows you to break large projects down into more manageable tasks, which are tackled in short iterations or sprints.
Agile Project Management allows you to adapt to changes quicker and deliver work fast. The objective of Agile is to produce shorter development cycles and more product releases than traditional waterfall Project Management.
As a Project Manager, you can use two different Agile Project Management Frameworks, Scrum or Kanban – both Agile project methodologies has the same basic processes, which include:
1. Project Planning
2. Product Roadmap Creation
3. Release Planning
4. Sprint Planning
5. Daily Meetings
6. Sprint Review & Retrospective
What Soft Skills Do You Need As A Scrum Master?
In the Agile world, every Scrum Master should have the following critical soft skills:
A key element of a Scrum Master’s role is to help everyone on the team follow Agile principles properly and strong teaching skills are mandatory, especially for teams who are new to the Scrum process. A Scrum Master must know what to do and be able to explain how and why to everyone on the team.
Scrum Teams are made up of a mix of individuals, personalities and work style that could result in conflict from time to time. If a disagreement cannot be resolved amongst themselves, then it is down to the Scrum Master to manage any conflicts, which could slow down the progress of the project.
Boost Your Team’s Strengths & Eliminate Weaknesses
Experienced Scrum Masters recognise their team members strengths and place them in positions to succeed and at the same time, they help their team to reduce issues and weaknesses to reach their full potential.
Become A Great Listener
The skill of being a great listener can make or break a Scrum Master’s career. A good Scrum Master will understand the social and political scene of their departments and even though Scrum Masters have no true authority, they rule by comradery and respect.
What Soft Skills Do You Need As A Project Manager?
In the project management world, every Project Manager should have the following essential soft skills:
Leadership is a necessary characteristic of a Project Manager. A Project Manager must be able to inspire other members of the team to complete work and convey the vision and value of the project to team members. Leadership also means that you can show people how to achieve their own objectives by aligning themselves to the project’s objectives.
A project can involve a variety of people such as the customer, sponsor, vendor, quality assurance team and management. The core project team interacts with most of these people and each other on the team day after day. Team members on the project must feel safe, collaborate well and trust each other. The goal of team building exercises can create a project environment where team members bond with each other.
Communication really is a two-way street, but as a Project Manager you need to have strong communication skills. In a project management team, open and transparent communication must come from the top-down and from the bottom-up. The Project Manager should communicate decisions and information honestly with the team and the project team should be able to feel comfortable enough to be open with the Project Manager about their concerns or suggestions.
So, What’s The Difference Between A Scrum Master & Project Manager?
Scrum Masters and Project Managers have significant responsibilities when it comes to improving team productivity and how well they work together. Even though, both roles are required to have the same emotional intelligence, which allows them to connect with other team members, Project Managers adopt a more holistic approach to employee development.
The common overall long-term goal is the successful completion of each project, however the way the Scrum Master and Project Manager achieve this goal is totally different. The fundamental difference between a Scrum Master and Project Manager is:
A Scrum Master ensures that the team members are following Agile practices in the right direction and that outside influences are not interfering with the team in a destructive way. In a Scrum Master role, there is no place for the statistics or measurements that Project Managers tend to use to their advantage.
A Project Manager follows spent time, planned budget, scope and risks to guarantee project realisation. In a Project Manager role, the focus is on the whole project process instead of a specified framework or principles. If a project doesn’t achieve its set objectives, the responsibility rests with the Project Manager, whereas in Agile – the responsibility is shared by the team.
How Can You Transition From Project Manager To Scrum Master?
Are you a Project Manager? Is your organisation looking to move to Agile or Scrum practices? Do Scrum Master who were previous Project Managers have more success than those who didn’t? Who knows
It is possible for a Project Manager to transition to a Scrum Master role as long as they remember the following:
• Do not rely exclusively on your Project Management skills.
• Learn how to make the switch to a Servant-Leader.
• Learn how to empathise with your team members.
• Do not mistake daily stand-ups as status updates.
• Understand Agile, Scrum and Lean Principles.
• Get feedback on your own performance from the Scrum Team.
• Radiate information to stakeholder and provide information to the team, so they can focus on their work.
• Participate in a formal Scrum Master training course and become certified.
Purple Griffon offer the easy and affordable Scrum training courses below, which can be taken in a public classroom, virtual classroom or online at your own pace:
If you have any questions about enrolling onto these Agile Scrum training courses, then you can have a chat with our friendly Account Managers on +44 (0)1539 736 828 or email email@example.com and they will be able to help you straight away.
How well do you know the Scrum Framework after reading this article?
Are you getting ready to take your Scrum Master examination? Or are you already a Scrum Master and want to refresh your knowledge of Scrum? Find out how much you really know about the Scrum Framework with our 16-question Scrum Master Mini Quiz.
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