The Specific Reasons Why a Scrum Master is Not a Project Manager


Companies new to Agile often fall into the crucial trap of mistaking the Scrum Master role with the role of a Project Manager. This often leads towards a dramatic detriment in productivity, since the Scrum Master role requires a very specific skillset which is entirely different from the more generalist role of a Project Manager.


This article will point out the main differences between those roles and help you to chose the right person for both positions to make your project a success.


The Classical Role of Project Management


The Project Manager leads the project on a day-to-day basis, controls, communicates and provides direction. His role can be summarizes into the four following categories:


#1: Manage Processes: The Project Manager gets the project “up and running”, selects the team, establishes milestones and project schedules with the team and leads the project on a daily basis


#2: Track Process: The Project Manager monitors the timely achievement of milestones, tracks team costs and investments, overseas the documentation and provides direction


#3: Facilitate Cross-Functional Collaboration: The Project Manager Identifies linkages between sub-projects and coordinates cross-team cooperation

#4: Communication: The coordination of key project-related messaging to internal and external audiences, as well as communicating project information to the line management are Project Management roles

The Specific Role of the Scrum Master

The Scrum Master on the other hand does not manage the team on a daily basis. His role is more of a coaching and a facilitation role regarding Scrum, which makes him the link between the project team and the client.

Scrum Masters cooperate closely with the Executive Sponsor. They ensure that the project complies with Scrum and that all processes are implemented properly. The role can be summarized into the 3 following categories:

#1: Overcome Stumbling Blocks: The Scrum Master steers the development, resolves problems and involves the right people in the development process

#2: Oversee the Groundwork: The Scrum Master keeps two eyes on user experience, functionality issues and feedback from all stakeholders

#3: Provide Guidance: Helping to facilitate changes and assist in the planning process while providing overall Scrum guidance is a crucial function of the Scrum Master


There you have the main difference:

The Scrum Master is there to help and assist with highly specific technical knowledge but not to manage the workflow.

Summary: The Scrum Master is not a Project Manager


The role of the Scrum Master is more specific and technical than the more general role of a Project Manager. Both are important. Confusing these roles however almost certainly leads towards failure in the execution of Agile – and towards huge losses.


Make sure you have these important positions covered with the right people.

2 replies
  1. Valdemar
    Valdemar says:

    The Scrum Master focuses on the development process and mentors the Scrum team. The key responsibilities of the scrum master are:
    Maintaining and removing impediments
    Managing the Scrum process, making the process work
    Planning the release
    Planning the Sprints
    Shielding the team from external interfaces
    Facilitating Scrum meetings as requested
    Ensuring crystal clear communication among everyone involved in the project
    A Scrum Master is usually the team leader. A Scrum Master should ideally have a good balance of the following skills:
    Technical expertise
    Understands the Product Owner’s intent
    A good team player and mentor
    Understands the teams capabilities
    A good motivator
    Problem solver

    The project manager is responsible for:
    Understanding the intended outcomes of the project and ensuring the outcomes are realistic and measurable. They need to understand the outcomes expected from the business case!
    Collaborating with the team to define the scope of work (e.g. under each colored box above, what’s in it, what is the expected outcome), who is responsible for delivering it, and when will it be delivered. Specifically:
    Understanding the point person from each functional team(s) associated to the work (each colored box) and how they have been allocated for managing their work. If allocation bandwidth issues exist, this person would be responsible for facilitation and ultimate resolution of the resourcing issue.
    The job of the project manager is to remove ambiguity in roles and responsibilities by clearly mapping out activities against expected outcomes relative to time. Identifying the interdependencies between deliverables and functional teams up front will better determine what teams should be more integrated and when, relative to the overall product development process.
    Deliverables required to complete all the project work
    Cross-functional resource assignments
    Estimates to complete the work and dependencies between work items

    To put it simply – the project manager is responsible for managing all the boxes together to achieve the desired outcome. They may or may not be responsible for managing the individual boxes. Individual box responsibility is typically done by the subject matter experts. As you can see, Agile development and the Scrum team are only one box!

  2. Vladimir Kostic
    Vladimir Kostic says:

    Very nice article! I agree in ALL of the points, sometimes my take away from articles is “the SM is this or that” without giving much in-depth of the foundations on why is that way.

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