Scrum master or a project manager: who is who and what can they do for you?

Cathy Banks, Joint Managing Director at Analyze Consulting, discusses the roles of a scrum master and a project manager and what can they do for you.

Read time 2min 50sec
Scrum master vs.project manager - what is the difference?
Scrum master vs.project manager - what is the difference?

With a major shift towards agile delivery, there has been some confusion around the role of the project manager within this new world. Agile thinking introduced the concept of a scrum master, which may seem similar to a project manager on the surface, but is in fact distinctly different, says Cathy Banks, Joint Managing Director at Analyze Consulting.

The two most important things to understand are:

1. A scrum master is not a project manager (and vice versa).
2. One person cannot fulfil both these roles, particularly when it's a large-scale project that touches many different teams.

So what makes them so different then? Let's take a closer look...

A project manager is responsible for:

* Managing the project scope and deliverables, schedule and timelines, budget and costs;
* Ensuring that a quality product is delivered that's aligned with the project goals and objectives;
* Proactively identifying and managing risks;
* Problem solving and issue management;
* Creating a work breakdown structure and allocating tasks;
* Prioritisation of requirements;
* Tracking and reporting of project progress;
* Keeping stakeholders engaged throughout the project lifecycle;
* Coordinating interdependencies between teams;
* Project communication, both internal and external, and to all stakeholder levels; and
* Aligning to company policies and procedures.

Cathy Banks.
Cathy Banks.

Project managers are typically strong leaders who have sight of all the moving parts of a project. Their strength comes from their ability to delegate tasks appropriately while playing the overall coordination role to ensure everyone and everything is moving forward.

Scrum masters, on the other hand, are responsible for:

* Managing the scrum process from beginning to end;
* Building trust and promoting open communication between team members;
* Coaching, mentoring and motivating their team members;
* Helping the team with their estimations;
* Facilitating sprint planning sessions and scrum meetings;
* Removing any obstacles to ensure sprint tasks are on track;
* Shielding the team from any external factors;
* Monitoring and reporting on sprint progress;
* Enforcing timeboxes (aka sprint durations);
* Engaging with the product owner to ensure his/her product vision is being adhered to; and
* Creating a shared team vision and building a self-organised team.

Scrum masters typically have a certain level of technical expertise, which is what backs up their ability to be a mentor to the team. They have a good understanding of their team's capabilities and are always on the lookout for ways to increase their output. Some may even say that they're the glue that keeps the team together.

From this we can see that project managers and scrum masters have different focus areas; but by looking at their specific skills and responsibilities hopefully it's also become clear that these two roles can (and should) complement each other. Therefore, instead of entering into an "either/or" debate, companies should rather be focusing their energies on identifying ways in which these two roles can work together more effectively.

Need a project manager or scrum master (or both) for your next big project? Analyze can help fill that gap by ensuring that you have the right person with the right expertise to get the job done. To discuss consulting options, get in touch.

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