Scrum Master Vs Project Manager: Different Roles, Different Individuals

A common misconception among those new to Agile software development is that the Scrum Master role is identical to the traditional Project Manager role. In reality, this is demonstrably untrue and differences between these roles is illustrated when we consider scope of influence and ownership. While there are some shared tasks and similarities between these roles, they are at their foundations, separate roles with incongruent fields of influence.

Scrum Master is a facilitator focused intently on a Scrum Team and its deliverables. The term facilitator is used specifically because the Scrum Master does not lead the team, dictate the work they will do, or the order that the work will be done. A Scrum Master’s role is one of support. Decision-making powers within the Scrum Team are decentralized; the Scrum Master facilitates conversations that lead to solutions. The Scrum Master coaches the team and the Product Owner in Scrum processes, but does not make standalone task level or feature decisions. Essentially, the Scrum Master is embedded within a Scrum Team and is responsible for the work that the Scrum Team develops and launches.

In large projects with multiple Scrum Teams, a Project Manager is usually positioned to track the project as a whole, managing project timelines, budgets, contracts, and risk. In this position, the Project Manager is a leader, a decision maker and is empowered with dictating the priority of work, cutting/adding features and adjusting resources while the Scrum Master is concerned with budget, contracts, and timelines as they relate directly to the Scrum Team and their deliverables.

The Scrum Master and Project Manager roles are both important in their own way. Each project is unique and as such, management should exercise careful consideration when creating staffing plans for non-development task owners. It may be that a project requires a Scrum Master to help facilitate execution, along with the dedicated contract negotiation skills of a practiced Project Manager. In this case, it would be preferable to have a Scrum Master who also happens to be a Project Manager selected for that role. Many times, the Project Manager and Scrum Master roles are staffed by different individuals to prevent overtasking and conflicts of interest that could break down the Agile process.