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March 3, 2023

Scrum Master vs. Project Manager: Are They Different?

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Did you know one of the top internet project management searches is “Scrum Master vs. Project Manager”? Maybe a similar search brought you here.

Project Managers have been around for many years, while the role of Scrum Master has developed in the last two decades with the advent of the agile development approach and its guiding principles.

So what are these roles and how do they compare?

Project Managers: Practitioners of Project Management 

The Project Management Institute defines the role of Project Managers this way: “Essentially, Project Managers oversee projects from start to finish. They supervise tasks, communicate effectively with stakeholders, and ensure that every aspect of the project is completed on time.”

Project Managers are typically responsible for:

  • Defining project goals and key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Tracking team progress, leveraging expertise to create a critical path, and removing impediments to progress
  • Managing risks
  • Identifying and managing resources and the project budget
  • Managing the mechanics of a project plan
  • Providing ongoing reporting and promoting effective team communication 
  • Tracking and measuring outcomes
  • Using project management tools to help effectively manage the project

Scrum Masters: Masters of Ceremonies

Scrum Masters have a more specific scope. Their role is used in agile projects that take an iterative development approach called Scrum. A team practicing Scrum moves through a series of product releases by way of short cycles called sprints. 

Here’s how Agile Alliance defines the role of a Scrum Master: 

“The Scrum Master is accountable for establishing Scrum… They do this by helping everyone understand Scrum theory and practice, both within the Scrum Team and the organization. The Scrum Master is accountable for the Scrum Team’s effectiveness. They do this by enabling the Scrum Team to improve its practices, within the Scrum framework.”

Scrum Masters attend to agile principles as they shepherd teams from sprint to sprint for each release. Scrum Masters typically work with Product Owners along with the team to ensure members are able to move successfully through the backlog of requirements called stories. 

Viewed through the lens of key Scrum ceremonies, the focus of Scrum Masters becomes more clear. Scrum ceremonies include:

  • Sprint planning - a meeting prior to each sprint that examines the stories planned for development. This includes a review of story estimation, potential risks and impediments, as well as potential stretch goals
  • Daily Stand Up - this is a time-boxed meeting limited to 15 minutes that addresses what each team member did the day before, what they will be working on today, and whether they are encountering any roadblocks
  • Sprint review - provides an opportunity for the team to demonstrate the progress they have made during the sprint, obtain feedback from team members, confirm the “definition of done” has been met, and celebrate successes
  • Release retrospective - meant to drive continuous process improvement, retrospectives identify what went well and what can be improved in future releases

The Scrum Master is less a manager than a facilitator, promoting ways to implement the tenants of agile.

Scrum Masters are responsible for::

  • Guiding the team in effective use of Scrum 
  • In collaboration with the product owner, helping the team work through the requirements backlog for each sprint
  • Facilitating the process of estimation 
  • Removing roadblocks that impede the team’s progress
  • Providing focus on team progress and quality gates, such as the “definition of done”
  • Establishing and following key Scrum ceremonies within the team
  • Using project management tools that can effectively support agile practices

Different Purposes

Scrum Masters and Project Managers really serve different purposes. A Project Manager leads a project end-to-end. A Scrum Master serves the goal of effectively practicing Scrum for agile delivery. While it’s technically possible to use both roles on a project, Scrum practitioners don’t typically employ both roles. Generally, Scrum uses Product Owners in coordination with the Scrum Master and a self-managed team.

Given these different purposes, here is a comparison of the key attributes of each role:

Scrum Master Project Manager
Implements an agile Scrum framework Can implement a variety of project management methodologies
Coordinates with Product leader and team in the planning and work done within each iteration of the product release Manages projects end-to-end, both simple and complex throughout the product life cycle
Focus on agile practices and ceremonies Focus on project planning, logistics, tasks, timelines, resources and budget
Acts as facilitator in collaborative and self-managing teams Manager of the overall project goals and objectives; Assigns tasks to team members
Manages one or more small-sized agile teams Manages one or more small or large teams

Finally, as significant roles in the world of project management, both Project Managers and Scrum Masters are responsible for practicing effective leadership -  promoting great communication, collaboration, motivation, creative problem solving - and, ultimately, contributing to project success.

Whether your team is guided by a Project Manager or a Scrum Master, DevStride can Help

If you need access to better tools that can help you plan and control projects, then schedule an introductory call with us today.  

DevStride easily supports both agile and traditional project management frameworks. A refreshingly easy-to-use tool, DevStride provides the robustness and insight project leaders need. 

Our integrated work management platform provides teams with great visibility and alignment. Understand the true state of the work, even as priorities shift. DevStride is equipped with a range of features and tools that can help you manage your projects. These features include strategic planning, product and project planning, scheduling, task and milestone tracking, communication and collaboration, as well as automated workflows, reporting, and analytics.

By using DevStride’s platform, you can gain a holistic view of your projects and initiatives and ensure that they are aligned with your company's broader goals and objectives. This can help you deliver successful projects and improve the overall performance of your organization.

We’ll show you exactly how DevStride can help your teams manage exceptional project and product delivery. For projects big and small, DevStride is here for you!

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