4 minute read // 12 - 07 - 2022

Differences – project manager & scrum master

We’d like to share with you the differences between Project Manager and Scrum Master. Yes, we do understand that the Project Manager role and Scrum Master role are totally different and should not be compared, however many told us they have a genuine intent to become an awesome Scrum Master and knowing the differences between

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We’d like to share with you the differences between Project Manager and Scrum Master.

Yes, we do understand that the Project Manager role and Scrum Master role are totally different and should not be compared, however many told us they have a genuine intent to become an awesome Scrum Master and knowing the differences between Project Manager and Scrum Master will be helpful for them to create the transition path from Project Manager to an awesome Scrum Master. 

An exercise to elaborate

In the first part of the exercise we asked the participants to elaborate as much information as possible about the project manager role and then at the second part of the exercise we compared the differences of Scrum Master role and the Project Manager role based on the information they have elaborated in the first part of the exercise. So this is how the exercise goes. So for the first part of the exercise as we concentrate on the project manager role first we asked every participant to write down on sticky notes as many activities as they possibly know that the project manager does from day to day. So after participants have listed down all of the activities that they know that the project manager does from day to day, we ask them to merge similar items and narrow it down to at least three to four items.

And until today, most participants agree that project managers in essence do planning, controlling, monitoring, and reporting the project status to the stakeholders.

The context is a project

And the context here is a project. So after they have merged similar items and narrowed them down, we asked them to look at the stickies and we asked them another question we asked them: “Based on these activities, how do we know that project managers are successful in doing their job? What is their scope of work and accountabilities? How do we evaluate whether Project Managers are successful in doing their job?

What are their key performance indicator?” So until today, the majority of participants agree that the Project Managers are deemed successful in doing their job when the project they manage is delivered on time, on the scope, and on budget. Again the context projects. So after they have elaborated the Project Managers’ scope of work and accountabilities along with the key performance indicator, we asked them to look at the stickies again and I asked them another question for one last time. We asked them what are the required skills for Project Managers to be successful in achieving their accountabilities.

So until today, the majority of participants agree that in essence project managers need great project management skills to ensure that the project they manage is delivered on time, on the scope, and on budget.

In some contexts, project managers need to have technical skills. For example, if they are managing construction projects they at least need to have technical skills in construction or civil engineering, or architecture. After they’ve completed the first part which is to elaborate as much information as possible about the Project Manager role, we turn to the second part where we explain the Scrum Master core purposes, what are the Scrum Master main accountability and also the required skills for Scrum Master to be effective and successful in doing their job. So first we explained to them the Scrum Master core purposes, why they exist and what the Scrum Master does from day to day.

The Scrum Master exists not to control but to enable. The Scrum Master exists to enable agility throughout the whole company and not only the Scrum team. Control implies limitation and constraint. The Scrum Master enables the whole organization to go beyond limitations and achieve greatness in delivering value continuously to the customers.

Scrum master creates transparency

Rather than becoming the middle person to monitor and to report, the Scrum Master creates an organization of trust and creates an organization that is transparent so everyone within the company has full visibility of their current reality and makes decisions based on that rather than using political power.

The Scrum Master creates an environment of psychological safety so this transparency is used to accelerate learning rather than used as an opportunity to blame someone.

After we explained to them the core purposes of a Scrum Master, why the role exists, what the Scrum Master does from day to day, we explained to them the Scrum Master scope and accountabilities which go beyond projects. We also explain to them how we evaluate the Scrum Master performance, what are the Scrum Master key performance indicators. The Scrum Master scope of work and accountability does not project. The Scrum Master scope and accountability go beyond the project, that is to continuously improve the whole company’s agility.

Unlike a project that has a defined timeline, improving the whole company agility does not have a defined timeline and is a never-ending work because the company can always be more agile than yesterday.

Influencing the company, not just the projects

An awesome scrum master is doing an awesome job if the agility metrics are improving from time to time. And the scrum master is not only focused at the Scrum team level only. The Scrum Master needs to influence everyone in the company so that the whole company’s agility can be improved from time to time. So the Scrum Master is like the organization’s change leader and coach.

Unlike the Project Manager, the Scrum Master does not manage projects. The Scrum Master continuously improves the organization’s agility in delivering value to customers.

This is a leadership and a coaching role. After we explained to them the Scrum Master scope of work and accountabilities and also the key performance indicator, we explained to them the Scrum Master required skills and the stances that the Scrum Master used to be effective and successful in doing their job. Because the Scrum Master is the organization change leader and coach, the required skills for Scrum Master to be effective and successful in doing their job are coaching skills, facilitation skills teaching skills, and behavioral science skills. As Scrum Master also uses the mentoring stance, the Scrum Master is expected to have technical skills also because the Scrum Master needs to bring their own experience especially when they are mentoring the development teams on cleaning up their technical debt or mentoring the management about servant leadership.

An awesome Scrum Master knows when to apply the right skills and the right stances according to the context where the Scrum Master is in to improve the whole organization’s agility.