Scrum Master vs. Project Manager: What’s The Difference?
We examine similarities between the role of Scrum Master and Project Manager, and also take a look at how the two often-confused roles differ.
While Scrum (and Agile overall) is increasingly becoming the development methodology of choice in the tech industry, there’s a lack of education about the roles of individuals involved in the Scrum process. Often, the differences between agile Project Managers and Scrum Masters are confused – or mistaken for the same – when in reality, there are several characteristics that set them apart.
In this post we’ll explore what it means to be a Scrum Master versus a Project Manager, to help you understand the delineation of responsibilities. Understanding the roles will enable you to work more effectively with your Agile development teams and in general.
Agile Project Manager vs. Scrum Master
When it comes to understanding the roles one of the problems is that until you experience Scrum for yourself, it can be easy to think of a Scrum Master as a particularly fancy name for a Project Manager; the Scrum Master is a relatively new concept in development.
A Project Manager’s role includes being both aware of and responsible for the budget and business value of the project. Project Managers have a Point A, a Point B, resources X, and time Y. Their responsibilities include:
- Forming the team
- Setting goals
- Devising equations that result in solving the business problem
The role of the Scrum Master is to keep track of the development process each step of the way. While the Project Manager is goal-oriented, the Scrum Master is a creature of rituals and rules. Their responsibilities include:
- Managing projects
- Keeping track of the little steps, day-by-day
Difference Between Agile Project Manager And Scrum Master
Given the information above, you can see that the Project Manager’s role is higher-level, as they’re responsible for putting a strategic plan in place. The Scrum Master’s role then is more “in the weeds,” as they ensure the process is followed which enables the plan to succeed.
If it helps, you can also imagine the military roles of the officer and the non-commissioned officer. The officer oversees the battle strategically, but the non-commissioned officers are often the ones who have to manage the tactics and the infantry to accomplish the goals set out by the officer. Over-extending this metaphor, the general would be the client, who has a war to win with their business problems.
The balance of differences and similarities between the Scrum Master and Project Manager eliminates much of the micromanagement that Project Managers used to do. Instead of having the Project Manager checking in on the team, progress can instead be tracked through Pivotal Tracker – a tool we use which can be shared with the client.
The Agile Development Process
Agile development is built around sprints, and includes several Scrum “rituals” which the team follows. The process and rituals include the following:
- Spring planning
- Story writing
- Backlog prioritization
- Daily stand-up
A sprint is a way to tackle some specific development goal that furthers the overall project, and the Scrum process starts with a sprint planning meeting – a one hour session where the work to be done for that sprint is selected and prioritized, and broken down into individual assignments (called “stories”). These stories are compared by relative difficulty and given a “size” rating.
This is followed by two weeks of development based on that prioritized backlog, after which a demo presentation is given. Another ritual which takes place during the two weeks is the daily stand-up meeting. In this meeting, team members explain what they accomplished the day before, what we plan to accomplish during the day. They also notify the team if there are any roadblocks others can assist with.
Scrum Master vs. Project Manager Roles In Agile
The Scrum Master functions as a facilitator to these “rituals” and keeps things on track. But a Scrum Master also functions as an interpreter of sorts, interpreting the business goals of the client and turning them into tasks that need to be done. They also interpret the technical successes of the development team into meaningful feedback for the client.
So where does the Project Manager fit into this? Versus Scrum Masters, who are deep in the details and heavily involved with the developers on the day-to-day, it’s the Project Manager’s job to oversee things and align with the bigger picture. Project Managers work with Scrum Masters on project status, to ensure the team is on track with the larger timeline and budget and aligned with business goals. If they aren’t, the Project Manager would work with other departments to communicate this and adjust expectations with a client accordingly.
At Praxent, we are large proponents of the Scrum methodology, and our teams include both Project Managers and Scrum Masters. If you’re ready to get started on your next development project (built with Scrum, of course), contact us today!