Project Manager and Scrum Master: Which Role Fits Your Project?

6 April 2022

Veronika Nedashkovskaya

Content Manager

Throughout the long history of project management, business leaders across industries have created and developed numerous approaches, methods, and frameworks. All projects are different and require various levels of control and flexibility, according to deadlines, resources, process compliance, or several factors at once. One fact remains unchanged — most projects need a leader.

The agile approach to software development has inevitably brought new roles to the management process. A Scrum Master is one of them, as the Scrum framework holds its leading position among all agile methodologies. However, there’s still confusion about the difference between the roles of Scrum Master and Project Manager.

Is a Scrum Master equivalent to a Project Manager? Can a Project Manager be a Scrum Master? Rocketech specialists answer these questions in our mini-guide.

The Role of Project Manager

A Project Manager (PM) is a professional who organizes the smooth operation of all processes and ensures communication between the customer and the contractor. The PM’s first and foremost responsibility is overall project supervision. It makes them accountable for each team member’s performance and productivity. 

The Project Management Institute’s PMBOK Guide refers to Project Managers as agents of change because they are the key to the team’s success. The PM makes all project-related decisions — from the launch to implementation. And such a specialist’s strategic task is to ensure that the client and the team are satisfied with the work process, communication quality, and the final product. 

Project Manager Responsibilities

The Project Manager’s primary responsibility is to deliver the customer’s vision within the deadline and using existing resources. Typically, the PM:

  • Plans the project and all its stages;
  • Creates documentation;
  • Analyses and estimates possible risks;
  • Participates in the selection and approval of the project team;
  • Distributes resources and delegates responsibilities to team members;
  • Sets and monitors deadlines;
  • Plans and controls budgeting;
  • Supervises team workflow (development, testing, requirements);
  • Prioritizes tasks;
  • Creates a transparent environment for communication between all stakeholders;
  • Communicates with the customer and manages expectations;
  • Tracks team project satisfaction and resolves conflicts within the team or with the customer;
  • Provides the customer with progress and project reports;
  • Presents results, demos, and prototypes to the customer.

Generally, the Project Manager’s duties and responsibilities are either tactical or strategic. The tactical include solving the day-to-day problems and removing obstacles that could hinder progress, while strategic tasks involve coordinating the overall process and the project’s goal.

Project Manager Key Skills

The Project Manager identifies several processes simultaneously. The highest level of self-organization and excellent multitasking skills are the primary requirements in a Project Manager job description. Here is the list of the crucial PM competencies.

  • Planning

The PM should be able to draft a project proposal, develop a strategy, define long- and short-term goals, set priorities, delegate tasks, and define deadlines.

  • Risk Management

Projects don’t always go as planned. The PM should be prepared for unforeseen circumstances and losses and have a comprehensive plan to resolve most issues. A good PM is ahead of the curve.

  • Budgeting

The PM monitors expenses and distributes resources to stay within the approved budget. On top of that, proper budgeting should reduce potential financial risks.

  • Performance Monitoring and Evaluation

The PM provides team leaders and other stakeholders with feedback, analyzing team performance as well as project and product quality.

The Project Manager’s education requirements may vary. Some companies require university degrees, while others focus on years of experience. Although it’s possible to manage IT projects without a strong tech background, any experience in development and related processes is always an advantage. It makes it easier for the PM to estimate the project’s time and cost and evaluate the results.

The Role of Scrum Master

A Scrum Master (SM) is a professional who uses Scrum best practices to train employees working on a particular project to interact with each other, improve their self-management, and increase efficiency. According to the Scrum Master role description, they cannot give other team members tasks or make executive decisions.

Most sources refer to the Scrum Master as a servant leader, process owner, or facilitator. They aim to make all collaboration processes more efficient and predictable, which guarantees the desired result within the expected deadlines. The SM organizes a flawless team interaction according to each team member’s individual preferences and personality traits. Some people work better in a strict business environment, while some need more relaxed, game-like formats – the Scrum Master is a functional manager.

Scrum Master Responsibilities

The Scrum Master has several different tasks best described in The 2020 Scrum Guide. The SM is a leader with no formal authority over the team. According to the Scrum framework, the process is broken down into Sprints — fixed-length events with set goals. In a classic scenario, the SMs manage Sprints and have the following responsibilities.

  1. They help team members to hear and understand each other.

When the manager sets strategic objectives, the SM is responsible for ensuring that the tasks are as transparent as possible. The Scrum Master should focus on establishing a dialogue within the team so that all team members clearly understand each other and the overall task.

  1. They organize the working process.

The SM lines up and sets up particular working protocols established in the Scrum Guide:

  • Sprint Planning; 
  • Daily Scrum;
  • Sprint Review;
  • Sprint Retrospective.

These stages make the team more cohesive. Each participant reflects on their role and productivity. In addition, ongoing reports improve self-discipline and motivate employees to look up to the most productive professionals.

  1. They act as facilitators in discussions.

Working meetings are often ineffective. Participants become distracted, lose the conversation thread, and the discussion goes in the wrong direction. The SM’s task is to keep colleagues’ attention on the original topic and focus on creating high-value increments.

  1. They control the backlog.

A backlog is a list of small tasks planned for each sprint. Scrum Masters control backlogs’ changes and updates: they remove the completed ones and add new ones according to the plan and deadlines.

  1. They help employees overcome work problems.

If a task was not completed on time, there is a reason. The SM finds the reason, helps the team member solve it, and ensures it doesn’t happen again. Scrum assumes that overall efficiency directly depends on the productivity of each team member, stable work conditions, and mutual support.

Scrum Master Key Skills

Scrum Masters are versatile professionals with the main focus on soft and interpersonal communication skills. The fundamental competencies include the following.

  • Knowledge of Agile

The SM is perfectly versed in Scrum principles but is also highly qualified in other Agile frameworks, methodologies, and practices, in case the project requires a combined approach.

  • Organizational Skills

Scrum Masters teach other team members how to improve self-organization and productivity. People cannot effectively teach what they don’t know themselves.

  • Coaching

The SM continually trains the team and guides all members in the right direction. It’s crucial to know how to approach people with different personalities and various backgrounds.

The Scrum Master is a coach, trainer, and motivator in one person. By making team members more self-organized and improving communication, the SM helps them work more efficiently and achieve their goals faster.

Which Role Does Your Project Need?

The difference between the Project Manager role and the Scrum Master’s mission is clear.  The PM is more integrated into the project and plays a traditional management role. The SM acts as one of the team members and doesn’t direct the processes but guides the employees to speed up the project and reach the efficiency peak, as a result.

You need a Project Manager if:You need a Scrum Master if:
You have a big project with a strong top-to-bottom hierarchyYou have made an executive decision to implement Scrum best practices
Your product requires a well-planned but not urgent developmentYour project is dynamic and requires constant changes
You have a large and diverse teamYou need a professional to adapt flexible methodologies for your project
You need an executive working with the product, the team, and all stakeholdersYou need to revamp your product or develop new functions and features

Project Manager vs Scrum Master? 

Despite a few similarities between the Scrum Master and the Project Manager, the first and most substantial difference is their purpose. The SM focuses on improving the team’s performance, increasing self-management, enhancing efficiency, and improving communication. The PM is responsible for the budget, planning, deadlines, team management, stakeholders’ interaction, and project results. In other words, a Scrum Master is not a Project Manager as they have significantly different objectives.

One of the main Rocketech fields of expertise is process management. 150+ successful projects we have completed together with our Partners show the efficiency of our approach, whether it’s the Scrum Master best practices or flawless project management. We see each project as unique and assign the Dedicated Team, according to the client’s requirements and goals. We are always happy to hear your ideas and guide you through the process, including allocating the best leadership. 

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