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Mapping of the Project Manager Role to the ScrumMaster Role

10 March 2014

The challenge

Undoubtedly, there is a surge in the adoption of Agile within organizations, as noted by the Seventh Annual State of Agile Development Survey (2013), conducted by VersionOne, which points out that Scrum comprises of 54 percent of Agile development practices (p.5). Increasingly, however, the question arises: What is the role of the project manager in the Scrum team? I have seen organizations jumping on the Agile train, making a development lead or the project manager into the ScrumMaster. But are these organizations doing the right thing by turning existing roles into the ScrumMaster role -- and if so, are they doing it correctly? Let us consider a few examples:
  1. The size of the product backlog -- Constantly growing
  2. Using percent completion to track how much work is done on a user story
  3. Using the user story template but defining every story in a business requirements document spanning a couple of pages
  4. Allowing changes within a sprint
The above is a list of practical and realistic challenges; a project manager using a traditional structured approach to project management will manage them ineffectively. Let us explore how a ScrumMaster or project manager would react.

Challenge Project Manager ScrumMaster
Product Backlog Size The change in requirements is scope creep. The PM will consider it a risk and mitigate change using change control procedures. If the product backlog is not growing or shrinking, the ScrumMaster will get concerned and engage the product owner's ability to groom the backlog and evaluate progress.
Percent Completion Although effective project managers don't consider 90 percent completion of a task as done, some project managers may use task completion as progress in change. The definition of done is completion, not a percentage of completion. The ScrumMaster would not even ask for this in a self-organized team. If the ScrumMaster did so, then he or she would be blocking the team's progress.
Incorrect Use of User Story The project manager may get too detailed in understanding the user story and in breaking it down to manageable tasks or hammock activities for tracking. The ScrumMaster will challenge the team when the user story is not following the three basic requirements -- cards, conversation, and confirmation -- effectively. If a use case approach is presented, the ScrumMaster would intervene.
Changes Within a Sprint So long as the change is approved by the client, the project manager will look into crashing or fast-tracking approaches to accommodate the change and evaluate a schedule update. The ScrumMaster will challenge changes within the sprint, except in commitment-driven approaches, and, where mandated, push for terminating the sprint.

As is evident with a few examples, a ScrumMaster and project manager think differently. It is therefore no wonder that the Scrum framework doesn't specifically call for a project manger role. A project manager need not even be brought into a true Scrum environment, and organizations succumb to failure when retrofitting a project manager to act like a ScrumMaster just because he or she attended training or earned a certification.

This doesn't mean that there are no synergies between a project manager and ScrumMaster. The principles of project management also incorporate rolling wave planning, as the project itself is defined as a temporary (time-boxed) endeavor with progressive (incremental) elaboration (iterative) of a unique product or service. The project managers can use several earned value (EVM) metrics, such as schedule performance index (SPI) or cost performance index (CPI), while ScrumMasters use velocity and burn rate to measure the progress. Both methods can be used in an organization effectively so long as the expectations of the project manager and ScrumMaster from the individual, team, and the organizational views are clearly understood.

Shall we embark on this journey by defining these roles?

Who is a ScrumMaster?

Much has been said about this role, but let us get to the key points (Hunton 2012, Starke 2012). A ScrumMaster is a core member of the Scrum team, responsible for ensuring that all the Scrum processes are followed. This role takes on the responsibility of a coach or a facilitator, as Scrum focuses on generative rules to support specific behaviors and focuses on serving the team and eliminating the obstacles. The team is held responsible in Agile projects, but the accountability rests with the product owner. When an organization fails to hold the product owner accountable for the product team and ensure that the required business domain knowledge is available for the product owner to adjust for risks and make priority decisions for the team, the ScrumMaster is indispensable to hold these roles together and raise concerns to the organizational stakeholders.

Synthesized at a high level, in the spirit of Scrum, let us define a few important user stories, defining the role of a Scrum Master as follows:
  1. As a ScrumMaster, I would like to ensure that all the Scrum processes are followed so that the Scrum team delivers on the incremental minimally marketable features to the client iteratively.
  2. As a ScrumMaster, I would like to ensure that the team is protected from external disturbances so that they can focus on the sprint goals.
  3. As a ScrumMaster, I would like to ensure that the product owner is available to groom the product backlog so that the team has a consistent flow of work that can benefit the customer.
  4. As a ScrumMaster, I would like to ensure that the product owner prioritizes features for the team so that the team delivers user stories at a consistent pace.
  5. As a ScrumMaster, I would like to coach the performing organization on Scrum processes so that the organization makes available the required systems and tools for continuous build, automated testing, etc.
  6. As a ScrumMaster, I would like to promote the use of information radiators and open work spaces to increase visibility of progress and osmotic communication.

Who is a Project Manager?

According to the Project Management Institute, a project is a temporary endeavor to deliver a unique product or service. A project manager is responsible for the quad constraints (triple constraints of time, cost, and scope plus quality) and is finally held accountable for the project outcomes. The project manager must have a good business background, domain-specific skills, and also project management skills that involve managing people who don't report to them, monitoring the contingency and management reserves to control known and unknown risks, evaluating quality, avoiding project slips, computing metrics impacting the project health, and communicating updates. Extending the same spirit of Scrum to the project manager, let us capture a few important user stories:
  1. As a project manager, I would like to get frequent updates on the project's progress so that I can monitor slips from baseline for schedule and cost.
  2. As a project manager, I would like to understand the contractual requirements to be met so that I can ensure all outcomes are met satisfactorily.
  3. As a project manager, I would like to proactively identify, monitor, and control risks, assumptions, and constraints so that the project outcomes are not impacted, displeasing the client.
  4. As a project manager, I would like to identify and control scope creep so that appropriate corrective actions can be taken to satisfactorily meet the performing organization's and client's needs as agreed with the client.
  5. As a project manager, I would like to understand the development process for my project so that I can use the appropriate scheduling model, such as the critical path or critical chain method.
  6. As a project manager, I would like to know the transition of tasks between groups so that I can monitor progress without calling unnecessary meetings.
  7. As a project manager, I would like to understand the processes used by various groups so that I can ensure that quality is being monitored and checked from the beginning.
  8. As a project manager, I would like to identify all the stakeholders so that I can put together a clear and concise communication plan to keep them all informed.
  9. As a project manager, I would like to understand the availability of the resources and access to the organizational assets to ensure the schedule built uses optimal resource allocation.
  10. As a project manager, I would like to use lessons learned as a vehicle to bring effective and efficient processes so that the organizational project management framework matures to benefit other projects.

An Agile PMO center of excellence

Recapping some of these differences captured in the form of user stories, several observations can be made:
  1. The project manager is responsible for the project outcome. The ScrumMaster is not managing the outcome in an Agile project.
  2. A project manger manages the team. The ScrumMaster doesn't manage the self-managed Agile team.
  3. The project manager owns the communication to the stakeholders. The ScrumMaster needs to be prepared for this only when the product owner is unavailable.
  4. The project manager gathers the level of effort and converts it into a realistic schedule that the clients need. The ScrumMaster facilitates the Scrum estimation sessions with the product owner, but the team and product owners are responsible for the user story estimation.
  5. Both the ScrumMaster and the project manager must be the custodians of the Agile and project management methods that are in place.
  6. The project manager must use a scheduling model to ensure resource allocation. The ScrumMaster is not controlling the sprint length or sprint duration.
  7. The project manager assigns tasks and monitors task movement. The ScrumMaster doesn't initiate, assign, or monitor task progress because the team is self-organized.
  8. The project manager is responsible for the ultimate quality of the product. The product owner and the team are jointly responsible for quality; the ScrumMaster facilitates the Scrum processes for quality to prevail.
  9. The project manager is held accountable for the project's budget, involving direct and indirect costs. The product owner is responsible for the product's costs and burn rate.
  10. The project manager must monitor risks and have contingency and management reserves. The ScrumMaster is not required to monitor risks.
While there are notable differences between the ScrumMaster (SM) and project manager (PM) roles, these observations also bring to the surface a few important areas of responsibility overlap. While task orientation of project managers is present, the leadership components (Rajagopalan 2009) and people orientation (Makilouko 2004) are not to be ignored, as supported by the extensive study sponsored by the Project Management Institute (PMI, performed by Turner and Muller 2006). Using the RACI approach, these similarities and differences are reconciled as follows:

Competency SM PM
Establish, lead, and maintain the team of cross-functional members A A
Facilitate product planning R  
Backlog grooming R  
Sprint planning A  
Facilitate daily stand-ups A  
Facilitate sprint review A  
Facilitate retrospectives/conduct periodic lessons learned A A
Maintain sustainable pace/use resource leveling and standard level agreements A A
Story creation/manage business and functional requirements R
Estimation and sizing R A
Acceptance criteria validation/QA control R A
Identify, avoid/mitigate, and monitor risks R A
Eliminate impediments for goal maximization A A
Creative effective and relevant progress indicators R A
Promote learning from retrospectives A R
Co-create value with the product owner A  
Motivate team A R
Initiate, manage, and monitor tasks   A
Control costs I A
Ensure processes for quality assurance and control CI A
Manage scope creep through change control I A
Lead and manage internal and external stakeholders CI A
Understand contract requirements for managing client relationships, vendors, and partners   A
Follow through on documentation needs as required by regulated industries   R
Communicate status updates CI A
Consult and use proper scheduling tool   A
Use dashboard and metrics to control health RCI A
Distributed team management R A
Understanding Agile engineering practices A CI

Organizations can't benefit to tell their Agile success stories by understanding these role nuances. Jumping to conclusions that Agile is a panacea for traditional project management is analogous to not being able to differentiate between leadership and management. Availability of distributed team, dedicated resources, work flow tools, and engineering practices may all differ due to many reasons. An Agile PMO should reconcile these differences toward organizational effectiveness. Starke (2012) also points out the need for a ScrumMaster to have a dotted line reporting to a project manager in an Agile project.

Extending practitioner insights, four such variables can be deduced to evaluate whether a project manager or ScrumMaster should serve the need. In an Agile PMO, if the customers are not Agile, the cultural makeup is not adhering to the core 12 Agile practices, a balanced matrix organization for procuring shared resources is predominant, and the organizational makeup involves small size or working in a complex regulated industry, a project manager should still serve the need. But when the opposite characteristics exist or the organization is transforming into the opposite extreme, such as involving project management support for product development, migrating to a mature team environment, involving newer roles like Agile coaches and trainers to promote process orientation and enhance quality awareness and educate the clients to become Agile, ScrumMasters will need to serve the need. Having these roles report to a stronger, business-driven PMO office may promote cross-pollination of knowledge to benefit the larger organizations to scale their complexity and manage their workforce.


While the above observations are not a complete listing, they underscore the importance in the uniqueness both these roles bring. These roles are, therefore, not the same. The project manager role is more encompassing, emphasizing leadership and holding ultimate accountability, but the ScrumMaster is responsible for Scrum-specific process checks.

A competent project manager may serve as the ScrumMaster so long as he or she can adapt to an evolving and self-organized team environment, as promoted by a number of project manager competency models (Turner and Muller 2004). A project manager who makes the daily sprint a status meeting, for instance, will fail in such cases and is not the right fit. But a ScrumMaster who lacks the core project management skills may find it difficult to adapt to the project manager role when the regulatory nature of the Agile project calls for excessive but unavoidable documentation or putting a timeline together for contractual requirements in a complex program with several sub-projects crossing multiple organizational boundaries.

The ScrumMaster doesn't eliminate the project manager role. Depending on the organizational boundaries, complexities, and regulatory nature, both these roles need to coexist. If they merge, then there needs to be a conscientious evaluation.


Seventh Annual State of Agile Development Survey. VersionOne. 2013. Retrieved February 24, 2013, from

Cohn M. The roles of the project management office in scrum. 2010. Retrieved April 2011 from

Hunton S. A ScrumMaster is not a project manager by another name. 2012. Retrieved March 13, 2013 from

Makilouko M. Coping with multi-cultural projects: The leadership style of Finnish project managers. 2004. International Journal of Project Management. 22(5):387-396.

Rajagopalan S. Relationship between emotional intelligence and transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire leadership styles of information systems project managers in virtual teams. 2009. Dissertation Abstracts International (UMI No: 3359539).

Turner JR, Muller R. Choosing Appropriate Project Managers: Matching Their Leadership Style to the Type of Project. 2004. New Town Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Starke S. Let's end the debate! ScrumMaster versus project manager. 2012. Retrieved May 7, 2013, from

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 4.2 (18 ratings)


Zach Bonaker, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 3/10/2014 10:37:46 AM
I really enjoy your articles and appreciate the incorporation of references to give your content a research-like feel. I've saved this article for future reference; it is a perfect fit for the challenges at my organization. Thank you for contributing!!
Katherine Champion, CSM,CSPO, 7/28/2014 3:18:08 AM
Another great article on a a very difficult topic. It is so essential that we differentiate between these two roles. The most important thing for me is that a role brings VALUE to the process. The RACI matrix again is very valuable in differentiating the role of SM and PM. Thanks for sharing your insights.
Mohammed Dhilwar Hussain, CSM,CSPO, 7/19/2015 8:01:17 AM
Great article exactly what I was looking for!
Dawn DiAnda, CSP,CSM, 5/4/2016 11:52:48 AM
Great insight! This is something we are trying to figure out now in our organization.

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