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Scrum Manager and Project Master

Role unification: One role, double knowledge

26 May 2015

Project Master and Scrum Manager -- what's in a name? Well, there's a lot.

Typical definitions/meanings of the crucial words that play an important role in project execution:
  • Project: A project is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources (Source: PMI).
  • Manager: A person responsible for controlling or administering.
  • Scrum: "Scrum" from an analogy put forth in a 1986 study by Takeuchi and Nonaka, published in the Harvard Business Review. Takeuchi and Nonaka compare high-performing, cross-functional teams to the Scrum formation used by rugby teams (Source: Scrum Alliance).
  • Master: A skilled practitioner of a particular art or activity.
In IT projects, roles are carefully carved to help team members deliver their responsibilities by working together. Typical roles include, but are not limited to, project manager, business analyst, developer, QA tester, architect, etc.

The beauty of roles is that they provide boundaries with specific responsibilities so that team members won't step on each other. At times there are incidents with one role overlapping another by mistake, which often creates a chaotic situation.

A few roles are well known for the responsibilities they undertake – or, shall I say, for the high expectations placed on the roles. Such roles are project manager and ScrumMaster.

The project manager's role is more related to Waterfall project executions. A project manager manages the project. The standard notion is that the project manager manages people. He or she gives work to the team.

The ScrumMaster's role is more related to Agile projects. The ScrumMaster facilitates a sprint's progress; he or she helps the team by removing impediments on the sprint. Agile/Scrum believes in servant leadership. The ScrumMaster is a servant leader. A servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first, and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. (Source: Wiki).

Organizations increasingly emphasize building efficient teams and limiting roles on projects. A ScrumMaster playing the role of "Scrum Manager" and/or a project manager playing the role of "Project Master" would help save money. It's a case of "one role, double knowledge."

Here are few responsibilities that both the project manager and ScrumMaster perform during project execution. These are the core technical qualities in executing a project (Waterfall) or sprint (Agile).

Responsibility Description
  • Planning is the heart of the projects. Be it a lengthy project plan or a timeboxed sprint, planning takes precedence over any other activities.
Risk/Issue management
  • Project-level and phase-level risks and issue management and mitigation tracking is done by the project manager.
  • At the sprint level, addressing impediments to execute a sprint smoothly will be tracked by the ScrumMaster. In addition, proactive risks/issues, dependencies between sprints/teams, unavailability of resources, etc., are tracked till their closure by the ScrumMaster.
Financial management
  • The project manager tracks financials at the project level. Monthly forecast vs. actuals are actively tracked, in line with the budget.
  • The ScrumMaster tracks sprint(s)-level actuals based on the team's capacity and continuously tracks financials on the overall project.
Resource management
  • The project manager understands the resource demand needs, works with resource managers to get the demand approvals.
  • During sprint planning, the team discusses the roles required for the identified sprint and the ScrumMaster works with resource managers to get resources.
  • Note: On large Agile projects, there may be a dev manager who helps fulfil resource requests.
Status reporting
  • Project status is communicated proactively to appropriate project stakeholders at appropriate intervals by the project manager. Project status covers current status, accomplishments, financials till date, and risks, if any.
  • The ScrumMaster communicates status to the appropriate audience at the sprint level and release level. Status includes how many sprints completed so far, financials, velocity, risks, etc.
  • Note: Agile tools have built-in status reporting features, like the burn-down chart, velocity, etc. Agile teams can use these off-the-shelf tools if available.
Cross-matrix groups coordination
  • The project manager coordinates with shared services teams like DBA, release management, performance testing, etc., who have shared responsibility in the success of the project. This is where the "managing" responsibility comes into the picture. The project manager helps shared teams understand the project schedule by providing project objectives. Sometimes, for whatever valid reasons, getting immediate buy-in from these teams to help the project may be challenging.
  • The ScrumMaster invites required roles to sprint planning based on the selected user stories. Teams will commit to their activities. The ground rule in Scrum is that teams will undergo Scrum foundational training to understand the framework well and commit to their deliverables. Scrum encourages self-coordinated and self-efficient teams.
Soft skills
  • People management.
  • Conflict management.
  • Servant leadership: A seasoned project manager is a real servant leader. He/she focuses beyond standard project plan creation and tracking tasks forever based on one-time planning.
  • Negotiation skills.
  • Communication management.
What’s the unique proposition of a project Manager and a ScrumMaster?

  • The project manager is a superhero; like Superman, he tries to coordinate all threads of project points single-handedly and addresses them as needed to make the project a success.

  • Agile teams get commitment from the product owner and Scrum team; the ScrumMaster helps them make their commitment turn into actual delivery. It's like the Avengers, i.e., various superheroes (the skilled team) coming together to deliver the project.

  • On Waterfall projects, the project manager's role is crucial. If things go wrong, it's all because of the project manager. In case of any issues with the project, the project manager is the first person who might go under fire. During the execution, the project manager drives activities to get buy-in from the team and peer groups to support the project.


  • In Agile projects, it's a team effort. No one person is singled out in case of an unfavorable outcome. For a successful or unsuccessful sprint delivery, the entire team owns the outcome and works toward it. The ScrumMaster is one of the team members.


  • Also, as the delivery is incremental with shorter frequency, the team has more opportunities to retrospect in case activities are not going as planned. Commitment from the team comes first and the delivery dates are planned accordingly. All involved team members come forward to help with the sprint's success.
Role Privilege
  • The project manager has managerial role privilege on Waterfall projects, based on the existing organizational structure.
  • On Agile projects, the ScrumMaster is one of the members of the Agile team. All team members get equal privilege.

  • On Waterfall projects, the PMO, senior PM, and project manager try to own things to move the project forward. There's a chance of their decision getting precedence over team members' input.
  • On Agile projects, all decisions are made by team consensus. Each team member's input is considered during appropriate planning sessions, along with the commitment to deliver.

The value proposition of both the project manager and ScrumMaster is strong delivery skills using the respective delivery methods. An individual with great skills from both worlds can be a valuable asset on the project.

In a corporate environment, roles are judged. Sometimes individuals who are assigned to those roles are also judged. But that should not stop us from learning new things in order to excel in our careers. If we are successful, we can do our jobs.

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: 3 (6 ratings)


Kapil Goel, CSP,CSM, 5/31/2015 10:17:15 PM
Savvy, Nice article and explanation on different roles based on the model/projects.

My inputs on one of the difference in role between Project Manager and Scrum Master is -

PM focus is on proactive prevention of Risks, whereas Scrum Master doesn't actively hunt for Risks. It might turn up to waste when the risk occurs, and team redo it on its own way. It might de-focus the teams for being self organizing.

You thoughts...?
SAVVY KATHAM, CSP,CSM, 6/4/2015 9:31:37 PM
Hi Kapil, thanks for taking time to read the article.

IMHO, SMs do look out for prospective risks that end up into issues. Risk/Issue tracking is part and parcel of the Agile projects too. The way I look at it is, there's always a chance of risk hitting hard on future sprints if not current. I am skeptical to say that when risks occur sprint(s) delivery is a waste. There may be some % of rework that one can anticipate. In addition, it all depends on what kind of mitigation(s) teams agree to.

Sometimes, dependencies may turn into Risks and/or Issues too. For example, version upgrade of a software for an application enhancement. Team can continue to deliver till they reach to a point where upgraded version of software is required for testing. When you try to lay out the release map / product roadmap, you get a clear picture on possible risks to work with ScrumTeam / PO for proactive mitigation.

So, tracking risks, dependencies, and issues ongoing is one of the default responsibilities of the SM.

Yes, as you said, the turn around to have mitigation plans may be much faster on Agile over Waterfall projects, due to time-boxed activities.

Hope this helps.
Robert Poddar, CSM, 6/22/2015 4:34:45 AM
A nice article, providing a clear understanding on the project manager and SM's roles..

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