Differences Between a Scrum Master & Project Manager


Share this Article:

Our content and product recommendations are editorially independent. We may make money when you click links to our partners. Learn more in our Editorial & Advertising Policy.

Rugby scrum, the inspiration for the role of a scrum master.There are no project managers in teams that use scrum. Instead, the responsibilities of a project manager are distributed across the team. However, people outside the project management discipline often use the terms “scrum master” and “project manager” interchangeably. To clarify the jobs and help you visualize how this works, let’s first talk about scrum.

Roles in Scrum

Scrum is a subset of agile software development. In the scrum framework, teams set goals and deliver working prototypes every two weeks. These work cycles are called sprints. A scrum team is composed of three roles: the product owner, the development team, and the scrum master. The product owner defines the vision for the project and creates the product roadmap. He defines priorities based on business needs or customer feedback. To fulfill these priorities, the development team self-organizes to strategize on their approach and follows through on execution. The scrum master, on the other hand, facilitates the scrum process. They oversee the proper execution of the scrum framework, so the team can maximize its benefits. Because of the self-organizing nature of scrum teams, project managers are no longer necessary for this framework. Confusion often surrounds the scrum master and the project manager role because the scrum master takes on some of the things that a project manager is expected to do. These include liaising, coaching, and facilitating among others. Despite these similarities, project managers and scrum masters are not the same.

Scrum Master vs. Project Manager

The scrum master role is exclusive to the scrum framework. Meanwhile, the project manager role is present in all other frameworks outside scrum. The primary role of a scrum master is process leadership. Analyzing the goals of the project and the context of the team, their role is to help the company learn and implement the scrum methodology. This can include training, onboarding, and constant coaching. They also facilitate scrum ceremonies such as daily scrum, iteration/sprint planning, sprint reviews, and sprint retrospectives. Coaching and facilitating is also part of the role of a scrum master. They initiate meetings and ensure collaboration among self-organizing teams. And when the product manager sets a direction, they act as liaisons between them and the team, so the development team is constantly aligned on product priorities. It’s also the scrum master’s role to negotiate with external stakeholders when there are impediments hindering the development team’s progress. Examples of these are scope creep, delayed dependencies, and lacking resources. Project managers, on the other hand, also facilitate, coach, and liaise. In addition to this, project managers decide on development priorities and spearhead the organization of a development team’s pipeline. They create project schedules, negotiate budgets, plan milestones and deliverables, oversee progress, and assign tasks. Project managers, essentially, do the same things that a scrum master does, along with some responsibilities from the product owner and development team.

Who Earns More: Scrum Master or Project Manager?

A scrum master earns more than a project manager as of 2021–2022. In California, project managers earn approximately $103,560 a year. Scrum masters, on the other hand, earn $109,161 a year.

Skills and Certifications

To succeed as a scrum master or a project manager, acquiring technical skills, leadership skills, strategic and business management skills, and digital skills are essential. For scrum masters, a deep understanding of the scrum framework is an additional requirement. While it’s not a requirement for all employers, there are some who require certifications to help them ensure the scrum master or project manager they’re hiring is equipped with the necessary skills to make their projects succeed. Professionals who opt to get certifications often get more opportunities and earn more than their non-certified counterparts. Here are certifications you can consider getting if you’re a project manager or a scrum master.

Project management: PMP Certification

A PMP Certification is the most prestigious certificate you can get as a project manager. It proves you’re equipped to lead project teams across all industries for small and large companies. To be able to apply for the test, you’ll need at least 36 months of experience leading projects, at least 35 hours of project management training, or a CAPM certification. Staying certified as a PMP also requires continuous education. Every three years, you’re required to acquire 60 professional development units (activities that elevate your skills or the project management industry).

Scrum masters: PMI-ACP or CSM Certification

A PMI-ACP Certification signifies that you have professional knowledge of Agile principles. It covers competencies for several agile methodologies, including scrum, extreme programming (XP), kanban, lean, and more. To apply for an exam, you’ll need at least 2,000 hours of experience working with teams, at least 1,500 hours working on agile teams and/or methodologies, along with 21 contact hours of training on agile practices. The Certified Scrum Master (CSM) Certification, on the other hand, is offered by the Scrum Alliance, and it proves you’re proficient in scrum processes and are capable of executing them. There are no prerequisites to apply for a CSM Certification. However, you’ll need to attend a two-day CSM course facilitated by the Scrum Alliance, where you’ll learn the overview of how to support a scrum team. Within 90 days of finishing the course, you can then apply for an exam. The passing grade is 74%. The renewal for a CSM Certification is every two years, and requirements include a total of 20 hours of scrum education units (SEUs).

Subscribe to Project Management Insider for best practices, reviews and resources.

Featured Partners

Hannah Donato Avatar

Get the Newsletter

Subscribe to Project Management Insider for best practices, reviews and resources.