Scrum Master vs. Project Manager: What’s the Difference?

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There’s a common misconception that Scrum Masters and project managers largely share the same role and job description – some job listings might even use the terms interchangeably. In fact, despite their shared mission of helping teams succeed, their role and responsibilities within a team dynamic are quite different. 

Differences in…Project Managers:Scrum Masters:
Scope and Role: Take ownership over the project as a whole, including the components that comprise it.Employ Scrum ideology for the betterment of the team, and ultimately, the project itself.
Ideology:Understand the array of project management methodologies available to teams at a high-level view. 
Select and deploy a particular method based on the needs of an individual project.
Address the needs and challenges of a project, through the lens of the Scrum methodology specifically. 
Leadership Perspectives:Take on more of a high-level role in project management by managing project details, deadlines, and relationships between key stakeholders.Act as a servant leader, guiding and coaching teams in a hands on manner through the teachings of the agile methodology.

The main difference between a scrum master and a project manager is that a project manager oversees the entirety of the project, whereas a scrum master specializes in leading a Scrum team, following the Agile-based Scrum methodology. 

While there may be overlap between the two titles, each role has unique contributions that play into the success of a project. 

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What Does A Scrum Master Do?

A scrum master engages the team through the Scrum framework, based in the Agile project management philosophy. 

They help the team reach their goals through the lens of the Scrum methodology, their preferred ideology for maximizing team efficiency and productivity. Their role within a team dynamic largely surrounds tasks such as coaching, leading, and increasing team collaboration.

A scrum master’s job description is, ultimately, to enrich a team dynamic by helping them streamline their operations and reach new heights throughout a project’s lifecycle


Read More: What Is a Scrum Master? on project-management.com 


What Does A Project Manager Do?

A project manager oversees the flow of operations for any given project. While their skillset is usually diverse, their main responsibility is to manage the operational side of the project. In terms of the scope of their role, they take ownership over the project journey at large, from start to finish. Project managers are skilled in managing the six components of project success: 

  • Scope
  • Schedule
  • Finance
  • Risk
  • Quality
  • Resources

Based on their varied and diverse experiences professionally, project managers are adaptable in the methodology they select for teams to follow based on the unique needs of the project itself. In terms of their choice in plan implimentation, project managers are familiar with numerous project management methodologies, from agile to waterfall, critical path method and more. 


Read more: What Is a Project Manager? on project-management.com 


Similarities between Scrum Masters and the Project Managers

While there are notable differences between the role of a Scrum Master and project manager, they share one united goal: helping guide teams to complete projects successfully and efficiently. Here is a list of other similarities that Scrum Masters and Project Managers share:

  • Both report to stakeholders, including board members, c-suite executives, etc.
  • Both work together to coach the team and guide the project to success through their individual roles.
  • Both facilitate closer collaboration and communication between team members throughout the project journey
  • Both roles require specific training and industry experience to obtain their positions

The Scrum Master leads the team as a servant-leader throughout the more hands-on portions of the project. Their ultimate goal is to serve as a resource for team members as they execute critical tasks, leading through the teachings of Scrum methodology. Here are a few examples of the primary responsibilities Scrum Masters hold: 

  • Educating the team on Scrum methodology and best practices
  • Executing Scrum ceremonies, from Daily Scrum tasks, to Sprint Reviews, Sprint Planning, and more
  • Monitoring team and sprint progress
  • Helping ensure the Scrum framework is accessible to team members with varying levels of experience with Scrum – including stakeholders, project owners, and more.
  • Clearing the path for Scrum to be implemented, including leading through influence and credibility and handling potential roadblocks 
  • Coaching team members and acting as a servant leader throughout the project completion process

The project manager takes on a high-level responsibility for the project itself, ensuring that critical elements of the project are completed and managed effectively. Here are a few examples of the primary responsibilities project managers hold:

  • Planning the project at a high-level view
  • Coaching team members to overcome roadblocks and obstacles
  • Creating and managing a schedule and timeline for the project to follow
  • Monitoring project progress as work begins 
  • Managing the budget
  • Overseeing and managing relationships between the team and key stakeholders
  • Ensuring that best practices are met and quality work is delivered to project stakeholders and owners

Scrum Master vs. Project Managers: Salaries

Here is the breakdown of salary ranges for both positions, according to Glassdoor:

Salary Range: Project Managers: Scrum Masters:
Low End$67k$65k
High End$109k+$160k+
U.S. Average$85k$91k
Source: Glassdoor, accessed 4/20/2023

Naturally, as project managers and Scrum Masters job descriptions are different, so are their salaries. It’s important to note that salary breakdowns for each role are affected greatly by factors such as education level, geographical location, and experience level (including certifications held).

Certifications for Scrum Masters and Project Managers

Obtaining a professional certification as a project manager or Scrum Master is a great way to expand your knowledge and increase your levels of compensation. Across the board, salaries for certified professionals in both project management and Scrum management are significantly higher, with PMP certified project managers making 25% more on average, and certified Scrum Masters making 44% more on average. 

While there are numerous certification providers for both careers, there are among the most popular: 

For Project Managers: 

  • Professional in Project Management (PPM)
  • Project Management Professional (PMP)
  • Program Manager Professional (PgMP)
  • Associate in Project Management (APM)
  • BVOP Certified Project Manager
  • Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)

For Scrum Masters:

  • Advanced Certified ScrumMaster (A-CSM)
  • Certified ScrumMaster (CSM)
  • Certified Scrum Professional Product Owner (CSP-PO)
  • Certified Scrum Professional ScrumMaster (CSP-SM)
  • Certified Scrum Developer (CSD)
  • Professional Scrum Developer
  • Professional Scrum Master (PSM)

Tips for Project Managers Working With Scrum Masters

  • Communicate frequently and ask outcome-focused questions as needed
  • Collaborate and meet on a regular basis to stay informed about project updates and team developments
  • Inquire about the Scrum Masters role through the lens of a “curious scientist” – asking questions and staying curious about how you can help them succeed as a leader
  • Understand the deadline and time to minimize interruption to the sprint commitment. 

Tips for Scrum Masters Working With Project Managers

  • Be transparent about resource capacity and availability, particularly as team needs evolve. 
  • Keep clear lines of communication open and continue to inquire about how you can best support the project manager’s needs and project goals. 
  • Loop the project manager when Scrum events occur, delay, or change, including what sprint features are slated for discussion. 
  • Set up project boards, stories, and epic numbers and share the access so that the project manager can independently navigate the system for status updates and details released. 

Conclusion

Despite representing different roles in the project lifecycle, both Scrum Masters and project managers contribute to the success of a project in major ways. When both roles are well defined and empowered to succeed, they can work together effectively and coach teams to success. 

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