Difference Between Scrum Master & Project Manager

There are times when a traditional project manager is required to work with a Scrum Master. This may be in a mid- to large-size company where there is a separate agile team, or when working with a vendor or agency with an agile team. In order for the two to work closely together, it’s important to understand what these roles are, how they work, and how they can work together.

Scrum Master vs. Project Manager

What Is a Scrum Master?

The Scrum Master leads a Scrum team, as well as the planning and implementation of the Scrum framework as part of the agile methodology. They do this by facilitating Scrum-specific events like sprint planning, review, and retrospective. They are accountable for helping people understand and engage with Scrum theory, practices, rules, and values. They coach the team on these ideas and assist the product owner with managing the product backlog.

Read more: Agile vs. Waterfall: Differences in Software Development Methodologies

What Is a Project Manager?

A project manager is a business professional who leads and manages projects for the company as an employee or consultant. Independent of the company or industry, they are a leader who manages a project, including resources and scope of business requirements on a day-to-day basis; they are responsible for team management down to the individual level.

The role includes understanding the specific needs of project scope, defining and tracking the schedule, overseeing the budget, assessing risk, ensuring the quality of deliverables, and sourcing and approving resources to complete the project. Also included in the project manager role is planning before and during the project; collaborating with stakeholders, leadership, and other project managers; and reporting on project progress at regular interviews. A project manager has a very broad role with many responsibilities.

How These Roles Work Together in a Project

The project manager and Scrum Master have very different, yet complementary responsibilities. While a project manager manages time, negotiates project details, and manages risk with project leaders, stakeholders, and clients, the Scrum Master acts in the capacity of an agile expert, a coach-consultant, and a servant-leader for their specific technical team.

They have night and day roles, both working independently to coach their teams through processes and work, removing blockers and impediments to keep things moving along. The roles come together when it is time to hand off requirements for development and testing and track them to release or launch.

Tips for Project Managers Working With Scrum Masters

  • Let Scrum Masters know as soon as you can when things are getting ready for development to begin, so they can be included in an upcoming sprint.
  • Collaborate weekly on project status to keep coordinated, and review the overall timeline and sprint calendar. Plan to ensure they cover everything leading up to and following application development.
  • Understand the basics of Jira, so you can follow the tickets you are interested in and not have to ask the Scrum Master for the state of a ticket.
  • Focus on driving the dependencies external to the App Dev teams.
  • Understand the sprint commitment and that it locks in the work for two weeks at a time to minimize interruption. Asking for a change, or to prioritize one thing over another, should be left for the next sprint, not the current one.
  • Ask questions!

Tips for Scrum Masters Working With Project Managers

  • Coach each other! Meet one on one over the course of the project to connect the dots on details and resources, and strengthen the working relationship with this knowledge.
  • Be transparent about resource availability and capacity — especially when that changes.
  • Loop the project manager in on when Scrum ceremonies and events occur, delay, or change, including what sprint features are slated for discussion.
  • Share access to and demo the set up and organization of Jira boards, epics numbers, and stories so the PM can independently find and navigate the system for status checks and details on releases.
  • Understand that a complex tool like Jira and all of the technical information it can track may be intimidating and confusing at times!

Project managers and Scrum Masters have very different roles in a project. Communicating and designing the best way to work together will ensure the success of any project that these two leaders touch on as opposite ends of the same team.

Read next: Best Agile Software & Tools for Project Management

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Anne Meick

Anne Meick is an author, copywriter, and digital project management consultant, leading digital teams and projects in highly regulated industries. She is the founder of Writers' Connection and blogs on writing, editing, and book publishing.