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Project Manager vs Scrum Master: What’s the difference?

Updated on November 24, 2023By
project manager vs scrum master

Project management and scrum are two popular methodologies to help you succeed. But what are the key differences between project manager vs scrum master?

A project manager is like a coach. They plan and execute the game plan, keep track of progress, and ensure the team works together cohesively. A scrum master is like a referee. They keep the game moving, help resolve conflicts, and ensure everyone plays by the rules.

Project managers focus on planning, executing, and monitoring progress. They work to ensure that the project team is cohesive and working towards the same goal. A scrum master helps to keep the project moving forward. They are familiar with various scrum framework and ensure that everyone follows the scrum process.

Both roles are important in ensuring the success of a project. This article will explain the key difference between project manager and scrum master.

project manager vs scrum master

Who is a project manager?

Individual professional who coordinates a team to ensure projects are finished on schedule, within budget, and meeting all their goals are known as project manager. They are frequently tasked with running meetings, making schedules, handling finances, coordinating with stakeholders and the team, and managing risks.

Their role in project management

The term “project manager” sounds like a big deal. That’s because it is. At the end of the day, the project manager is the person who manages projects and is responsible for the success or failure of a project.

Because of this, they are the ones who will be held accountable. A bad project can cost a manager their job. Everything they’ve built over the years can potentially come crashing down.

Project managers usually work for a firm. But they can own the firm themselves. These types of professionals exist in every industry, from marketing, construction, and web development.

They have a budget, schedules, and deadlines. It’s their job to make sure all of the teams working under them are able to complete tasks and hit their goal targets. Scrum masters exist to help them accomplish these goals.

Due to all of these factors, project managers usually do well for themselves. They also typically have a Master’s Degree or higher and have the stress and pressure placed on them by high-level executives. Becoming an agile project manager is not everyone’s cup of tea!

Read also: 6 best project manager certifications.

To do well with this type of work, you need to be a go-getter with broad vision capability.

Characteristics of a project manager

Here are the top 3 characteristics of a great project manager:

  1. Time management: Project management involves managing your time effectively. Project managers should be able to complete their work on schedule, as project timelines need to be managed. They must consequently make sure that no step of the procedure goes beyond its allotted time. As project managers, they must their own time and assist their team in making the most of the nine-to-five.
  2. Negotiation: Project managers must be skilled negotiators in order to move major obstacles out of the way and keep the project on track. Project managers should be able to effectively negotiate with many parties, including the project board, scrum teams, users, consumers, and suppliers.
  3. Risk management: Project managers should be skilled at controlling risks. They must be able to recognize, manage, and address hazards effectively.

Who is scrum master?

A scrum master is someone who makes sure a project team applies Scrum principles successfully. They can support team members, work out problems as they arise, run team meetings, and transform a regular team into a scrum team by implementing scrum frameworks and best practices.

Scrum masters can be thought of as middle managers of a particular project. Maybe they don’t have the experience or knowledge required to be a project manager. Maybe they aren’t interested in the responsibility or potential stress.

What they do have is leadership capability. They’re effective communicators and well respected by their scrum teams and department leads.

The scrum master is responsible for the Scrum process, its correct implementation, and the maximization of its benefits.

Not everyone has what it takes to be a scrum master. Just like a project manager, it takes a certain type of personality combined with experience and knowledge to be successful. A lot of that knowledge should come in the form of the scrum framework and its implementation.

They need to know how and why these principles are used and how they benefit everyone involved to make the project a success.

Key characteristics of a scrum master

Great scrum masters possess a wide range of pertinent abilities and traits. In this section, we’ll only discuss our top three characteristics:

  1. Agile Expert: Excellent Scrum Masters are Agility experts. They are experts in various Agile frameworks, methodologies, and practices in addition to the Scrum Framework, which they have mastered. Agile ideals and principles are their areas of expertise, and Scrum Masters are skilled in teaching, coaching, mentoring, and facilitating others’ adoption of these ideas.
  2. Servant-Leader: Great scrum masters are also great servant-leader. They set an excellent example for others to follow. The Scrum Master sets the example by acting in a way that will bring about change.
  3. Coach & Consultant: Scrum masters act as a “coach” for the Product Owner, Development Team, and Organization. Through coaching, they can influence people’s mindsets and behaviors, for instance, by using persuasive questions. Additionally, they are consultants who may counsel businesses on Agile governance or Agile contracting, for example, and share best practices with them.

What is Scrum?

Scrum has its roots in rugby. What once began as a way to help teams score points eventually led to businesses using the same tactics in the boardroom to increase productivity and help to maximize efficiency.

what is scrum

The purpose of every sports team is to win the game. In business, winning means accomplishing goals, increasing revenue, and saving money wherever possible.

Scrum is often called a “framework”. This allows project managers and owners more flexibility with each aspect of the idea. The scrum master needs to lead by example.

Here are the five core values that scrum needs to be successful:

  • Commitment – Everyone on the team needs to believe in and commit to the project and its goals
  • Focus – To keep a focused team, the scrum master should make sure everyone knows the goals of the team. Keeping a group focused on both the current task and the overall goal is easier said than done
  • Openness – No project goes 100% according to plan and has no hiccups along the way. Make sure your team is able to communicate effectively about problems they’re having and allow everyone an opportunity to fix them
  • Respect – Backstabbing and trash-talking isn’t going to get your team very far. It will slow you down or even bring work to a halt. People don’t have to be best friends, but every successful team respects their peers
  • Courage – Working on any size project can be tough. You can expect everyone to have all of the answers all of the time. Instill courage in your team to do the right thing at all times. Sometimes team members need more information or clarification to get something done the right way, and that’s ok

You can probably now see that this started in sports, as these values are required to build a successful team. These traits crossover well into the business world.

6 Principles every scrum team should follow

To next level this strategy, you’ll need to consider and employ these scrum pillars in a way that works for your company.

The below pillars sound like something you may see in the coding world, and the reason for this is that’s where scrum principles first started to take off and become popular. Let’s dive in:

1. Control Over the Empirical Process

This is quite the mouthful. Essentially, it boils down to transparency, evaluation, and adaptation.

Identify challenges, evaluate potential solutions, test and adapt to challenges as you see fit. To use a sports analogy, because this evolved from rugby, you want to come up with a game plan, practice, then execute the game plan on the day of the match.

2. Self-Organization

Have you ever watched an NFL game? After every series, the quarterback and other skill players are given a headset and tablet to review and adapt to whatever the defense is throwing at them.

Skill players are the people who get the ball in the end zone. They need to be organized and able to work independently because not everything goes according to plan on every play.

The same is true with your team at work. Curve-balls happen. Give your people the ability to maneuver without having to ask permission every ten minutes.

3. Collaboration

The three principles to consider with this pillar are awareness, clarity, and distribution.

Your team needs a good idea of what’s ahead of them, and they should be aware of their job, their teammates’ jobs, and the job of their leader so that everyone can work together. Most scrum teams in the business world operate with a lot of moving parts.

Your team should be trained to know exactly what to do, when to do it, and pitch in with teammates when necessary.

4. Value-Based Prioritization

Tom Brady doesn’t throw the ball as soon as it gets into his hands. He needs to step back and evaluate the play in front of him. He knows that player A has to do X before he can do Y. If that doesn’t work, he checks down to player B, who also has to do X before he can do Y.

What does this mean for your team? Make sure they know which tasks have the top priority and they can’t do Y until X happens, so X needs to be completed first.

5. Time-Boxing

In sports, the clock can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Any company that operates with deadlines knows how important time management can be.

This is why scrum has a pillar dedicated to “sprinting”. It’s all about time management and using your team and max speed and efficiency for a set period of time.

6. Iterative Development

Calling audibles in business happens. That’s what this pillar is all about.

Some ideas are too complex and need to be refined and honed as the project moves. Don’t allow your team members to be so hyper-focused that they become too rigid.

Now that we’re all sweaty from thinking about sports, let’s break down two key leadership roles: the scrum master and the product manager, and put them head to head.

Scrum master vs Project manager: Example

Let’s understand the scrum master vs project manager difference with the help of an example. For this example, we will take a sports team as an example

The scrum master – the sports analogy

The scrum master is your quarterback or point guard. They’re the team leader. They’re smart, and they know how to make relevant changes on the fly. If someone sees something and an audible needs to be called, this is the person who makes that call.

When things are bad, and the team needs to come up with a big play, the team looks to the scrum master.

This person commands respect because they’ve earned it from their peers.

When it comes to a scrum master off the field, think of them as middle management on steroids. They aren’t your typical hide-in-the-office and delegate their work to other people types.

A scrum master knows their team, and they know the project. They know who should be working on what task and when they should be working on it. They’re approachable. When there are problems with the project or the team, the scrum master doesn’t hesitate to jump in and handle the situation.

This manager also isn’t afraid to jump down in the trenches with the rest of the team and get their hands dirty. When they aren’t in meetings and handling important managerial tasks, they’re dealing with problems, organizing sprints, and keeping their team focused and on task.

On the other side of the coin, they’re also in charge of discipline. The scrum master knows when duties and assignments aren’t being done properly. It’s their job to step in and coach employees and teams to make them better.

Unfortunately, sometimes it’s their job to replace a team member or a team that isn’t a good fit.

The project manager – the sports analogy

The project manager is the coach of the scrum team in many ways.

In postgame interviews, professional athletes usually say something like, “Ah, well, it’s all about coming up with a game plan. Then we just had to come out and execute that game plan. We knew we had the right tools in place to get it done. We worked on it all week in practice.”

That’s pretty much all you’re going to get from a player.

They don’t know the “why”. They don’t need to. This is the coach’s job.

The coach watches films every week and studies players and schemes to find exploitable weaknesses.

A good project manager only does some of the above. They have no opponent to try and exploit. Their job is to come up with a game plan. It’s the scrum master’s job to ensure the team executes the plan as designed.

This doesn’t mean the project manager does nothing all day. Let’s take a look at an example on a familiar scale.

You came up with a secret formula for building successful niche websites. After a lot of trial and error, you realized you could build them, make money, and then sell them when they’re most valuable.

Eventually, you hire a virtual personal assistant or virtual assistant services provider to do your keyword research and come up with content ideas. You hire AI freelancers and YouTubers to create the content. Then you hire a social media manager to promote it.

Deciding to take a step back, you hire a content manager to run your operations. You still have a say in it, but you don’t talk to your employees, except for your content manager, on a regular basis.

After doing this a few times, you decide to keep your most profitable websites and use them to teach others how to make money blogging. So you come up with the idea and then get the content manager to do most of the hiring and promoting for your new courses, which will be sold on one of your websites.

In this example, you started as a solopreneur. Then you moved into a scrum master position and eventually became the project manager. You went from doing everything yourself to managing to come up with ideas to increase revenue but not putting in the work alone.

The Purpose of the Sports Analogy

It’s really difficult for a sports team to win without a coach or a team leader. While the project manager and the scrum master aren’t playing actual sports, they both strive toward victory.

They need to be able to work together and in tandem to find success.

Both parties will likely have different visions and individual goals but can work together to do what’s best for the project itself. This will lead to satisfied clients as well as upper management.

When a team leader and a coach don’t see eye to eye, the overall efficiency and production of the team suffer, usually in the form of a losing season.

If you keep up with sports, you likely know how this ends for the coaches and players in leadership positions who are responsible for creating a successful franchise.

People are fired or traded away, and the team has to start over again.

The Takeaway from differences between a project manager and a scrum master

There are definitely some similarities between scrum masters and project managers. Think of it as a type of Venn diagram. Two circles that slightly overlap.

For the most part, some different duties and personalities fit best with each position.

The project manager is the person who comes up with the game plan. They’re responsible for putting together all the resources needed to make the project successful. They need to be able to see the big picture and make sure that all of the pieces fit together.

Thanks for stopping by and reading today’s post. If you liked it, check out how to export data from Basecamp.


Which is better scrum master or project manager?

A project manager assists with project timelines, resources, and time to meet business requirements. Scrum masters can help make sure that a scrum team succeeds. So there's no valid answer to it. Both are better in their ways!

Can scrum masters become project managers?

Scrum masters can become project managers at some point as well. Sometimes project managers have to fill the role of the scrum master. It depends on the size of the company, the project, the team, and the goals of the entire group.

Who earns more scrum master or project manager?

The national average Scrum masters salary is about $1,04,513 (Glassdoor data), while the national average project manager salary is $1,08,249. So project managers earn more!

What is one difference between a project manager and Scrum Master?

A project manager is like a coach. They plan and execute the game plan, keep track of progress, and ensure the team works together cohesively. A scrum master is like a referee. They keep the game moving, help resolve conflicts, and ensure everyone plays by the rules.

Is scrum master role equivalent to project manager?

Yes and No. Both have two distinct roles and responsibilities and act totally different from others. But, depending on the organization's size, the project manager's role in the small team becomes a scrum master role.

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