Scrum Master vs Project Manager: Which is the Ideal Approach in 2021?

No matter which industry you are a part of, it’s unlikely you haven’t heard of these two terms – Scrum Master and Project Manager. A superficial glance might lead you to believe that there isn’t a difference between the two. But, a closer look will tell you that’s not so. 

While a Scrum Master upholds Agile Methodologies, a Project Manager operates on traditional disciplined project management principles. There’s plenty more to the two roles though which we will discuss in this article. We will also throw light on the various responsibilities of a Scrum Master and Project Manager. Finally, we will look at the differences and similarities between the two profiles. 

Scrum Master: Definition

Let’s start by understanding the Scrum methodology: there is a product owner, a scrum and a scrum master. 

The Product Owner assigns a task, and a scrum (a development team) breaks the job into smaller fragments known as sprints.

A sprint is a set of effective development procedures that involve reiterative testing and collaboration to reduce the lifestyle of a project. These are known as agile Scrum methodologies that lead to product completion in a short period of time. 

A Scrum Master is a job role assigned to the team member who ensures these agile values and principles are being followed and that the team is working as per the practices and objectives they previously agreed on. The framework works towards agile adaptive product development through a facilitator (Scrum Master). In this manner, a Scrum Master is essentially the leader of his scrum team.

Must Read: Difference Between Agile Methodology and Scrum Methodology

What are the skills required for a Scrum Master?

There is no official skill assigned for Scrum Masters but the level of experience is taken into account. A Scrum Master is essentially someone who is an expert at Scrum practices and policies and can effectively coach others. 

Who can assume the position of a Scrum Master is decided as follows. This differs from one team to another:

  1. As each sprint ends, team members assign a new scrum master (from administrative positions) on a rotational basis.
  2. A team member takes up scrum master responsibilities alongside existing responsibilities to work as a part time scrum master.
  3. One individual has the dedicated full-time responsibility of a scrum master for one team 
  4. One individual has the dedicated full-time responsibility of a scrum master for more than one team. 
  5. Termed as an Agile Coach, here we have an individual who works with different teams as scrum master on a need basis.

Roles and Responsibilities: What does a Scrum Master do? 

  • A Scrum defines a set of principles and practices to follow in the Agile Methodology. It is the responsibility of a Scrum Master to ensure they are being adhered to. 
  • He/she makes sure the principles are understood by the team and being followed diligently.
  • He/she puts in efforts and helps team members to maintain scrum principles and agile practices.
  • His/Her main goal is to
  • He works to maximize product value.
  • Scrum Master is responsible for sprint planning
  • He/she schedules regular meetings and conferences of the Scrum.
  • He/she roots out counter influences to ensure the smooth running of processes.
  • He/she works on Product Backlogs as priorities.
  • Scrum Master maintains a transparent relationship with the Product Owner and cooperates in defining items and backlogs for the next sprint. He/she reports to the Product Owner regularly.
  • He/she ensures the scrum is not prone to distractions
  • He/she makes effort to speed up the processes and constantly monitors sprint progress.
  • Scrum Master keeps the team motivated.

Project Manager: Definition 

The Project Manager is someone who is responsible for day-to-day management of a project. A Project Manager is present in a leadership role to see a project from planning to execution. He/she is responsible for defining the scope of a project, resources, budget, and ensures the project proceeds within these constraints. Read about project manager salary in India.

Roles and Responsibilities: What does a Project Manager do?

  • The Project Manager defines the scope of a project with the team members thus, laying the groundwork for the project activities
  • He/she defines the targets of the project and ensures they are being tracked. 
  • He/she is skilled at delegations and assigns responsibilities to the team members as per their skills and expertise. 
  • The PM designs the schedule of the project and the team members. He/she ensures that the schedule is being followed. 
  • He/she outlines the requirements of a project. 
  • The Project Manager takes care that the resource requirements of a project are communicated upfront while getting approval for it.
  • He/she is responsible for the budgeting of a project and puts practices in place to work according to it.
  • The Project Manager indulges in rigorous quality control 
  • He/she is expected to monitor work activities and minimize risks in a project.
  • He/she creates a culture of transparency and open communication among his team members.
  • The Project Manager is accountable to the client or stakeholder and reports to him/her regularly. 
  • He/she works on procuring feedback and implementing it.
  • He/she coordinates with other teams when necessary. 
  • He/she makes sure that a project is delivered in a manner that all project requirements are met from deadlines and budgets to effective utilisation of resources. 

What are the differences between Project Manager and Scrum Master?

The table below highlights the policies, job descriptions, goals and team configurations of a Project Manager and Scrum Master to bring out the basic differences between the two:

Project Manager Scrum Master

Framework

The Project Manager operates on traditional disciplined project management principles to deliver results. A traditional model is also referred to as the Waterfall model.  Scrum Master is responsible for upholding Scrum policies and agile methodologies in project management.

Applicability

A Project Manager is applicable to complex project deliveries involving large teams but less risk-oriented scenarios Scrum Master policies are applicable in complex development scenarios.

Policies

1. Constant risk assessment to to counter unprecedented challenges

2. Defining project scope before planning any project

3. Maintaining clarity on the expected deliveries 

1.  Approaching complex problems with agility 

2.  Focusing on delivering products of high quality and value

Job Roles

1. Defining project scope, plans, budget and resources required.

2. Coordinating with upper management to align with project scope and requirements.

3. Coordinating with miscellaneous departments if necessary.

4. Instruct and supervise a team to goal completion, or work themselves if necessary.

Counter challenges and stay on top of the Scrum processes.

Spreading Agile and Scrum awareness to ensure successful delivery.

Act as a mediator to Scrum ceremonies.

Utilise available tools to ensure smooth running of project 

Take care of the Backlogs as per the priorities communicated by the Product Owner.

Resolves conflicts within teams 

Keep the team motivated

Keep track of the Scrum processes for efficient execution

Goals

Project completion, working within the budget and scope are the designated goals of a Project Manager Ensuring team members qualified to implement Agile practices. Scrum Master trains the teams and directs them to finish the project in the given timeline

Quality Control

PM acknowledges the importance of quality but is not qualified to control it. There is a consultant or a designated quality assurance department to fix errors and ensure quality. Scrum Master takes responsibility for quality assurance and places huge importance on it.

Team Size

Project Managers are used to working with large teams. Project Manager usually works on a massive budget. He/she is also expected to coordinate with other teams, if needed. Scrum Master works with smaller teams despite the size of the project. This is to ensure faster delivery and product quality. 

Salary

On an average, a Project Manager’s salary is US $77,000 per year On average, a Scrum Master’s salary is $97,500 per year

What are the similarities between the Scrum Master and Project Manager?

While the Project Manager and Scrum Master are vastly different from each other, they share a few similarities:

Making Mistakes

For both the Project Manager and Scrum Master, there is room for error.  However, they also right the wrong and are expected to learn from their mistakes. The entire framework works on transparent communication, feedback, alleviating incoming risks, and creating a culture for better bonding opportunities in a team.

Authority

A Project Manager is accountable to the client he is working with or his stakeholders. A Scrum Master has to report to the same figures of authority as well as the Product Owner. Neither can assume the position of final authority.

Failures

Both the Project Manager and the Scrum Master are bound to fail if they override the foundational principles. Not adhering to them becomes the cause of inconsistencies and instability within an organisation. If they ignore professionalism and are not skilled as per the standards of professionalism, they will fail. There is also the likelihood of failing when a team member’s opinions are not given due respect and attention.

Conclusion

Both Project Manager and Scrum Master have widely used approaches towards management today. There are organisations that also operate on a hybrid model based on the two. However, it’s up to you and your business needs when it comes to selecting one of the two approaches in your organisation. In any case, you would need a skilled professional to assume the role of the Project Manager or Scrum Master – whichever you decide to go with.

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