Project management terminology is constantly evolving to adapt to the hyper-fast pace of change in the world around us. This can often create situations where we’re stuck wondering to ourselves, “How does the Delphi method work?”, “Where did the Kotter Change Model come from?” or “Exactly what is a Scrum Master?”
While some terminology changes are simply reflective of the passage of time or personal preference, others correspond to specific distinctions between project management theories, practices and methodologies.
Here we’ll focus on clearing up at least one of the above questions as we look at two terms that often crop up in Agile contexts: Scrum Master vs. project manager.
What is a Scrum Master?
A Scrum Master has a very well-defined role within the Scrum methodology, which is outlined in the Scrum Guide. Here are some of the most important characteristics of the position:
- Acts as a “servant-leader”
- In charge of keeping the team aligned with Scrum methodology
- Responsible for pushing adoption throughout the team
- A trail guide to help other team members understand and implement Scrum theory, practices and values
- Point of contact for those outside the team
- Keeps teams aware of goals and scope
- Seeks to improve team collaboration and organization
What is a Project Manager?
In contrast to the Scrum Master, a project manager’s role can be very dependent on the context in which they are working. Project managers work on projects across methodologies and industries, performing important roles in software development and product design as well as construction and marketing. Here are some of the characteristics of the role:
- A leader of a specific project with a clearly defined place in the management hierarchy
- Responsible for planning and executing a project
- Ensures the team stays on track to deliver the project within scope
- Interface between project team and other stakeholders
- Seeks to maintain and improve productivity and collaboration levels of team
- Assesses, manages and deploys resources
- Sign-off on quality of deliverables and project close
How Do They Compare
As can be seen, the Scrum Master vs. project manager debate isn’t really a like-for-like comparison, but rather a comparison of two important, but different, positions in the same field, like how it takes different skill sets and approaches to be a quarterback vs. a cornerback.
On the one hand, both roles have significant responsibilities when it comes to improving team productivity and how well they work together. They are also a go-to person for those outside the team to get in touch with, though one for Scrum-specific communication and the other for overall project information.
While both Scrum Masters and project managers need to have emotional intelligence traits that allow them to connect with team members, project managers may adopt a more holistic approach to employee development, including future education and implementing and supporting their career paths.
Project managers also have the added burden of having the final sign-off, which means ultimate responsibility for a project’s success or failure lies with them. Though a Scrum Master does have the significant responsibility of guiding Scrum implementation beyond a single project, the time and support for that endeavor may be a lot more generous.