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


Are you considering a career move? 

Perhaps you’re considering Project Management because it uses many skills you already have.

But wait. You’ve also heard that teams are going Agile and that Scrum Master might be a good option.

Or maybe you’re already a Project Manager, and you’re wondering if a Scrum Master job might be a good move.

If you think they’re similar, think again. Here I’ll explain the difference between a Project Manager and a Scrum Master.

They’re not the same. They’re both valuable roles. But they’re very different.


Difference between a Project Manager and Scrum Master

To give a quick comparison of the two, here’s a summary listing of responsibilities of each role.


Scrum Master vs Project Manager

Project Manager responsibilities

Here’s information on the Project Manager roles and responsibilities listed in this post:

  • Define project scope
  • Gather requirements
  • Identify activities, dependencies, sequencing, and time estimates.
  • Identify resources needed
  • Create the project budget
  • Identify deliverables and milestones
  • Coordinate resources, team members, and vendors
  • Monitor and control the project plan
  • Identify appropriate metrics
  • Ensure quality
  • Manage vendors
  • Serve as project single-point-of contact
  • Report to stakeholders, customers, etc.
  • Manage risk
  • Manage change
  • Lead the team
  • Manage relationships and expectations with the client and stakeholders
  • Communicate with many audiences at various levels, via multiple channels
  • Get user acceptance
  • Close the project
  • Take care of administrative project work

The scope of what the project manager is responsible for will vary depending on the organization you’re in. For example, project managers don’t create and manage project budgets in some companies.


Scrum Master Responsibilities

Here’s a quick rundown of from this post on Scrum Master responsibilities:

  • Lead Sprint Planning
  • Lead / Organize the daily Scrum Meeting
  • Lead the Sprint Retrospective
  • Help with the Sprint Review
  • Assist with the Product Backlog
  • Participate in upfront planning and discovery
  • Take part in Release Planning & Release Backlog Refinement
  • Work with the Product Owner and others to remove roadblocks
  • Reduce team disruptions
  • Assist with Reporting



Scrum Master vs Project Manager: What About an Agile team?


In Waterfall, the Project Manager takes a leadership role in leading the team and developing and managing the plan.

But what about all those project management activities if the team is Agile?

You’ll have some of the same activities, but not all.  And those activities are done by different people.

Scrum Alliance explains that for an Agile team, the Scrum Master “doesn’t manage the team that produces the work; instead, he supports the product owner, coaches the team, and makes sure that Scrum processes are adhered to.”

Instead of leading the team and managing the work, the Scrum Master takes a support role in helping the Product Owner and team in backlog management and completion. She doesn’t manage the team in the way a Project Manager does. She ensures the team follows the scrum processes in the daily stand up meeting and other ceremonies of backlog grooming, retrospectives, and demos.

She can also work within the organization to address constraints and dependencies with other teams. There may be bottlenecks that communication with others can help remove.

The Scrum Master role is different than that of Project Manager. She doesn’t manage the team in the way a Project Manager does. She ensures the team follows scrum processes in the ceremonies and ensures the team can move forward by removing roadblocks.Click To Tweet

But there’s still the need to communicate with the customer, identify requirements, and prioritize work. Who does this in Agile?


The Product Owner

Much of what a project manager does in Waterfall methodology is done in Agile by the Product Owner. 

In a way that the Project Manager makes decisions and leads the project in traditional Waterfall, the Product Owner makes decisions in Agile. It is the Product Owner who does the following:

  • makes decisions on product development and priority based on user input and market changes.
  • evaluates the product as development continues, listens to user input, assesses the market and the needs that the product will satisfy, and makes decisions on how to proceed throughout development.

The Scrum Master coaches the team in executing Agile practices to complete the work the Product Owner prioritizes.

The Product Owner works with the customer and team to set direction. The Scrum Master works with the Product Owner and the Agile team to ensure the team can move forward with development with no impediments, and that the Scrum practices are carried out.



Scrum Master vs Project Manager: Level of Effort

The role of Project Manager is usually a full-time position. 

The role of team Scrum Master likely won’t take all of your time.  This depends on the maturity level of your team and how well you’re all doing agile. 

So when considering Scrum Master vs Project Manager, know that you can likely still do other work as a Scrum Master.

At first, when the team is beginning Agile, the Scrum Master role will take more time. However, the more sophisticated your team becomes at Agile, the less effort the Scrum Master will need to put into that role.

Once an Agile team is up and running smoothly, the Scrum Master will not need to dedicate as much overall daily effort to the scrum ceremonies and activities.

Once an Agile team is up and running smoothly, the Scrum Master will not need to dedicate as much overall daily effort to the scrum ceremonies and activities. She can add value in other ways, too, such as helping with backlog items or coaching. Click To Tweet

For this reason, the Scrum Master can also do other things, such as coach other teams, or produce work toward product development.

Even if you’re working in software development, and the Scrum Master is non-technical, there are still valuable activities that she can do in addition to the role of Scrum Master. Some examples of work that a non-technical Scrum Master can do are acceptance testing and creating user guides or training materials to support the product. And the Scrum Master will handle many administrative activities such as planning and arranging logistics for ceremonies as part of supporting the team. 



Scrum Master vs Project Manager: Summary


When comparing the difference between a Project Manager and Scrum Master, the Project Manager has more of a leadership role than a Scrum Master. The Scrum Master plays a support role for the scrum team. The Project Manager leads the planning and execution of the project. In Agile, the Product Owner leads much of the planning and prioritizing. 

This information should help when determining which would be a more appealing path to take. Though the roles are both valuable, they’re very different.


Scrum Master vs Project Manager Simple explanation of Scrum Master vs Project Manager activities #projectmanagement #Agile


  1. Stella July 25, 2017
    • Leigh Espy August 7, 2017

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