Confused about the differences between Scrum masters and project managers?
Comparing a Scrum master and a project manager is like comparing Friends with The Office. They’re both great sitcoms, but nobody’s going to think of them as the same show, right?
Similarly, when you’re looking at a Scrum master vs project manager, you’re going to find a few similarities, but a lot of differences too!
In this article, we’ll do a comprehensive project manager vs Scrum master comparison and highlight a tool that can help both of them carry out their duties!
This Article Contains:
(click on the links to jump to a specific section)
- What are project managers and Scrum masters?
- Scrum master vs project manager: how do they differ?
- Similarities between a project manager and a Scrum master
- The ONE thing every project manager and Scrum master needs
Let’s get the ball rolling!
What Are Project Managers And Scrum Masters?
Before getting into our project manager vs Scrum master showdown, let’s first go over what they are.
Because just like Friends or The Office, you need a brief introduction of the characters before you can start to follow things easily!
A. What are project managers?
Project managers… well… manage projects!
But I won’t leave you hanging with that explanation!
There are a lot of roles and responsibilities that go into managing those projects.
Because you have project managers for almost any project in any industry, they don’t have a standard set of responsibilities.
For example, you don’t need Ross’ intellect to realize that a software development project manager is going to have radically different responsibilities compared to a project manager at a construction site!
However, in most cases, the roles and responsibilities of a project manager include:
- Actively planning and executing the project
- Monitoring the development team’s activities to keep them on track
- Communicating project developments to clients and other stakeholders
- Maintaining productivity and facilitating collaboration in the team
- Managing the project budget
- Signing off on all deliverables
And when your roles and responsibilities outnumber the relationships that Ross had, you know you have a lot to do!
B. What are Scrum masters?
The Scrum process doesn’t have a project manager.
They have Scrum masters, instead!
But what is the Scrum framework?
The Scrum framework is an Agile project management approach that was first conceptualized by Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi in 1986.
What is Agile project management?
Unlike traditional project management, Agile practice divides a project into multiple smaller cycles (called sprints) to make them easier to tackle.
At the end of each Agile development cycle, Agile teams present the product to the customers for feedback. They then incorporate their suggestions before moving on to the next cycle until they’re done with all the cycles in the Agile project.
And as it’s an Agile method, the Scrum framework follows this sprint-based approach too!
Okay, so where does the Scrum master job come in?
The Scrum master (also known as a Scrum manager) is in charge of ensuring that the team members working on the project follow every Scrum and Agile practice effectively.
That’s the role of Scrum Master?
What about talking to stakeholders?
What about planning a Scrum meeting?
Well, that’s actually handled by the product owner.
Who is the product owner?
The product owner (also known as the product manager) is usually the senior-most member of the Agile team and is responsible for:
- Selecting the features (user stories) to be tackled (product backlog items)
- Scheduling and running multiple Scrum meetings
- Communicating with stakeholders
- Signing off on the project when complete
Ok, I know this can be slightly confusing.
So let me clarify it using examples from The Office:
The product owner is like Michael Scott.
They have to talk to clients, schedule the project plan, and sign off on everything.
The Scrum manager is like Dwight Schrute.
They ensure that everyone else in the team remains productive and isn’t slacking off!
So, ultimately, the Scrum master’s role includes responsibilities like:
- Coaching the project team about the Scrum Agile methodology
- Removing any roadblocks that affect the team’s efficiency
- Participating in the daily Scrum meeting
- Maintaining team dynamics
- Helping with the sprint planning process
Scrum Master vs Project Manager: How Do They Differ?
Joey and Chandler are both significant characters in Friends.
But they have different skills and play very different roles, right?
Joey’s the cool, perpetually-hungry, smooth-talker while Chandler’s the awkward, wise-cracking, funny man.
Similarly, Scrum masters and project managers are both essential to their organization, just in slightly different ways.
Here’s a breakdown of their differences:
A. Differences between their skills and responsibilities
1. Project manager role
Project managers are in charge of almost everything that goes down in a project. That’s why their roles aren’t very well-defined.
Depending on the type of project and organization, a project manager could be in charge of:
- Developing the project charter
- Selecting team members
- Assigning duties
- Risk management
- Mentoring the team
- Collaborating with clients
- Delivering the project
They usually do everything to help a project along and meet its deadline!
2. Scrum Master role
Unlike the project manager’s role, the Scrum master is more like a servant leader, as it’s mostly the product owner calling the shots.
However, Scrum Masters have a more well-defined role when it comes to managing an Agile project.
They’re chiefly responsible for ensuring that the entire development team follows the Scrum and Agile principles properly. It’s their job to make sure that the Scrum process aligns with the Scrum and Agile principles stated in the Scrum Guide and Agile Manifesto.
But what’s the Agile Manifesto and Scrum guide?
They’re documents containing the guiding principles behind Agile project management and the Scrum process. Read more about the Agile Manifesto and the Scrum Guide here.
The Scrum Master’s responsibilities also include resolving any conflicts in team dynamics and communicating project updates to the product owner. They also act as the mediator between the development team and the product owner — ensuring that both of them stay on the same page.
For example, if the product owner has set deadlines that are too challenging, the Scrum manager can negotiate more reasonable deadlines for the team.
Project managers are usually responsible for all the activities related to a project, while Scrum masters mainly deal with helping Scrum teams follow the principles of Scrum.
B. Differences between their application
1. Project manager role
The role of a project manager is a general role that applies to any project in any industry.
It doesn’t matter if it’s interior design or mechanical engineering, every organization can benefit from a project manager leading the team in the right direction!
As long as your manager isn’t this guy:
2. Scrum Master role
A Scrum Master is only present in a Scrum project.
And while you can apply Scrum to various industries, it’s best suited to fields like software development and other technical industries.
Project managers are present in almost every project in every industry. However, a Scrum Master is only found in a Scrum project.
C. Differences between their teams
1. Project manager role
As the project manager works with every industry and project type, the kinds of teams they manage and work with can vary. As such, they need to adapt to various industry and business requirements.
Some project managers manage huge teams of 50+ members (like Rachel at Ralph Lauren), while some of them manage tiny teams that are under 10 members (like Michael when he was running the Michael Scott Paper Company)
Additionally, none of these teams have a standard experience level.
As a project manager, you could manage a team of experienced staff who are already self-sufficient, or you could manage a team with no experience!
2. Scrum Master role
As Scrum masters are limited to Scrum projects, there’s more uniformity in their teams.
Any Scrum team is always very small, consisting of no more than 10 members.
These team members must be self-sufficient and cross-functional, ensuring that the Scrum master doesn’t have to monitor their activities continually.
They’re more like the Avengers than the Michael Scott Paper Company.
A Scrum team is expected to get stuff done on their own — the Scrum master is only there to point them in the right direction!
Project managers can be in charge of teams of varying sizes and experience levels. Scrum masters only deal with small, experienced teams with cross-functional skill sets.
D. Differences between their leadership styles
1. Project manager role
As project managers are in charge of everything that goes on in the project, they usually adopt a top-down leadership style.
But isn’t a top-down leadership methodology bad?
Sometimes, teams (especially inexperienced ones) need a structured top-down approach to get things done.
Remember, flat hierarchies are perfect when everyone in your team is at a similar experience level and can contribute equally. However, if one person has more responsibilities than anyone else, it makes sense for them to take charge and have everyone report to them!
Need proof of the effectiveness of this?
Just look at Dunder-Mifflin!
Michael tries to make it a flat hierarchy, but that just results in chaos!
2. Scrum Master role
As Scrum masters aren’t necessarily the “heads” of the project, they usually adopt a more flat, collaborative leadership style.
Remember, their job isn’t to tell the team how to tackle the product backlog, it’s only to guide them in the right direction.
And with any Scrum team, that’s the perfect approach!
Because the team members are experienced and self-sufficient.
They don’t need someone monitoring every aspect of the product development process. They just need someone to get them on the right track!
Project managers usually apply a top-down leadership style. Scrum masters opt for a more collaborative, flat hierarchy.
E. Differences between their qualifications
1. Project manager role
As project managers are present across industries, there’s no standard qualification that qualifies you to become one.
The project manager’s responsibilities can change with different industries, so a single qualification may not give you all the skills you need to succeed.
That’s why most project manager responsibilities are learned on the job, and most project managers are usually experienced professionals in their fields.
They don’t need to have any managerial certifications; they just need to thoroughly understand their jobs and translate that into carrying out their project manager responsibilities!
However, this isn’t always the case.
While not always necessary, certain specialized industries require their project managers to be certified.
For example, an Agile project manager can’t just show up and manage their Agile teams without knowing anything about Agile development or an Agile practice like Kanban!
Any Agile project manager should ideally take an Agile project management training course before starting work. This is because you need an Agile coach to explain the Agile methodology, the Agile environment, and Agile transformation.
2. Scrum Master role
There’s a lot of unique aspects that go into managing an Agile method, like the Scrum methodology.
For example, in the Scrum methodology, you have concepts like:
- Sprint planning
- Scrum meetings like the daily Scrum and Scrum of Scrums
- Unique roles (each Scrum role differs from any other Agile method)
- The list goes on!
As there’s so much to learn in the Scrum methodology, you need a professional Scrum master leading your team.
But how do you become a professional Scrum master?
Luckily, there are certified Scrum institutes like the Scrum Alliance and Scrum.org that have tons of certified Scrum courses to help you become a professional Scrum Master!
If you want to become a certified Scrum master, opt for the certified Scrum Master (CSM) course by the Scrum Alliance.
In these certified Scrum courses, a Scrum trainer will take you through everything you need to understand the Scrum master job.
The Scrum trainer will explain the various roles in Scrum, the multiple Scrum ceremonies, and most importantly, the skills needed in the Scrum master job. And once you earn your Scrum master certification, you can start managing Scrum projects efficiently.
In most cases, there’s no particular certification you need to become a project manager.
However, for Scrum masters, it’s best to take a professional Scrum master course before managing their team.
Similarities Between A Project Manager And A Scrum Master
A project manager vs Scrum master is like comparing Ross with Dwight Schrute.
Sure, they have their differences, but there are some things that the traditional project manager and the Scrum Master have in common.
Let’s take a look at these similarities:
- Both aren’t the top decision-makers regarding the project. The project manager needs to report to the stakeholders, whereas the Scrum manager needs to answer to the product owner.
- Both roles need valuable expertise in the framework and field which they are working in
- Both roles are committed to the performance of the project team and brainstorm ways to increase their efficiency
Still not clear about the whole thing?
Let’s summarize what they both do.
A. What a Scrum master does
The Scrum master’s role includes:
- Teaching the Agile team about things like Scrum rules, Agile principles, Scrum ceremonies, and the Agile environment
- Facilitating various Scrum events (or Scrum ceremonies) like sprint planning, daily Scrum, sprint review, and sprint retrospective
- Leading the Agile or Scrum implementation throughout the Agile team. This involves ensuring that the program manager, product manager, and the Scrum team understand the Agile framework correctly.
- Improving team dynamics and making sure that the Scrum team is on the right track
B. What a Scrum Master does not do
Here are the things outside the Scrum master’s role:
- Creating the project plan or project charter
- Planning each Scrum meeting
- Managing multiple teams
- Communicating with an external stakeholder
C. What a project manager does
The project manager’s role includes:
- Creating the project charter and project plan
- Tracking the progress of the project team
- Communicating with the stakeholder
- Providing administrative services for the project
- Managing multiple teams according to the organization needs
D. What a project manager does not do
Here’s what lies outside a project manager’s role:
- Maintaining communication between any external stakeholder and the project team (usually done by project board)
- To authorize funds or provide resources for the project (done by the project board or project sponsor)
- Limit themselves to only Agile projects
The ONE Thing Any Project Manager Or Scrum Master Needs
Sure, project managers and Scrum masters differ in a lot of ways.
But just how Friends and The Office aim to entertain people, project managers, and Scrum Masters share a common goal too.
They manage a team to ensure that the project progresses smoothly.
But is it possible for someone to keep track of every team member’s activities manually?
Luckily, project management tools can help project managers and Scrum masters:
- Keep track of a project’s progress
- Monitor their team member’s activities
- Collaborate with clients
- And more!
So which project management tool should you use?
The Best project management tool for 2020: ClickUp
ClickUp is the world’s highest-rated project management tool. Used by over 100,000+ teams from startups to giants like Netflix, Google, Airbnb, and Nike, it has everything that Scrum masters and project managers need.
Whether you need help with managing:
- Scrum, Waterfall, Kanban or traditional project management
- Simple or complex projects
- Single or multiple teams
ClickUp has got you covered 360 degrees!
Here’s a look at some of its features:
A. Box view: the view built for managers
ClickUp’s Box view is a dream come true for Scrum masters and project managers.
Imagine Monica managing an Agile project.
ClickUp’s Box view will give her a quick overview of what Ross, Rachel, and everyone else on her team is working on. As tasks are sorted by assignee, she can quickly take stock of everyone’s assignments and reassign items and workloads in seconds!
But that isn’t the only view you get with ClickUp!
You also get views like:
- List view: perfect for managers who prefer GTD-style to-do lists. Tasks are listed down as checklists, which can be checked off according to progress.
- Board view: drag and drop tasks around to track progress quickly
- Calendar view: manage your project schedules easily
- Me Mode: a view that only highlights items assigned to you to help you focus better
B. Profiles: quickly keep track of each team member’s activities
Keeping track of what every character is up to in a Friends episode is usually tricky.
And that’s just 6 characters!
How do you keep track of teams with over 10 members?
And sometimes even multiple teams?!
With ClickUp’s Profiles!
Just click on a team member’s profile to track their tasks.
But unlike most other tools, you’re not limited to what they’re currently working on, you can also see:
- The tasks they’ve finished
- The tasks they’re working on
- The tasks they’re scheduled to work on
Scrum masters and managers can even reschedule and reassign tasks directly from a person’s Profile. It’s the perfect way to manage each member’s workload to ensure that you meet your deadlines!
C. Assigned Comments: communicate effectively with your team
Remember when you asked someone to do a task on Slack or your project management tool, but everyone forgot about it? Irritating, right?
But when your team is working on tons of different tasks, it’s easy for your comments and suggestions to get overlooked.
Say goodbye to this problem with ClickUp’s Assigned Comments.
You can instantly assign a comment to a team member, and it’ll pop up in their task tray. They’ll even be notified of this to help them get to work on it.
Finally, when they’re done, they mark the comment as resolved to eliminate unnecessary follow-ups!
D. Detailed project reports: to track your progress easily
How can project managers keep track of the project progress without going bonkers?
They’ll be like our Friends here:
ClickUp comes with tons of reports to help you stay on top everything:
- Gantt Charts: keep up with projects and dependencies in a flash
- Burndown Charts: see how many tasks you have left to determine if you’ll meet project timelines
- Burnup Charts: track what you’ve accomplished so far and motivate your team further
- Velocity Charts: check how long it takes your teams to complete tasks
- Cumulative Flow Diagram: see how things are progressing and identify bottlenecks
Other ClickUp features
You didn’t think those were all of ClickUp’s features, did you?
Just like Friends and The Office episodes, you can never run out of features!
Here’s what you get:
- Comments: easily communicate with team members over the project
- Priorities: always attempt the most important tasks first
- Automation: automate over 50+ repetitive project tasks
- Dependencies: always attempt tasks in the right order
- Lists: this Agile software can quickly manage tasks in your product backlog or sprint backlog
- Docs: easily store and create company and project-related docs
- Pulse: visualize your team’s activity across a given period
- Notepad: jot down thoughts and ideas and share them with team members
- Custom Access Rights: bring stakeholders into your project space without compromising on your privacy
- Powerful iOS and Android Mobile Apps: to manage your work while you’re on the move
For a more detailed look at all of ClickUp’s features, click here.
While project managers and Scrum masters may have different roles and responsibilities, they both need a tool to help them manage their teams and stay sane.
Luckily ClickUp has everything you need to collaborate with your team, track project progress, or communicate with stakeholders.
So why not sign up today for ClickUp for free and see what you can accomplish in your ‘Office’?
Erica is ClickUp’s Senior Content Manager and professional beach bum. She spends her days creating emails, blogs, landing pages, and more to help people increase their productivity so they can save one day every week to do more of what they love.