Scrum Master and Project Manager: How do They Compare

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As Agile gets adopted by more companies, many debates and confusions among the practitioners develop and persist. For example, the Scrum methodology of Agile SDLC often undergoes debate about the roles of a Scrum Master and a traditional Project Manager – How do they compare? Is it correct to directly compare the roles of the two?

Not quite! And this is because of the radical inherent philosophical differences between traditional Waterfall and Agile methodologies towards software development.

Agile SDLC aims to get a functional software, with the flexibility to adapt constantly changing business needs. It emphasizes on

  1. Individual and interactions over process and tools
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation, and
  4. Responding to change over following a plan.

These philosophies naturally require the roles of Project Manager to change. While a Project Manager is a leader, following a set process, a Scrum Master is one who is a facilitator or a coach, if you will. Being a Scrum Master is not just about carrying out changed set of roles and responsibilities, but it is also about bringing perspective change in the way the roles and responsibilities are executed.

A Project Manager is responsible for the successful initiation, planning, design, execution, monitoring, controlling and closure of a project. But a Scrum Master is responsible for only the ‘HOW’ part of the project only. The overall responsibility of the project lies with the Product Owner.

You can say that in Agile Scrum, a Project Manager’s role is split in two – Product Owner and Scrum Master. A Scrum Master coaches the team and makes sure that Scrum processes are followed. A Scrum Master’s role is an unstructured one when compared to the structured process-based role of a Project Manager. It is the responsibility of the Product Owner for creating the right product and delivering the right business value. A Product Owner has to maintain the product backlog. He has to prioritize backlogs according to changing business needs. The Product Owner must ensure that changes are incorporated in the product and the product continues to deliver right value.

A Scrum Master supports the Product Owner. A Scrum Master analyzes the project from different angles and advices the Product Owner on how to get the work done effectively. A Scrum Master helps in maintaining backlog, release plans and radiating Scrum artifacts such as product backlog, sprint backlog or sprint burn down chart, for the Product Owner.

The role of a Scrum Master demands perspective change from traditional Project Manger’s role. Like a coach a Scrum Master should be the one who is inspired by facilitating productivity and success of the team. You can compare his or her role with that of a football (or any other field game) coach. After all, the word “Scrum” is derived from…..yes, Rugby! And there’s a reason for deriving this name from Rugby. Just like in Rugby, a Scrum development team needs to work towards common goals, collaborating with other team members to know their work status, and self-managing their work parallelly – all under business circumstances that change rapidly. A Scrum Master’s role is to remove any bottlenecks that may hamper this collaboration that propels productivity.

The Scrum Master Role on Scrum Methodology by CollabNet describes wonderfully what a ScrumMaster does:

First and foremost, the ScrumMaster remove[s] any impediments that obstruct[s] a team’s pursuit of its sprint goals. In other words, the ScrumMaster does everything he or she can to facilitate productivity. [For example] When a developer’s computer dies, it’s the ScrumMaster’s job to get it back up and running—or get another one. If developers are complaining about the high temperature in the team room, the ScrumMaster must find a way to cool it down. It might be easy to summarize a ScrumMaster’s work in a sentence or two, but scenarios he or she could face are truly infinite.

What is your take?


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