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How does a Scrum Master differ from a Project Manager?

A Scrum Master differs from a Project Manager in so many ways.

Project Managers are traditionally interested in delivery. They build plans. They assign work. They ensure that work is done, tracked and delivered on time.

It is a great way of working when you work in simple or complicated environments such as civil engineering.

In complicated environments, most of the variables are known. People know how and when to build bridges and often they know the best way of building those bridges.

In complicated environments, the project manager ensures that the correct team is in place and ensures that each part of the project happens when it is supposed to happen, as it is supposed to happen.

The project manager will communicate progress to project stakeholders and act as an intermediary for all the moving parts of the project.

In complex environments such as software engineering, traditional waterfall-style project management fails. In many ways, the more complex the environment, the more the project manager is being set up to fail right from the start.

They simply cannot be the focal point of every part of the project or product development process. They are deploying tools that are designed for one environment in a completely different environment which often means that they will struggle.

In complex environments, you cannot know the variables upfront. You don’t know the answers upfront and you can only estimate how long it may take for a solution to be discovered or created.

In Scrum, a Scrum Master works at creating a team of the brightest people to solve a problem that nobody has ever solved before. To create a product, feature or service that nobody has ever created before.

A Scrum Master places the emphasis on planning rather than a set plan.

A Scrum Master focuses on helping people to understand that consequences of their actions, on understanding the vision and purpose of the product, feature or service.

Helps the team contextualise the problem and focus on how to achieve the best solution.

The Scrum Master understands that nobody can know what lies around the corner and instead of building concrete, long-term plans which may or may not work, they will instead help the team take smaller steps filled with lots of inspection, adaptation and retrospection on what has worked and how that can help in future.

They do so to help the team make the most of opportunities in the future and build on each success through continuous improvement and empirical learning (that is, learning through doing or observing) within the team environment as well as throughout the organization.

A Scrum Master is a member of a Scrum Team and as such, is not the focal point of the product development process. They work in conjunction with the Product Owner as well as the development team (the team of skilled experts who actively do the work).

So, in summary, a Scrum Master is focused on creating an environment where team members can excel whereas a Project Manager is focused on ensuring that each part of the project happens as it was preconceived and within the time frame that others committed to.

If you are interested in becoming a Scrum Master, visit our Certified Scrum Master course page. If you are interested in becoming a Product Owner, visit our Certified Scrum Product Owner course page.

Visit ‘What is a Scrum Team’ if you are interested in how a Scrum Team operates within the Scrum Framework.

Frequently Asked Scrum Master Questions

Frequently asked Training and Certification questions