Difference between Project Manager and Scrum Master

Difference between Project Manager and Scrum Master

Ever wonder why some workplaces have project managers while others have scrum masters? Or maybe you’re trying to figure out which role is right for you as you look to take the next step in your career. 

The titles sound similar, but project managers and scrum masters actually have quite different responsibilities. As a project manager, you oversee the execution of a project from beginning to end, managing schedules, risks, resources, and making sure key deliverables are met according to plan. 

Scrum masters, on the other hand, facilitate the scrum framework for agile software development teams. They coach, guide, and empower self-organizing teams to meet their goals in an iterative and incremental fashion. 

While project managers dictate the how and when, scrum masters enable the team to figure that out for themselves. The roles require different skill sets, experience, and personalities. So which one is  the best fit for you? Read on to find out.

Defining the Roles – Project Manager vs Scrum Master

As a project manager, your role is to oversee the planning, execution, and closure of a project. You define the scope, timeline, and resource needs to accomplish the goals. Scrum masters, on the other hand, are focused on facilitating scrum teams to be as productive as possible. They coach teams, remove impediments, and ensure scrum processes are followed.

Defining Responsibilities

Project managers (PMs) determine project requirements, create detailed plans to accomplish the goals, and procure resources. PMs oversee budgets, schedules, and solve problems. Scrum masters protect the scrum team from outside interference and help teams follow agile principles. They facilitate meetings, address team dynamics, and ensure transparency.

Leading the Teams

PMs direct project teams, assign tasks, and evaluate performance. They motivate teams to achieve project milestones on schedule. Scrum masters coach and mentor scrum teams to become self-organizing. They encourage collaboration and empower teams to make decisions. Scrum masters lead by example to inspire an agile mindset.

Ensuring Progress

PMs monitor key performance indicators like budgets, timelines, and milestones. They analyze progress and make adjustments to keep the project on track. Scrum masters assess scrum team metrics like velocity and burn down charts. They identify roadblocks slowing progress and work with the team to resolve them. Scrum masters help teams improve their processes to become more effective and efficient.

In summary, while project managers and scrum masters both lead teams to achieve goals, their approaches differ. Project managers take a more directive, task-oriented style, whereas scrum masters adopt a facilitative, team empowerment approach. Both roles are critical to project success.

Key Responsibilities of a Project Manager

As a project manager, you have a lot of responsibility on your plate. Your main role is to plan, organize, and oversee all parts of a project to ensure it’s completed on time and within budget. 

Key Tasks

Some of your key tasks include:
  1. Developing the project plan and schedule. This includes determining the scope, timeline, budget, and resource requirements to keep everything on track.
  2. Managing the project budget and securing necessary resources. You’ll need to estimate costs, obtain funding, and allocate resources to accomplish project objectives.
  3. Leading and motivating the project team. You’ll assemble the team, delegate responsibilities, and provide guidance to keep morale and productivity high.
  4. Monitoring progress and making adjustments. Continually check on milestones and deliverables, identify issues, and modify plans or reallocate resources as needed.
  5. Reporting to stakeholders. Provide regular updates on key metrics like schedule, budget, risks, and milestones. Address any concerns and communicate project status.
  6. Completing administrative work. This includes maintaining documentation, securing contracts and permits, attending meetings, and handling various logistical details.

As you can see, project managers play an integral role in coordinating all the moving parts of a project to achieve successful outcomes. If keeping teams organized and reaching goals efficiently sounds appealing, this could be a great career path for you. The key is staying on top of responsibilities through effective planning, leadership, monitoring, and communication.

Key Responsibilities of a Scrum Master

As a Scrum Master, your main role is to facilitate the Scrum process and resolve any impediments to help your team be as productive as possible. Some of your key responsibilities include: 

  • Helping the Product Owner maintain the product backlog. This includes assisting with refining and prioritizing user stories to ensure the team always has a well-groomed backlog to work from during each sprint.
  • Removing obstacles that are blocking the team or slowing them down. This could be helping resolve technical issues, eliminating distractions, or securing necessary resources. You want to keep the path as clear as possible for your team to achieve their goals each sprint.
  • Coaching the team to improve how they work together and adapt to changes. You provide guidance to strengthen team dynamics, collaboration, and the Scrum framework. You lead regular retrospectives to reflect on what’s working well, what could be improved, and make a plan to implement changes.
  • Facilitating key Scrum ceremonies like daily standups, planning, review, and retrospective meetings. You keep these meetings within the recommended timebox, encourage active participation from all members, and ensure key outcomes are achieved.
  • Protecting the team from outside interruptions and distractions. You shield the team from outside requests that could disrupt their work and commitment to the sprint goals. You re-direct external requests to the appropriate channels to avoid impacting the team’s productivity.
  • Promoting a continuous improvement mindset. You encourage the iterative inspection of processes and adaptation to optimize team productivity, quality of work, and work satisfaction. Incremental improvements build up over time through regular feedback and retrospectives.

In summary, the Scrum Master works to establish and spread Scrum values and practices, leads and coaches the team, and improves how the team works over multiple sprints. The Scrum Master also protects the team from outside interference and keeps the team focused on achieving their sprint goals.

Project Manager vs Scrum Master: Key Differences

As a project progresses, the roles of the Project Manager and Scrum Master become quite distinct.

Project Manager

The Project Manager is focused on the overall delivery and execution of the project. Their responsibilities include:

  • Defining the project scope, timeline, and budget.
  • Putting together the project plan and ensuring milestones are met.
  • Managing stakeholders and client relationships.
  • Overseeing resource allocation and addressing any roadblocks.
  • Ensuring the successful completion of project objectives.

The Project Manager takes on more of a leadership role, concerned with the holistic view and long-term strategy.

Scrum Master

In contrast, the Scrum Master is more focused on facilitating the Scrum process and team. Their duties involve:

  • Coaching the team in Scrum practices and values.
  • Ensuring Scrum ceremonies like standups, planning, and retrospectives run smoothly.
  • Helping the team overcome challenges and impediments.
  • Protecting the team from external interference and distractions.
  • Providing conflict resolution guidance.

The Scrum Master acts as more of a servant-leader, with the team self-organizing to determine how best to achieve the goals of each sprint.

While a Project Manager and Scrum Master have some overlapping skills, their areas of focus and levels of authority differ significantly. The Project Manager takes a top-down, strategic approach while a Scrum Master enables the team’s autonomy and process from within. For a project utilizing an Agile framework like Scrum, both roles are integral to success. By understanding their distinct responsibilities, organizations can ensure the right leadership is in place to support teams in delivering complex projects.

Determining Which Role Is Right for You

So which role is the best fit for you —project manager or scrum master? The responsibilities and required skills for each position differ, so determining what motivates and fulfills you will help decide your career path.

A project manager typically oversees the planning, execution and closing of a project. They create detailed project plans, allocate resources and budgets, manage risks and ensure the project is delivered on time and within scope. 

The role requires strong organizational and leadership abilities. If you’re detail-oriented, enjoy coordinating cross-functional teams and meeting tight deadlines, project management could be appealing.

On the other hand, a scrum master focuses on facilitating the scrum process for agile software development teams. They coach teams on scrum values and practices, remove impediments, and help improve team dynamics and productivity. Scrum masters need exceptional communication and mentoring skills to foster collaboration and empower self-organizing teams. If constant change and problem-solving in a fast-paced environment energizes you, the scrum master role may be a great choice.

In the end, both positions can be rewarding careers. Think about whether you prefer highly structured project plans or constant adaptation to change. Do you want to lead teams or facilitate team empowerment? Are you more interested in executing projects or enabling teams to succeed? 

Answering these types of questions can reveal which role aligns best with your priorities, values and strengths. With experience, you may also find that blending both project management and scrum master responsibilities is the sweet spot for your talents. The most important thing is choosing a path that motivates and challenges you to grow in a meaningful way.


So there you have it, the key differences between a project manager and a scrum master. While they’re both focused on delivering a project, their approaches and responsibilities differ quite a bit. As a project manager, you’re in charge of the overall planning, execution, and completion of a project according to a set schedule. As a scrum master, you’re facilitating the scrum process and helping the self-organizing team work together efficiently. 

The project manager role is more focused on outputs and deadlines, whereas the scrum master role is more focused on outcomes and adaptability. At the end of the day, both roles are critical to the success of a project, they just have different areas of focus in getting there. Whichever role suits you best, keep learning, stay agile, and good luck with your projects!

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