Skip to main content

Did you know that according to a recent study, 70% of agile projects are successful compared to the waterfall methodology, which has a success rate of 58%. Despite this success, there is still confusion around the roles of Scrum masters and project managers in agile environments.

As a Project Management Coach, Consultant, and PMP Certification Mentor with multiple certifications including CSM and PMI-ACP, I have worked with many professionals who are trying to navigate this decision. 

In this article, I'll explore the key differences and similarities between Scrum masters and project managers, and provide insights to help you determine which career path is right for you.

What Is A Scrum Master?

The Scrum master is responsible for ensuring that the team adheres to the Scrum framework and agile principles. They facilitate Scrum events like Sprint planning, daily stand-ups or daily Scrums, and retrospectives, and help the team identify areas for improvement. 

The Scrum master fosters a culture of collaboration, good communication, and continuous improvement within the team.

They encourage the team to embrace agile values and principles, such as customer satisfaction, continuous delivery, and adapting to change. Additionally, they remove any obstacles that may be preventing the team from delivering value and ensure that the team is delivering value to the customer.

What Is Scrum?

Are you tired of traditional project management methodologies that fail to deliver value to your customers? Look no further than Scrum, a revolutionary agile framework that prioritizes collaboration, flexibility, and continuous improvement.

Scrum is a framework for managing complex projects, particularly in software development, that emphasizes the importance of transparency, inspection, and adaptation. Scrum is built upon the principles of agile development.

The Scrum framework is centered around the Scrum team, which is composed of a product owner, a product manager, a program manager, a development team, and a Scrum master. The product owner is responsible for defining and prioritizing the product backlog, while the development team is responsible for delivering value to the customer.

The Scrum master acts as a facilitator and coach, ensuring that the team adheres to Scrum principles and agile practices.

Scrum follows a series of iterative and incremental sprints, typically lasting two to four weeks, during which the team delivers a potentially releasable increment of the product. 

The Scrum framework includes a set of ceremonies, or events, such as sprint planning, daily stand-up, sprint review, and sprint retrospective, which enable the team to collaborate, plan, inspect, and adapt.

The key principles and values of Scrum include transparency, inspection, and adaptation.

  • Transparency refers to the importance of sharing information openly and honestly, particularly with regards to progress and obstacles.
  • Inspection refers to the continuous evaluation of the product and processes to identify areas for improvement.
  • Adaptation refers to the ability to adjust plans and processes in response to new information or changing circumstances.

By following the Scrum framework, agile teams can deliver high-quality products in a timely manner, while fostering a culture of collaboration, communication, and continuous improvement.

Check out these collaboration best practices for more.

What Does A Scrum Master Do? 

As we've established, the role of a Scrum master is a critical role in agile development. They are responsible for ensuring that the team is fully aligned with the Scrum framework and agile principles and that they are delivering value to the customer. Here are some key aspects of what a Scrum master does.

The Scrum master is responsible for identifying and removing any obstacles that may be preventing the team from delivering value to the customer. 

They also facilitate the aforementioned Scrum events to ensure that the team is aligned with project goals and that they are following Scrum principles and practices.

Additionally, the Scrum master acts as a coach and mentor, helping team members to work together effectively and continuously improve the Scrum process.

To be effective in this role, a Scrum master must have strong communication skills, leadership skills, problem-solving skills, and adaptability. They must be able to facilitate collaboration and communication between team members and stakeholders, motivate and inspire team members to work together effectively towards common goals, and identify and solve problems quickly and effectively.

The Scrum master helps the team to become more self-organizing, encouraging them to take ownership of their work and collaborate effectively. They also help the team to continuously improve their processes, identifying areas for improvement and implementing changes as necessary.

The Scrum master facilitates communication and collaboration between project team members and stakeholders, ensuring that everyone is aligned with project goals.

Sign up for the DPM newsletter to get expert insights, tips, and other helpful content that will help you get projects across the finish line on time and under budget.

Sign up for the DPM newsletter to get expert insights, tips, and other helpful content that will help you get projects across the finish line on time and under budget.

  • Hidden
  • By submitting this form, you agree to receive our newsletter and occasional emails related to The Digital Project Manager. You can unsubscribe at any time. For more details, please review our Privacy Policy. We're protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

What Is A Project Manager?

In addition to the Scrum master role, another important role in agile project management is that of the project manager.

A project manager is a professional responsible for overseeing the planning, implementation, and tracking of a specific project or set of projects, ensuring that projects are completed on time, within budget, and to the satisfaction of stakeholders.

What Does A Project Manager Do?

Now that we've established what a project manager is and their importance in project management, let's take a closer look at their specific responsibilities, key skills required, and examples of how they manage a project.

A project manager is responsible for overseeing the implementation of a project plan, coordinating with team members and stakeholders to ensure that the project is completed on time and within budget. They develop project plans, define scope, objectives, timelines, and resources required for the project.

Additionally, they identify and manage project risks, develop contingency plans, and monitor and control the project progress, ensuring that it stays on track towards meeting project goals and objectives.

Key skills required for a project manager include acting in a leadership role, effective communication, problem-solving, and adaptability. 

They must be able to motivate and inspire team members to work together towards common goals, facilitate collaboration and communication between team members and stakeholders, identify and solve problems quickly and effectively, and adjust plans and processes as necessary to respond to changing circumstances.

Examples of how a project manager manages a project include establishing clear project goals and objectives with stakeholders, defining project scope, breaking the project down into manageable tasks, and developing project plans with defined timelines and resources required for each task.

They are also responsible for risk management, identify potential issues, and develop contingency plans to mitigate them, keeping the project on track towards meeting its goals with proper workflow.

Key Differences Between Scrum Masters & Project Managers

Scrum masters and project managers both play critical roles in project management, but there are key differences between the two.

Scrum masters focus on facilitating agile development within a specific team, while project managers oversee multiple projects and teams from start to finish.

Scrum masters contribute to project success by fostering collaboration, removing obstacles, and promoting continuous improvement within the team. Meanwhile, project managers contribute to success by planning and executing the project, managing resources and risks, and ensuring timely completion while delivering value to the customer.

While both roles may have different focuses and methodologies, they work together towards a common goal: delivering successful projects that meet the needs of the customer and stakeholders. 

Ultimately, the choice between pursuing a career as a Scrum master or project manager depends on individual preferences and skill sets.

Key Similarities Between Scrum Masters & Project Managers

Although Scrum masters and project managers have different roles and responsibilities, they share several key similarities that are essential to project management success. Let's take a closer look at these similarities and how they contribute to the success of a project.

Both Scrum masters and project managers are involved in project management, ensuring that projects are completed on time, within budget, and to the satisfaction of stakeholders. They share a focus on delivering value to the customer while managing resources, risks, and team dynamics.

Both roles require strong leadership skills, including the ability to motivate and inspire team members, facilitate communication and collaboration, and solve problems effectively. Effective leadership is essential to ensure that the team is aligned with project goals and objectives and working together effectively towards achieving them.

Effective communication is also critical for both project manager roles. Both Scrum masters and project managers must be able to facilitate collaboration between team members and stakeholders and communicate project status and progress to stakeholders. 

They must also be able to listen actively and respond to feedback and concerns from team members and stakeholders.

In addition to these shared responsibilities, both Scrum masters and project managers require a range of specific skills to be successful in their roles. Both roles are involved in project planning, defining project scope, objectives, timelines, and resources required for the project.

They are also responsible for identifying and managing project risks, developing contingency plans to mitigate potential issues, and keeping the project on track toward the Scrum meeting its goals. Both roles require adaptability, and the ability to adjust plans and processes as necessary to respond to changing circumstances.

By working together effectively, Scrum masters and project managers can ensure that projects are completed successfully, with the Scrum master focusing on facilitating agile development and the project manager overseeing the entire project from start to finish.

Scrum Master Certifications vs Project Manager Certifications

Scrum masters and project managers are critical roles in project management, and there are several certifications available to validate their skills and knowledge.

Scrum master certifications demonstrate expertise in agile development and the Scrum methodology. They typically require completion of a training course and passing an exam. Available certifications include Certified Scrum Master (CSM), offered by the Scrum Alliance; Professional Scrum Master (PSM), offered by Scrum.org; and Scrum Master Certified (SMC), offered by SCRUMstudy.

Benefits include increased knowledge and skills, improved job prospects, and higher earning potential. Scrum master certifications are highly valued in the job market, particularly for organizations using agile development methodologies.

Project manager certifications demonstrate expertise in project management methodologies. They typically require completion of a training course and passing an exam. Available certifications include Project Management Professional (PMP), Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM), and PRINCE2.

Benefits include increased knowledge and skills, improved job prospects, and higher earning potential. Project manager certifications are also highly valued in the job market, particularly for larger organizations or those with complex projects.

Both Scrum master and project manager certifications are valuable in the job market and can lead to increased job opportunities and earning potential. Which certification to pursue depends on individual career goals and the specific needs of the organization.

Scrum Master vs Project Manager: FAQs

Can Scrum Masters & Project Managers Coexist In An Org?

Yes, Scrum masters and project managers can work together in an organization to deliver successful projects.

Can Scrum Masters & Project Managers Be The Same Person?

Yes, in some cases, a single person can serve as both Scrum master and project manager. However, it can be challenging to effectively manage both roles simultaneously. Clear communication and training can help to ensure the successful integration of the roles.

Which is better: PMP or CSM?

It depends on the individual's career goals and the type of projects they wish to manage. PMP (Project Management Professional) and CSM (Certified Scrum Master) are both highly regarded certifications in the project management industry, but they have different focuses.

PMP is a certification that demonstrates expertise in traditional project management methodologies, such as the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge). It is often preferred for managing larger, more complex projects and is recognized globally.

CSM, on the other hand, focuses on agile methodologies and the Scrum framework. It is one of many agile certifications, and is typically preferred for managing smaller, more flexible projects that require a high degree of collaboration and continuous adaptation.

Is it easier to become a Scrum master or project manager?

Both roles have their own set of challenges and requirements, so it's difficult to say which is easier to become. Becoming a Scrum master typically requires training and certification in the Scrum methodology, along with experience in agile development. 

On the other hand, becoming a project manager often requires a combination of formal education and experience in project management, along with strong leadership and communication skills.

What’s Next?

I hope this article has given you a better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of Scrum masters and project managers on projects. Both roles are critical in delivering successful projects, and it's important to understand the similarities and differences between them.

If you want to learn more about project management, be sure to check out our blog for more articles and resources.

Don't forget to subscribe to The Digital Project Manager newsletter to stay up-to-date with the latest news and insights in project management. We appreciate your support and look forward to helping you succeed in your project management journey.

Natasha Golinsky
By Natasha Golinsky

Natasha Golinsky is a project management coach & consultant, PMP mentor, web development agency founder, and CSM & PMI-ACP certified professional. She has more than 2 decades of experience in the field and is passionate about helping project managers succeed.