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Agile Approaches

Scrum Master and project manager differences

by Keith Richards
Learn the distinct roles of Scrum Master and Project Manager to optimize your team's performance.
Difference between scrum master and project manager

Do we still need project managers now that we have Scrum? Do the roles overlap? Can we combine them? Why is there confusion between the project manager and Scrum Master roles? Is the Scrum Master just a fancy name for an agile project management?

At agileKRC we are finding that these are still very common questions to many people. Surprisingly, these questions are still being asked by many mature organisations who have been practising agile for many years now.


In this video, Keith Richards, the Founder of agileKRC and Lead Author and Chief Examiner for Agile Project Management (AgilePM) and DSDM Atern looks at the differences between the Scrum Master and project manager roles and how to apply these roles correctly to different situations.

The video covers these topics:

  • How agile operates in different contexts and environments.
  • What are the ideal conditions for Scrum and the Scrum Master?
  • The 3 most common ways to work with these two roles.
  • Can servant leadership coexist with project management?
  • Do we need single points of contact?
  • What goes wrong when you apply these roles poorly?

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To see a PDF version of the presentation used in this video, click the button below.


We continue to see the confusion and problems that can occur when a far too simplistic approach is taken to the correct use of these roles. Sometimes the answer is easy, but at other times there is the need to tread very carefully and blend together concepts that have been created from different philosophical origins.

Some agile doesn’t need a project manager

One of the reasons is that a lot of agile does not need a project manager. Therefore, if you are evolving a product through enhancements with a stable team and a dedicated Product Owner – you do not need a project manager.

The fundamental reason for this, is that the work being carried out is not a project! In fact, one of the worse things you can do is to introduce the role of a project manager into this context.

Another reason for the confusion, is that when we move to more complex situations the simple structure of a framework like Scrum is not able to cope. Well, not in isolation it can’t. Scrum needs to be blended with other concepts to make it work in the best and most effective way. An attempt to ‘stretch’ the concepts in Scrum is prone to be inefficient.

‘Project style’ agile

This is where ‘project style’ agile comes in to play, although many in the agile community struggle with this marriage and some are openly hostile to the notion.

In simple terms the Scrum Master role operates at the team or delivery level, whereas the project manager role operates above the delivery level. Therefore, the roles are different. The two roles do have similarities however, such as the need for skills such as leadership and removing blockers.

In essence, a lot of the problem in understanding how to blend the two roles comes from the fact that there isn’t one simple rule! It all depends on the situation.

There is no need for a project manager if the work is BAU (‘business as usual’). On a multi-team project the project manager sits above the delivery teams and the Scrum Master(s) operate inside the teams.

However, a one team project situation is slightly tricky because the project manager and Scrum Master can be the same person. A further complication is that a project needs a single point of contact from within the team – this is also not straightforward as the Scrum Master is not necessarily seen as that point of contact.

Scrum Master is not a ‘manager’

Unfortunately, the real complications happen when we introduce the concept of team leader or team manager. This is a vital link in a project context.

However, the Scrum Master is not seen as a ‘manager’. So how should this be sorted out? Well the answer is ‘with great care’ because the idea of a single point can be difficult to set up. There are a few options but there is not a simple ‘default’ answer.

Making the right decisions with these two roles can make your life a lot easier.

Learn from agile leaders

agileKRC has helped shape agile thinking by leading the teams that developed AgilePM® and PRINCE2 Agile®. We take a practical, success-oriented approach. We begin by taking the time to listen and understand your needs, before offering our real-world experience and expert guidance.

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