Project Manager or Scrum Master? (or Team Manager!)

Keith Richards
18 Nov 2016

Why is there confusion over the role of the Project Manager and the Scrum Master?

Having worked in the agile arena for nearly 20 years, there are many things that still surprise me. One of those surprises is the frequent debate and questions about the relationship between the Scrum Master and the Project Manager – i.e. where do they both fit in?

There are many reasons that this debate still occurs, but it shouldn’t really be a bone of contention nowadays with so many people using these roles and therefore needing to understand the difference.

One of the reasons is that a lot of agile does not need a PM. 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. It 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.

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 the 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.

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.

If you want to know more about these two roles and how they can be complimentary to each other, then why not register for our upcoming agileKRC webinar on Monday 21st, November by following the link:

If you are reading this after the webinar has happened, the link will take you to a recording of the webinar.