Do You Need Project Managers or Scrum Masters?

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Project managers and scrum masters play key roles in the successful completion of IT projects. The differences between these two roles are really in their methodologies, skills, techniques, leadership styles, and how they interact with other team members.

Teams can benefit from the addition of a scrum master or project manager depending on their needs, but it helps to understand the distinct differences between their job functions to know what you need for your situation.

Let’s first talk about what a project manager does and scrum master job description to better understand which role is a better fit for your business

What Is a Project Manager?

Project managers typically oversee the full lifecycle of a project and take on a leadership role to ensure they are completed on time, on budget, and within expectations of overall company goals.

A successful project manager will have strong planning and organizing skills, as well as proficiency in scheduling project elements, overseeing teams, and managing budgets.

Traditional project manager responsibilities can include:

  • Defining the project scope
  • Overseeing the entire project lifecycle budget
  • Mitigating potential project risks
  • Maintaining the quality of project deliverables
  • Liaising between teams and stakeholders
  • Tracking all project-related schedules
  • Sourcing and approving project resources
  • Project Manager Requirements: Certification and Education

Project managers are typically responsible for overseeing many moving parts of a plan, and some may find it beneficial to seek out the certifications or further education if they are looking for a project manager job.

The most common certifications are the Project Management Professional (PMP) and the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM), which typically require a certain level of education such as a high school diploma, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree. With certification, project managers have been estimated to earn 32% higher salaries than other non-certified team members according to the Project Management Salary Survey by the Project Management Institute.

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What Is a Scrum Master?

Scrum masters also work to ensure project success, but their expertise is often more about keeping a team organized and progressing on projects based on identified priorities. They implement agile project management methodologies and often work in software development, but that expertise can be used in research, sales, marketing, education, and technology. It can be helpful when leading efforts in what are unpredictable or changing environments.

Scrum management is characterized by sprints—short work cycles that last from days to weeks designed to help projects move quickly by focusing on specific steps or iterative processes—instead of “all-at-once” approaches.

Scrum masters often host daily standup check ins or routine team meetings to ensure plans and efforts are staying on deadline to meet the project timeline and expectations.

Traditional scrum master responsibilities can include:

  • Scheduling and leading regular check in like daily stand-ups, sprint planning, and project reviews to ensure goals are being met or adjustments are being made quickly
  • Having a thorough understanding of scrum principles and agile methodology as they best pertain to a project or product development
  • Fostering smooth project transitions and teamwork and communication to ensure team members are producing high-quality work
  • Mitigating onboarding or training issues that prevent a team’s ability to work

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Scrum Master Requirements

Certifications such as Certified ScrumMaster (CSM), the Advanced Certified ScrumMaster, and Certified Scrum Professional (CSP) all demonstrate that an individual is competent in scrum methods and qualified for leadership roles within agile product development.

Project Manager vs Scrum Master Methods of Operation

Project managers and scrum masters can play pivotal roles within a team or an organization, but it can help to compare their core methods of operation to understand the distinction.

For example, although both roles work on a project’s overall success where a scrum master will focus more on smaller, daily challenges and moving the project forward. Project managers often are more focused on the successful deliverable or outcome of a project’s final product.

Scrum masters focus exclusively on scrum projects and supporting teams that are trained using agile methodology. Project managers, on the other hand, must be prepared with a variety of methodologies to manage diverse organizational projects.

Scrum Master vs. Project Manager: Differences Explained

   Project Manager  Scrum Master 
Team Size  Typically afforded larger budgets to oversee entire project lifecycles spanning several teams.  Scrum teams are traditionally lean, so they can remain Agile and responsive. 
Goals  Project managers follow predetermined goals to plan for risks and budgets well in advance.  All project goals should be aligned with Agile practices and adjusted regularly with daily stand-ups and sprints. 
Key Responsibilities   

  • Liaise between management and project teams to ensure goal alignment. 
  • Responsible for planning, creating budgets, and overseeing all project-related tasks. 
  • Works alongside other teams and departments to achieve project goals. 
  • Focus on processes and workflow efficiencies. 
  • Take on all aspects of risk management. 
  • Ensure project completion. 

  • Resolve blocks or barriers to Scrum workflows. 
  • Oversee Scrum ceremonies and daily stand-ups. 
  • Plan and monitor team sprints. 
  • Facilitate working through product backlog. 
  • Monitor and identify opportunities to increase project efficiency. 
  • Motivate the scrum team, 
  • Help the team adhere to Scrum practices. 
Benchmarks  Project goals are set at the beginning and changed less frequently. PMs understand the importance of quality assurance throughout a project and will hire consultants or look externally for support to stay on budget/task.  They set smaller benchmarks at each stage of product development to ensure efficiency and goal alignment. 
Tools  Must be versatile and able to juggle tools from scheduling, budgeting, project tracking, managing risk, and more. They should be proficient in project management solutions with a strong ability to build schedules, diagrams, and performance reports.  Scrum masters rely on more collaborative tools such as agile boards for planning and virtual whiteboards, sprint boards, dashboards, and boards for post-mortem whiteboards. 


Are Scrum Masters Also Project Managers?

Yes and no. Scrum masters are a unique type of project manager, but they are not typically considered the same as a traditional project manager.

Project managers are leaders focusing on deliverables from project kick-off to close-out. They plan, implement, and oversee efforts by managing all related items, such as the schedule, staffing, and budget. Project managers will often recap a plan’s successes and failures for the organization. In short, project managers work on leading a project from end to end.

Scrum masters, by contrast, may be measured by their immediate team’s success. Success here often means that the team was efficient and effective in meeting timely goals, delivering value, and working cohesively. Agile principles such as failing fast, continuous improvement, and learning by discovery help teams make flexible decisions that guide their success.

Whether your organization has project managers, scrum masters—or both—it helps to ensure these key roles are filled by the right candidate. Reach out to find the right project manager or scrum master for your next project.