ScrumMaster Certification: Answering Crucial Questions – Isn't a ScrumMaster just a Project Manager by Another Name?


In prior posts in this series, we have examined a number of crucial questions regarding the Scrum Framework and the role that a ScrumMaster plays in addressing them.  We conclude this series with an overview of how the role of ScrumMaster differs from that of a traditional Project Manager.

Before highlighting these differences and answering the question,”Isn’t a ScrumMaster just a Project Manager by Another Name?”, it is important to note that Project Managers have value.  Most are good and decent people who are trying to add value wherever they can in the pursuit of a project objective.  With that said, the goals of a project manager differ remarkably from those of a ScrumMaster.

A project manager is charged with ensuring the project goal is achieved within the scope, schedule, cost and quality parameters set by the project sponsor or project steering committee.  While they may discuss customer value or the team in pursuit of this goal, both of these topics are secondary to it.  The team is often seen as a means to end, a method of accomplishing the project.

In contrast, a ScrumMaster views the team as a source of creative, innovative energy that, when set loose in a self-organizing environment and served by an educated Product Owner and ScrumMaster, can achieve amazing results.  While this may sound a little new age, it is a crucial distinction between the two roles.  While a Project Manager is concerned with plans, controlling change and reporting the status of the effort to the various project stakeholders, the ScrumMaster trusts the Team and the Product Owner to work through the framework to address planning, changes and the reporting of status to stakeholders.  While these items look different in Scrum, they achieve the same objective freeing the ScrumMaster to focus on things like Team dynamics, ceremony facilitation, and impediment removal.

A ScrumMaster is also concerned with the technical practices of the Team.  While items such as the Team’s automation and approach to continuous product integration are of minimal interest to most Project Managers, they fall clearly within the purview of the ScrumMaster.  A ScrumMaster is a strong advocate for the Team adopting these practices and is continually educating the Team on their benefits and pushing them to continually search for, and stretch, the technical excellence of their product.  Project managers might inquire as to whether the project team is controlling their source code or is regularly testing the application, but rarely will a traditional project manager push beyond this cursory inquiry.

In short, a Project Manager exists to serve the project stakeholders by providing them with an idea of the project’s progress through indirect means – how much money has been spent, how time has expired in a flawed plan, etc.  A ScrumMaster instead does anything that will help the Team be a better version of itself, to, in the words of Jeff McKenna, the coach of the first Scrum Team ever, “help the Team be awesome”.

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