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Scrum Master vs. Project Manager: How Are They Different?

While a Scrum Master can be a project manager and a project manager can also be a Scrum Master—the two positions are not the same. 

Each role has its own distinct method of operations, responsibilities, and leadership approaches. However, a Scrum Master and a project manager can both have a clear purpose in an organization in terms of alignment of needs and goals.   

First, let’s break down what each role entails before highlighting the key differences between the two. 

What Is a Scrum Master?

As the name suggests, Scrum Masters implement and facilitate the Scrum project management framework, which is part of the Agile methodology. This involves leading the team in Scrum-specific events like sprint planning and review. 

Beyond leading, Scrum Masters often fall into the role of coach as well. They coach their teams on best Scrum practices as well as offer ongoing support and guidance in resolving issues that arise. You might hear them referred to as a servant leader because of their strong focus on providing support to their team to remove impediments and help their team members succeed. 

Read More>> What is Scrum Project Management?

What Is a Project Manager?

A project manager organizes and leads a team to ensure a project is completed on time and within budget. They are responsible for managing the scope of projects and resources, including collaborating with stakeholders, team members, and other project managers.

Effective project managers are part of a project from start to finish. They create schedules, manage budgets and deliverables, and act as a liaison between the team and clients. You can find Project Managers in any company, as their skills are transferable regardless of the industry. 

What Is the Difference Between a Scrum Master and a Project Manager? 

Part of the reason that the two roles are often confused for one another is that there is an overlap in skills needed to be successful at both. For example, Scrum Masters and project managers require strong communication and organizational skills; however, how they use and apply these skills varies. 

Method of Operation 

A fundamental difference between the two is how they approach projects. Project managers have the freedom to manage projects using the framework or methodology of their choosing. The Waterfall methodology is considered the most traditional option and is still widely used today. According to a study by The Project Management Institute (PMI), 56% of companies surveyed use Waterfall in project management, with an additional 19% using a hybrid approach that involves Waterfall components. 

On the other hand, Scrum Masters are Agile experts who exclusively work with Scrum projects. This means that they do not manage projects but instead act as a guide or coach to take teams through the Scrum process.

Team Size

A key component of Scrum is having a small team that is in constant communication with one another. On any given Scrum team, you will have a Scrum Master, a product owner, and a development team, which usually consists of no more than 10 people. 

Project managers do not have a limit to the number of people on their team or the number of projects they manage at a time. Some projects will require a team of 50 or more, while others may only need 5-6 people. 

Project Goals 

When looking at a Scrum Master vs. project manager, the main difference boils down to their goals. 

For project managers, the goal is to successfully complete the project within a given time and budget. To do that, they lead meetings, create communication plans and schedules, and manage risks. Their team is one factor in the larger picture.

A Scrum Master’s goal has less to do with the project and more to do with the process and the team. They make sure everyone is well-trained in Agile practices, and they focus on coaching Scrum teams to help them finish the project on time. 

How to Get on Track to Become a Professional Scrum Master or Project Manager?

Whether you’re a project manager looking to enhance your Scrum knowledge or you’re entirely new to the field, here are a few tips to help you take the next step in your career path:

  • Expand your network to include project managers and Scrum Masters—ask them questions about their respective roles, backgrounds, etc.  
  • Build experience by looking for opportunities in your current role to implement project management or Scrum elements. 
  • Continue your education with an online Master of Project Management program or take an individual Scrum Master Certification course at Wake Forest University’s School of Professional Studies.

If you’re interested in advancing your career, learn more about Wake Forest University’s Advanced Agile Leadership online certificate from the School of Professional Studies.