Are Scrum Masters the new Project Managers?

applesAndOrangesYesterday I registered for a website, and the drop down list for job titles had entries for ‘Project Manager/Scrum Master’ and ‘Developer/Engineer’. I was in a bit of a dilemma there. I am currently Scrum Master AND developer on my team. I never really considered Scrum Master being a job title, so I picked developer. Problem solved, right? But wait, ‘Project Manager/Scrum Master’?! Are they the same? Same category at least? Is a Scrum Master a lightweight Project Manager? – I think: No, possibly and sort of.

Project Manager (PM)

The PMI Project Management Body of Knowledge recognizes five basic process groups and nine knowledge areas being typical of almost all projects. These are the domains of a Project Manager. The five basic process groups identified are

  1. Initiating,
  2. Planning,
  3. Executing,
  4. Monitoring and Controlling and
  5. Closing.

Some or all of these processes are contained in each of the nine knowledge areas consisting of

  1. Integration,
  2. Scope,
  3. Time,
  4. Cost,
  5. Quality,
  6. Human Resource,
  7. Communications,
  8. Risk and
  9. Procurement.

Scrum Master (SM)

The Scrum Guide defines the Scrum Master role as follows:

The ScrumMaster is responsible for ensuring that the Scrum Team adheres to Scrum values, practices, and rules. The ScrumMaster helps the Scrum Team and the organization adopt Scrum. The ScrumMaster teaches the Scrum Team by coaching and by leading it to be more productive and produce higher quality products. The ScrumMaster helps the Scrum Team understand and use self-management and cross-functionality. However, the ScrumMaster does not manage the Scrum Team; the Scrum Team is self-organizing.” [emphasis is mine]

Comparison

Both SMs and PMs try to create an environment that enables the team to do their work. They are facilitators. However, they are doing this in completely different ways. SMs manage the development process and remove obstacles identified by the team, whereas traditional PMs manage resources (including the team members) and do all of the planning, monitoring and controlling involved.

For Scrum teams, the project planning consists of

  • the Product Backlog,
  • the Release Backlog (both owned by the Product Owner) and
  • the Sprint Backlog (picked and estimated during the Sprint Planning Meeting by the development team)  together with
  • the corresponding Release and Sprint Burndown Charts (kept up do date by the SM).

The SM monitors the team’s achievements during the sprint using the Sprint Burndown Chart and raises discrepancies to the Product Owner, who then controls the outcome of the sprint by adjusting its scope. The development team also monitors and controls its own progress daily during the Daily Scrums. In Scrum terms this is known as inspect and adapt. This means the PM tasks of planning, monitoring and controlling, are shared by the SM, the Product Owner and the development team.

A traditional PM would do all these tasks by himself after gathering the status from the team in regular meetings. This also means that he is held ultimately accountable for the success or failure of the entire project.

Conclusion

And so, I would answer the question, if Scrum Masters are the new Project Managers with a definite ‘No’. Scrum Masters fulfill some of the tasks of a traditional Project Manager, but so do the other members of a Scrum team, i.e. the Product Owner and the development team. Should PMs become SMs then? Possibly. However, it requires a lot of discipline of the PM not to try to manage the team, and not to tell them which tasks to tackle next during the Daily Scrums. Since it is the SM’s responsibility to enforce the Scrum process there is no-one to correct the PM in case he falls back into the old rut. It is more common that SMs are recruited from within (while possibly still being part of) the development team.

Consequently, is there no place for Project Managers in Scrum? I shall cover this question in my next entry.

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8 comments

  1. Great post Manuel. Per the PMI definition of a Project Manager, a ScrumMaster is definitely not a PM. The SM is more of a project leader than manager, as management duties are split up between the team and the Product Owner. To answer your final question, project managers are not necessary in Scrum, again as management duties are split between the team and the PO. However, the PO doesn’t work in a black box, and that is where the SM comes in, to help the PO understand where things are and why, and to help the PO plan ahead as well as go through the process.

    • Hi David,

      comparing the two roles might not be fair (and I will write more about this in my next entry), but it is a question that is asked by decision makers in companies that are adopting Scrum. They want to know which of their existing roles change. With the Scrum Master and Product Owner there are two new roles that they never heard before. Obviously, they must carry out some tasks that have been someone else’s responsibility before.

  2. Great post and I’m looking forward to read about your thoughts re. how the traditional PM fit into the mix. As a manager and product owner, I’m still favouring having a strong technical lead who is also a part of the team planning increments with the team. In my experience, this creates healthy competition where the individual team members get to collaborate and / or cross swords in the ever going quest for the right thing.

  3. A Scrum Master is not a Project Manager. I’d say the PM normally handles a lot more stuff – usually non-tech, more managerial things. In my world a SM is dev TEAM lead, a PM is PROJECT Lead. There can be a huge difference. I have two teams working for me, each have a team leader, I am Project Manager and Product Owner. This setup works fine for us.

  4. SM is not PM. However, a good SM take a lot of PM stuff and embed into team values and activity. And one of the most important part of SM as PM is to ensure that real value is created during sprints. This enable valuable items for PO and less sprints failed. Another part is control. The PO should loose control over development team which is auto-organized and can keep control but SM should actively monitor this auto-control status. It’s important that SM to lead not to rule, but a bit of management skills can turn a SM into a very good SM. SM should take care of team members and this is pure people management activity. So, in terms of math, I should say that SMPM and more likely SM+PO=PM.

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