Scrum Master vs. Project Manager: differences and similarities

Door Patrick Verheij

Project managers still exist. That seems to be a friggin’ miracle for some agile minded people who tend to advocate that there should be no more projects. Everything needs to be teams that work on products indefinitely. Scrum has replaced the project!

Regardless of what you believe, I believe there’s still something to learn from the whole discussion about Scrum Master versus Project Manager. Let’s get on with it.

Differences

Traditionally, Project Managers have one goal: finishing their projects! Preferrably within time, budget and scope. Such a goal has turned out to be a myth of course, whether attempted in software development or physical construction. That’s the whole reason why the term “agile” has been coined in the first place: to get rid of repeated stupidity.

Scrum Masters, at least those who understand their job, learn how to setup and benefit from iterative and incremental processes. They learn about Scrum and how such a framework helps a team NOT be stupid. They coach their teams to fix time and budget and increase scope gradually, involving the customer along the way.

Scrum Masters also understand about quality and the importance of it. Project Managers do know about the importance of quality, but usually don’t have a clue beyond that. Just hire an architect to fix it and rely on the professionalism of the project members involved. At least that’s how I witness how it’s done.

Being a Project Manager is great by the way. You get to wear a suit, attend lots of meetings with important people, you can hire and fire people, dictate the entire project planning, and decide on how to spend the budget. That’s why you really deserve that BMW. Scrum Masters don’t drive such cars. They work with a Product Owner who does all the fancy stuff. A Scrum Masters needs to be present on the floor and do stuff. She can’t afford to spend time working on Excel sheets.

When looking at Linkedin profiles, it seems that Project Managers are very fond of making things LARGE. They take pride in having done projects with many people and large budgets involved. That’s how they upgrade to Program Managers. Scrum Masters however tend to always make things smaller. They love a small team and usually don’t care that much about budgets. They’d rather show pictures of their teams and all the colourful stuff they create on walls and whiteboards.

Project managers tend to be EXTREMELY good at knowing their way around an organization. They know how to bend or avoid existing rules. They have friends they can ask for favours and they give favours away. They have learned how to use the organization as it is to max out their project. They usually don’t change the organization for the better. A great Project Manager uses the status quo to get her project across the finish line. As opposed to a great Scrum Master who has taken on the mission to radically change the organization, creating agility for her own team and all of the organization around it.

Now let’s move on to the…

Similarities

Project Managers and Scrum Masters are both people: they tend to make mistakes. Fortunately they are both able to learn from those and recover. They have the ability to communicate, to apologize, to receive feedback, and make love to their spouses. If they choose to do so of course. They can also be busy, waste time, be grumpy, and eat bananas. They are PEOPLE!

Project managers aren’t end bosses. They have to report to steering committees and stakeholders. Scrum Masters aren’t bosses either. They usually have to sidekick their Product Owners while reporting to…steering committees and stakeholders.

Both Scrum Masters and Project Managers do everything they can to learn about the organization they work in. For very different reasons, but still.

Project Managers think Scrum Masters are inferior to them. The opposite also holds firmly.

Both Project Managers and Scrum Masters fail when they neglect being professional. They fail when they ignore basic principles about the actual job they perform. They fail if they aren’t craftsmen. They fail if they neglect people and opinions. They both have many opportunities to fail in many ways.

Fortunately, Scrum Masters AND Project Managers alike also have options to change the situation they are in for the better. They may have different options, but still: they have options. Great PM’s and SM’s explore those options and learn how to make the world around them a bit better.

And when they do, it suddenly doesn’t give a damn WHAT they are. WHO they are is what counts.

Screw labels like “project”, “Scrum”, “agile”, “waterfall”, “Scrum Master”, and “Project Manager”, and everything else that holds you back from doing a great job for a greater cause. Know that cause, know your job, and explore those darn options that are thrown at you from everywhere!

Patrick Verheij

06 59 443 447

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