Scrum Master vs Project Manager: What's the Difference?

Published on
July 6, 2023

The terms "Scrum Master" and "Project Manager" often emerge in conversations, creating some degree of ambiguity. While both roles share a common objective - steering the project to successful outcomes- their roles and responsibilities in the context of Agile are unique.

In this article, we'll spell out the differences, clarifying the individual roles and responsibilities, and providing some clean cut example of how these roles are the same and how they are different.

What does a Scrum Master do?

A Scrum Master advocates for the Scrum framework. So if your team doesn't use the Scrum framework, then chances are you don't have a Scrum Master. You either have a Project Manager, a Technical Project Manager (TPM), or you split the responsibilities of this role across other member of the team (ie your Product Manager and engineers are facilitating meetings, taking notes, following up, clearing blockers, and communicating with stakeholders).

Scrum Masters make sure that everyone on the team understands and adeptly applies Scrum principles. The Scrum Master acts as a glue for Scrum teams, fostering a collaborative atmosphere that encouraging open communication and swift resolution of obstacles for the team.

Role and responsibilities of a Scrum Master

Transitioning from our overview, let's dive deeper into the day-to-day life of a Scrum Master. What exactly are they responsible for in an Agile team? Below are some of their key responsibilities:

  • Facilitate Scrum ceremonies: This includes daily stand-ups, sprint planning, sprint reviews, and sprint retrospectives.
  • Remove blockers: Scrum Masters act swiftly to remove any obstacles that are slowing down the team's progress, ensuring that the sprint stays on track.
  • Coach and guide the team in Agile practices: They foster an environment conducive to Agile principles and work to continually improve team dynamics and performance.
  • Shield the team from external distractions: A significant part of the Scrum Master's role involves protecting the team from outside interruptions and influences that could disrupt the sprint's focus and progress.
  • Promote effective communication: Scrum Masters promote transparency and open communication within the team, ensuring that everyone is on the same page.
  • Build a productive team environment: They work to cultivate a culture of collaboration, respect, and high performance within the team.
  • Partner with the Product Owner: Scrum Masters assist the Product Owner in managing the product backlog, ensuring it is clear, prioritized, and ready for the next sprint.
  • Promote continuous improvement: Through sprint retrospectives, the Scrum Master encourages the team to reflect on their process, celebrate successes, learn from failures, and implement improvements for future sprints.

By "mastering" these responsibilities (no pun intended), Scrum Masters are indispensable to driving success for Agile teams who work within the Scrum framework. They ensure the team is firing on all cylinders, ultimately leading to more productive sprints and better project outcomes. But remember, as crucial as they are, Scrum Masters aren't the only ones running the show in Agile project management. We'll explore the role of the Project Manager next. 

What does a Project Manager do?

Switching gears, let's delve into the role of the Project Manager. Project Managers make sure that specific projects stays on schedule, within budget, and aligns with the company's strategic goals. Project Managers are the navigators, keeping an eagle-eye on the project's overall direction while dealing with the nuts and bolts of project planning, execution, and progress reports to stakeholders. As I mentioned before, if your company hasn't adopted a Scrum framework, you might have a Project Manager or Technical Project Manager (TPM) assisting your team.

Role and responsibilities of a project manager

Here are some of the specific responsibilities that come along with the role of Project Manager. Notice that you don't see any mention of the Scrum framework and special attention to defining project plans in advance, and budget management. Those are the biggest differences.

  • Project planning: They map out key project milestones, deadlines, and deliverables, creating a clear and actionable project plan.
  • Budget management: Project Managers have a firm grip on the purse strings, ensuring that the project stays within its allocated budget.
  • Risk management: They proactively identify potential risks and create contingency plans to mitigate them, ensuring the project stays on course.
  • Resource allocation: They are responsible for determining and assigning the resources necessary for each task, ensuring optimal utilization.
  • Stakeholder communication: Project Managers maintain open lines of communication with all project stakeholders, including the team, clients, and upper management.
  • Quality control: They ensure that the project's deliverables meet the required standards and expectations.
  • Team management: They supervise the project team, ensuring each member is clear on their tasks and responsibilities.
  • Project evaluation: Upon project completion, Project Managers are responsible for evaluating the project's success against its initial goals and objectives.
  • Documentation: They keep comprehensive records of all project-related data and information for future reference and continuous learning.

In essence, Project Managers serve as the backbone of any project, steering it from inception to completion. Whereas Scrum Masters don't define projects, timelines of budgets. Project Managers are strategic planners, resource managers, and risk mitigators with skills that contribute significantly to the overall project success. Now, having outlined the distinct roles of Scrum Masters and Project Managers, it's time to bring these two together. 

Differences between a Scrum Master and project manager

With a solid understanding of both the Scrum Master and Project Manager roles, it's time to dive deeper into how these two positions diverge. They may share a common endgame - project success - but their focus, methods of operation, and skills required differ significantly. Let's dissect these differences to better understand how these two roles work together to form a powerful force in Agile project management.

Focus and purpose

Scrum Master: The Scrum Master focuses on the team and the Agile process. They coach the team to self-organize, remove impediments to their progress, and ensure that Scrum practices are followed. Their main purpose is to facilitate team collaboration and to ensure a smooth and efficient workflow. They don't have predefined goals or objectives.

Project Manager: Project Managers focus extends beyond the development team to include the project's entire scope. They have a broader perspective, dealing with resource allocation, risk management, and ensuring that the project stays within budget and on schedule. Their primary purpose is to deliver the project successfully, meeting the predefined goals and objectives.

Iterative work vs planned work

Scrum Master: The Scrum Master operates within a framework that values collaboration, flexibility, and iterative progress. They do not dictate tasks but instead empower team members to take ownership of their work. They use the Scrum ceremonies to guide the team's operation and continuously improve.

Project Manager: On the other hand, Project Managers often employ a more traditional, plan-based approach. They are responsible for setting the project plan, assigning tasks, and monitoring progress against the plan. They have the authority to make major project decisions and often work within a more defined and controlled environment.

Skills and knowledge requirements

Both Scrum Masters and Project Managers require a certain set of skills and knowledge to execute their roles effectively. While there's some overlap, the specifics are quite different.

Scrum Master: For Scrum Masters, the following skills and knowledge are typically required:

  • Proficient understanding of Scrum and Agile methodologies: They should be well-versed in Agile practices and principles, and particularly the Scrum framework.
  • Team facilitation and conflict resolution: As they often mediate between team members, good people skills are essential.
  • Coaching and mentoring: They should be able to guide the team in Agile tools and practices and help them improve performance.
  • Change management: As agents of change, Scrum Masters need to manage the transition when new practices are introduced.
  • Impediment removal: They should be proactive and resourceful in identifying and removing anything blocking the team's progress.

Project Manager: For Project Managers, these skills and knowledge are typically required:

  • Project management methodologies: They need a deep understanding of traditional project management methodologies and tools.
  • Risk and budget management: They should be able to identify risks early and manage the project budget effectively.
  • Team management: They must be skilled at managing diverse teams and coordinating across different functions and roles.
  • Strategic planning: They need to see the big picture and plan accordingly to ensure project success.
  • Stakeholder communication: They should be comfortable communicating with stakeholders at all levels, from team members to upper management and clients.

As you can see, while there are areas of overlap, the Scrum Master and Project Manager roles are quite distinct, each requiring its unique set of skills and knowledge. Understanding this is crucial to utilizing these roles effectively in an Agile environment. 


Scrum Master: The Scrum Master and Project Manager roles diverge significantly when it comes to their respective responsibilities. A Scrum Master primarily focuses on the team and the Agile process, ensuring smooth collaboration, removing roadblocks, and upholding the Scrum principles. Their responsibilities revolve around facilitating Scrum events, promoting effective communication, coaching the team, and working with the Product Owner on backlog management.

Project Manager: Contrastingly, the Project Manager carries a broader set of responsibilities, dealing with the entire project's planning, execution, and control. They manage the project's budget, allocate resources, handle risk management, maintain stakeholder communication, ensure quality control, and evaluate the project against its initial goals upon completion.

Leadership and decision-making

Scrum Master: When it comes to leadership, a Scrum Master adopts a "servant-leadership" style. They guide, coach, and serve the team, facilitating its self-organization and helping it to resolve conflicts. Decision-making within the team is often collaborative, with the Scrum Master promoting team empowerment.

Project Manager: In contrast, a Project Manager often assumes a more traditional leadership role. They take charge of decision-making, especially for strategic project decisions. While they do collaborate with the team and other stakeholders, the ultimate responsibility for the project's success falls squarely on their shoulders.

Metrics and deliverables

Scrum Master: In terms of metrics and deliverables, Scrum Masters focus on the Agile process's quality, striving to improve the team's efficiency and effectiveness. They track metrics such as velocity, sprint burn-down, and team happiness to gauge the team's progress and identify areas for improvement.

Project Manager: Project Managers focus more on the project's tangible deliverables. They track metrics like cost performance, schedule variance, and quality measures. Their eyes are firmly on the prize - ensuring the project's deliverables are completed on time, within budget, and meet the required quality standards.

How Scrum Masters and Project Managers collaborate for project success

While the Scrum Master and Project Manager roles have different focuses and responsibilities, their ultimate goal is the same: project success. And achieving this often involves close collaboration between the two.

The Scrum Master helps keep the Project Manager informed about the team's progress and any obstacles encountered during the sprint. They also provide the necessary Agile context to the Project Manager, who might need to communicate this to external stakeholders.

In turn, the Project Manager can provide the Scrum Master with the project's broader context, including strategic goals and constraints that might impact the team's work. They can also aid in removing impediments that might be beyond the Scrum Master's control.

In essence, these two roles harmonize by ensuring that the team's work aligns with the project's overall objectives, creating a synergy that propels the project towards success.

Do you need both Scrum Master and project manager?

It depends on how your company and team operate. There isn't a hard and fast rule here.

The Scrum Master keeps the Agile practices on track while the Project Manager navigates the overall project landscape. Together, they offer a balance of team-level facilitation and project-level oversight that can boost project performance. And a Technical Project Manager can be especially helpful for teams working on complex technical projects.

However, reality often requires compromises. Resource constraints, team size, and the nature of the project might influence whether you have both roles. If you're on a small team or running a project with fewer complexities, you might have one person wearing both hats. However, remember that each role requires distinct skills and focus, and juggling both might not be effective in the long run.

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