Scrum Master vs. Technical Project Manager: Key differences

Published on
September 7, 2023

With so many moving parts to keep track of on an Agile team, it’s no wonder we have a wide variety of specialized roles to help get things done effectively and efficiently. In this article we will examine the roles of Scrum Masters and Technical Project Managers, which are both distinct and intertwined.

So what’s the difference between Scrum Masters and Technical Project Managers? Fair question. If you’ve spent enough time in software development, all these titles might start running together - they’re using a lot of the same vocab words, but each of these roles comes with unique responsibilities, and calls for a specialized set of skills for success.

A dev team is really at its best when the people leading the work are checking all the boxes: keeping an eye on the details, but also focusing on the big picture, removing obstacles, but also championing adherence to agile methodologies, coaching the team, but not micromanaging. Scrum Masters and Technical Project Managers do a lot of those things, and they can separately and collaboratively drive results in a big way. 

The differences between a Scrum Master and a Technical Project Manager

From championing agile methodologies to steering technical projects,  Scrum Masters and Technical Project Managers often converge in shared goals and collaborative efforts. Keep reading to learn the differences, similarities, career trajectories, and responsibilities of these two key Agile roles.

Let’s start with the five major differences:

Scope of responsibility: 🌍

Scrum Master: Their main role is to ensure the Scrum team is functioning optimally within the framework of Scrum. They remove obstacles, coach the team on best practices, and ensure they have control over sprint projects. See more responsibilities of Scrum Master’s here.

Technical Project Manager: They oversee a broader picture. TPMs manage projects from conception to completion, ensuring everything stays on track regarding time, scope, and resources.

Interaction with teams: 🤝

Scrum Master: They work closely with their dedicated Scrum team and the product owner. Their main focus is team dynamics and ensuring everyone is aligned and working collaboratively.

Technical Project Manager: While they may interact with multiple teams, their interaction is often more about coordination, ensuring resources are available, and meeting timelines.

Primary objective: 🎯

Scrum Master: They aim to uphold and evangelize the principles of a scrum framework, ensuring the team stays true to the methodology and delivers high-value increments.

Technical Project Manager: Their main goal is to ensure the successful delivery of the project, managing risks, stakeholders, and any changes that come up during the project lifecycle.

Tools of the trade: 🛠

Scrum Master: They often utilize tools like burn-down charts, sprint boards, and daily stand-ups to monitor progress and tackle issues.

Technical Project Manager: They might use Gantt charts, risk matrices, and other project management tools to monitor progress.

Flexibility vs. structure:

Scrum Master: Embraces change! They understand that in an agile environment, requirements might evolve and adapt to it by ensuring the team remains flexible.

Technical Project Manager: While they understand the need for flexibility, they lean more towards structured planning and execution, ensuring that deviations are managed and don't derail the entire project.

The responsibilities of a Scrum Master

Now that you understand the key differences between Scrum Masters and Technical Project Managers, let’s take a closer look at what exactly a Scrum Master does - from skill sets to job titles, and the certifications that can help you level up.

Desired skill set

Here are the top 7 skills that high-performing Scrum Masters all have:

  • Facilitation Skills: Ensuring everyone is heard and consensus is reached in meetings. Because nobody likes those never-ending meetings.
  • Servant Leadership: The ability to lead by serving, putting the team's needs first. A happy team is a productive team.
  • Conflict Resolution: Addressing and navigating team disputes swiftly. No more tiptoeing around issues!
  • Agile Mindset: Embracing change and leading the team through it. The software world is ever-evolving, after all.
  • Continuous Improvement: Always looking for ways to optimize team performance. Good is just the stepping stone to great.
  • Stakeholder Communication: Keeping everyone, from devs to CEOs, in the loop. No more surprises!
  • Efficient Meeting Management: Streamlining meetings to be concise and actionable. 

Could an AI Scrum Master help your team get more out of all your meetings? Spinach is a popular scrum tool for Agile teams because it seamlessly integrates with your existing tools and ensures your meetings are efficient, structured, and productive.

Salaries 💵

Here’s what the pay scale typically looks like for different Scrum Master roles:

***Note: These are ballpark figures, and actual salaries can vary based on location, experience, and company.

Potential certifications you should check out

Consider these Scrum Master certifications to boost your skills and street cred in the Agile community:

Certified ScrumMaster (CSM): A foundational certification to kick off your Scrum journey.

Advanced Certified ScrumMaster (A-CSM): For those looking to dive deeper and handle more complex challenges.

Professional Scrum Master (PSM): Dive deep into Scrum methodology with this rigorous certification.

The responsibilities of a Technical Project Manager

Now that we’ve covered what Scrum Master does, let’s shift to specifics of the Technical Project Manager role. As you read our guide, you’ll notice some key differences in the skillsets and certifications that are associated with this specialized role. 

Desired skill set

A technical project manager is a unique hybrid role, because it requires both management and technical skills. Technical Project Managers need to have a high level of IT expertise and experience managing complex IT projects, but the role also requires the same leadership, mentoring, and managerial skills of broader project management roles. 

Here are the top 7 must-have skills:

  • Technical Proficiency: Understanding the tech stack being used. Because you can't manage what you don't understand.
  • Risk Management: Anticipating and mitigating potential roadblocks. Playing it safe is the new cool.
  • Resource Allocation: Ensuring the right people are on the right tasks. Square peg, meet square hole.
  • Stakeholder Communication: Building bridges between techies and non-techies. Becoming the ultimate translator.
  • Time Management: Keeping projects on track and ensuring timely delivery. Because time waits for no project.
  • Budgeting and Forecasting: Allocating and monitoring funds efficiently. Making every penny count.
  • Effective Meeting Leadership: Directing meetings to be on-point and result-oriented. 

Every Technical Project Manager needs a tool that makes meetings more impactful, efficient, and action-oriented. That’s exactly why more project managers love Spinach’s features, such as meeting summaries and action items.

Salaries

Here’s a glimpse at the average salaries for various technical project management positions:

***Note: These numbers are estimations, and can vary based on many factors, including location, experience, and company size.

Certifications

These certifications can help Technical Project Managers like you stand out:

Project Management Professional (PMP): The gold standard for project managers in various industries.

Certified IT Project Manager (CITPM): Tailored specifically for the tech world, blending IT knowledge with project management.

Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP): A blend of agile training combined with project management. Perfect for those TPMs who want to keep a foot in both worlds.

Read more about technical project management here in our recently published guide.

Similarities between project managers and scrum masters

As you can see, Scrum Masters and Technical Project Managers have unique and distinct roles within the Agile team framework, but they are commonly confused as interchangeable by people outside the industry, because of the obvious similarities. 

In the end, Scrum Masters and Technical Project Managers do have a lot in common. Both roles are staunch advocates for their teams. Whether eliminating obstacles or ensuring the best use of resources, their focus remains unerringly on the team's best interest.

Highly effective communication is another skill these roles have in common. They ensure that stakeholders and team members remain in sync, and they're also the bridge that channels feedback and information between the two groups. 

Adaptability is another shared trait. In a field as dynamic as tech, change is the only constant. Scrum Masters and Technical Project Managers both have to be champions of change, navigating their teams through shifting project requirements, stakeholder expectations, and technical challenges. And because disagreements and conflicts are inevitably part of any project, Scrum Masters and TPMs must have an uncanny ability to iron out these wrinkles, ensuring a harmonious and productive team environment.

Additionally, both roles have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Whether it's a new Agile methodology or the latest in project management software, they're always on the lookout to enhance their skill sets.

Where Scrum Master and Technical Project Manager roles intersect 

It probably comes as no surprise that Scrum Masters and Technical Project Managers often have to work together to get things done. From kicking off a sprint, to mitigating risk, and managing stakeholder communication, these roles are made to be able to synchronize their work to support the team. Because the Agile framework is all about collaboration and communication, Scrum Masters and Technical Project Managers already have the tools and skills to speak the same language, work together, and drive results in tandem.

Meet Spinach, the AI Project Manager

While Scrum Masters and Technical Project Managers might chart their distinct courses, their shared visions and responsibilities often lead them to the same destination.

No matter what your Agile role is, Spinach is the AI Scrum Master or Project Manager that can help supercharge your productivity. It’s like having an AI-powered assistant in all your meetings, saving you hours every week on note taking, follow ups, and keeping your board up to date. And because Spinach was built specifically for dev teams, you get instant meeting summaries with action items, decisions, and ticket suggestions.

Try Spinach today and watch your meetings soar to new heights!

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