Should Project Managers be Scrum Masters?

We explore the overlap between Scrum Master and Project Manager roles and discover they might not be as different as you first thought.

If your reaction to the title of this blog is a resounding NO – please hear us out. Some consider Project Managers and Scrum Masters to be two distinct roles with no overlap, whilst others see Scrum Masters as the Project Managers of Agile environments. Either way, there’s a lot of opinions out there. Here, we take a look at the look at the overlap between these roles and find that there’s more in common than you may have first thought.

Project Managers Vs. Scrum Masters: A History

Delving into the origins of Scrum Masters sheds some light why many people perceive the role to be at odds with Project Managers. The Agile principles that the Scrum Master role belongs to stem from the world of technology and software development. Developers felt restricted by traditional project management processes and Project Managers were seen as the ones enforcing this. Out of frustration with these methods, Scrum Masters were born. At first, Scrum Masters were intended to be entirely different from Project Managers, however, today Project Managers are embracing Agile principles. As Agile continues to gain popularity, the philosophy behind the Scrum Master role is being increasingly adopted in traditional project management. 

Skills for Success

Despite their hostile beginnings, there’s a lot of overlap between the skills that Project Managers and Scrum Masters need for success. In the simplest terms, Project Managers and Scrum Masters are both concerned with the team’s performance and are constantly looking for ways to improve the team’s efficiency.

Although different methodologies may bring different terminology, the daily activities of Project Managers and Scrum Masters are often fairly similar. Both are tasked with building schedules, managing scope, managing change and tracking and reporting progress.

Project Managers and Scrum Masters take briefs from stakeholders and build a plan that gets communicated outwards, leaving the technical team members to do what they do best. Neither are telling the team how to do their work, but rather looking for way to mitigate risk and resolve problems along the way. Negotiation, communication and conflict resolution are then three vital skills that Project Managers and Scrum Masters must possess. If they don’t communicate effectively with stakeholders and show respect to their team, they are at risk of jeopardising the success of the project.

Mindset

As we’ve seen, many of the responsibilities of these roles overlap, but a key way in which Scrum Masters and Project Managers are often seen as different is their relationship to the team. On paper, Scrum Masters are positioned alongside the team, whereas Project Managers are managing from outside of the team. Project Managers have an extensive list of responsibilities from budget to time frames, so it’s no surprise that their default setting is control. But what if we saw Project Managers as collaborators like Scrum Masters?

Maybe much of the difference attributed to these roles is all in the mindset. By changing their attitude and behaviour, Project Managers could serve the team, like Scrum Masters, rather than manage it. If Project Managers considered themselves as members of the team, rather than someone that manages from outside of the team, they are likely to build better relationships and in turn stronger communication. Shielding the team from stakeholders or chasing a group that doesn’t provide their work on time, are just some of the ways that Project Managers can become a little more Agile.

When we step away from textbook definitions and into real organisations, we find that no organisation or stakeholder is working in truly Agile or truly traditional methods. We have to work with what we’ve got. So, rather than seeing Scrum Masters and Project Managers as opposing roles, understanding the overlap between them allows change professionals to flex their approach according to the needs of each project.