scrum master vs project manager

Scrum Master vs Project Manager: How to Tell One From Another

It’s easy to confuse the role of a Project Manager with that of a Scrum Master. After all, they both can manage projects. As Coursera noted, Scrum Masters can be Project Managers, or Project Managers can become Scrum Masters. However, if you allocate both a Scrum Master and a Project Manager to one project, you’ll have to draw the line between these two roles. This post will explore those differences so that you can understand who is who and choose which one is right for your organization’s needs.

Scrum Master vs Project Manager: Roles & Responsibilities

What does a Scrum Master do?

There are several definitions of what a Scrum Master is. Here is one that I like:

A Scrum Master is someone who helps their organization to be more agile. They do this by teaching and coaching people on how to use Scrum and agile methods, helping developers and teams to be more productive, and removing impediments for the team’s progress.

The Scrum Master is not a traditional manager in the sense of a person who gives orders and makes people do things. Instead, they help the team to become more productive and efficient by removing impediments that might prevent them from delivering their work.

A Scrum Master is a facilitator, not a manager. They do not manage the team, they manage the process.

In short, it means that you should help the team to get things done. You should not be involved in the actual development of the software or project management aspect of it — those are tasks for your team members and not for you. You should also not be involved in any technical decisions — those are typically made by product owners or business analysts working with developers on an ongoing basis.

What does a Project Manager do?

A Project Manager is responsible for an entire project from beginning to end — from inception through delivery, implementation, support and maintenance. If you’re hired as a Project Manager, then most likely your main tasks will include:

  • Establishing scope requirements
  • Planning resource allocation
  • Setting up milestones
  • Creating realistic timelines
  • Managing budgets
  • Managing risks

Related: What Successful Project Managers Do Differently

Now, let’s look closer at how to tell both roles apart.

The difference between Scrum Masters & Project Managers

1) Project Managers are responsible for the overall project and its output.

Project Managers are responsible for the overall project and its output. They are responsible for the big picture, end result and final product. The Project Manager must ensure that all tasks are completed on time and in accordance with budget, scope and quality requirements.

Project Managers also manage team members’ expectations by providing them with clear communication about what is expected from them in terms of deliverables or output. In addition, they will also ensure that everyone on the team has a clear understanding of what their roles and responsibilities are within the project context.

2) Scrum Masters are responsible for the team and the environment that facilitates good work.

As a Scrum Master, your role is to help the team deliver value through the whole software development lifecycle. This includes:

  • Helping create an environment that facilitates good work by removing impediments and unnecessary tasks from the team’s path.
  • Ensuring that everyone on your team has what they need to succeed, including people who may be new to working together.
  • Keeping track of progress toward specific goals and metrics that matter most to stakeholders in order for them to track progress over time.

3) While Project Managers have a longer-term perspective, Scrum Masters focus on the here and now.

As a Project Manager, you have a longer-term perspective on the project at hand. You’re more concerned with the big picture—the goals, objectives and milestones of your projects. As a Scrum Master, you’re more concerned with the people on your team and how they can work together to accomplish those same goals and milestones. The end goal is still important but it takes a backseat to immediate concerns like keeping motivated team members happy so they can do their best work or ensuring that everyone has access to tools or information necessary for completing tasks.

One way to think about this distinction is that it’s similar to how an architect designs buildings versus how a construction worker builds them: architects might design incredible structures with intricate details but construction workers only need to know what materials go where in order to build these structures efficiently without sacrificing any quality of craftsmanship along the way.

4) While Project Managers input status into planning tools, Scrum Masters raise impediments to progress.

The Scrum Master is responsible for the team and the environment that facilitates good work, while the Project Manager is responsible for the overall project and its output. The Project Manager has a longer-term perspective; their role is to set goals and guide progress toward those goals. On the other hand, the Scrum Master focuses on short-term impediments to progress. They are responsible for removing these impediments so that their teams can deliver value in sprints (a sprint is a time period of one or two weeks).

5) Whereas Project Managers create issues lists, Scrum Masters maintain backlogs.

Scrum is governed by two main artifacts: the product backlog and the sprint backlog. The product backlog is a prioritized list of all work items (features) that will be done in order to create a shippable product. The sprint backlog is a prioritized list of work items that are being done by the team during each iteration – usually no more than 30 days long. Neither one of these artifacts have anything to do with issues or problems, but rather high-level descriptions of what needs to get done in order for us to deliver our goal at the end of our project (i.e., a finished software application).

Project Managers can create issue lists that contain issues related specifically to their project; Scrum Masters may maintain these issue lists as well as their own backlogs containing any other tasks required across multiple projects (i.e., maintenance tasks).


The differences between these two roles are important to understand, but the similarities are even more important. Project Managers and Scrum Masters both need to be able to work with teams and stakeholders and understand their needs. They need good communication skills, organizational skills, and technical expertise (especially in software engineering). Both roles rely on collaboration with others towards a common goal—without collaboration, there would be no project!

Share your thoughts