Skip to main content

What's the difference between a Project Leader and a Scrum Master?

This is a serious question ;-)

I just led a workshop for a medium size company which was considering (and is now planning) to start using Scrum as the organizing principle for their SW Development efforts. And exactly this question arose.

As it was, we had a classically trained project manager in the room, so he provided much insight into what is expected of a project manager:
  • Select Team Members
  • Select Tools
  • Plan Tasks
  • Monitor Progress and Sucess
  • Define and Impose Standards
  • Coordinate Work between Team Members
  • Budget
  • Scope
  • Set Priorities
  • Assign Tasks
  • Communicate with the Customer
Explicitly not part of the Project Manager's job is removing impediments.

How is this work distributed among the players in Scrum?

Select Team Membersinitialonce established
Select Toolssharedshared
Plan TasksX
Ensure satisfactory implementationsX
Define and Impose StandardsX
Coordinate Work between Team MembersX
Set PrioritiesX
Commit to Delivery Datessharedshared
Assign TasksX
Communicate with the Customer (for realization)X
Remove ImpedimentsX

So a Scrum master actually has very little in common with a classically trained project manager. The most important job of the scrum master is to remove impediments, something which is explicitly not part of the project manager's job.

The Scrum master is a 'servant leader' -- his primary job is to ensure that his team can work and that everyone is playing by the rules. He will also be an agent if not the agent of change in his organization: identify what prevents to organization from advancing and eliminating that impediment.

If you are looking for the difference between RUP and Scrum, waterfall and Scrum, or almost anything and Scrum, look first at the roles. Here is where the fundamental differences are to be found.


Michael Dubakov said…
Well, I tend to disagree that "remove impediments" is not a part of Project Manager's job. I was a PM several years ago and this was my primary goal that times. Some good books on PM like explicitly mention that. Also here is one nice quote: "Rather than just removing obstacles when they appear, a better Project Manager prevents them from appearing" :)
Peter said…
I was actually surprised by this assertion too. The response was that the PM ensures that impediments are addressed, not that s/he actually addresses them him/herself.

I'm curious what RUP has to say on this subject...
Unknown said…
It's odd to me that people would expect the Scrum Master to be in contact with the client (since most impediments need to be resolved ultimately by the client, in my experience), I would think the Scrum Master would be in charge of whipping the BA or PM into action to remove impediments.
Peter said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter said…
I'm not surprised by it at all.

For example, at a former employer of mine, the project leader was the eyes, ears and mouth of the project; the techies were its arms and legs. So the PL was expected to talk to the customer (gather & spoon feed information to the techies, communicate news especially bad news, to the customer.

So there is conflict potential between the Scrummaster's role as a facilitator and the team's expectation that a "project leader" be the interface to the customer.
Peter said…
Hi Michael,

Just for fun, I went googling for Project Manager Job Descriptions.

This one and that one were among the top links. Both largely confirmed the definition of the Project Manager.

Apparently handling impediments ("issues") is more the job of the program manager than the project manager.

Popular posts from this blog

Sample Definition of Done

Why does Scrum have a Definition of Done? Simple, everyone involved in the project needs to know and understand what Done means. Furthermore, Done should be really done, as in, 'there is nothing stopping us from earning value with this function, except maybe the go-ahead from the Product Owner. Consider the alternative:
Project Manager: Is this function done?
Developer: Yes
Project Manager: So we can ship it?
Developer: Well, No. It needs to be tested, and I need to write some documentation, but the code works, really. I tested it... (pause) ...on my machine. What's wrong with this exchange? To the developer and to the project manager, "done" means something rather different. To the developer in this case, done means: "I don't have to work on this piece of code any more (unless the tester tells me something is wrong)." The project leader is looking for a statement that the code is ready to ship.

At its most basic level, a definition of Done creates a sh…

Explaining Story Points to Management

During the February Scrum Breakfast in Zurich, the question arised, "How do I explain Story Points to Management?" A good question, and in all honesty, developers can be an even more critical audience than managers.

Traditional estimates attempt to answer the question, "how long will it take to develop X?" I could ask you a similar question, "How long does it take to get the nearest train station?

The answer, measured in time, depends on two things, the distance and the speed. Depending on whether I plan to go by car, by foot, by bicycle or (my personal favorite for short distances) trottinette, the answer can vary dramatically. So it is with software development. The productivity of a developer can vary dramatically, both as a function of innate ability and whether the task at hand plays to his strong points, so the time to produce a piece of software can vary dramatically. But the complexity of the problem doesn't depend on the person solving it, just …

Money for Nothing, Changes for Free

“Money for Nothing, Changes for Free” encourages both customers and suppliers to focus on value.

A key advantage of Scrum projects is that at least once per sprint you have something that could be shipped and no work in progress. You can change direction every sprint, and you can reevaluate whether the project is a good investment or if your money could be better spent elsewhere. Abrupt cancellation is risky for the supplier.

While the concept of an early-exit penalty is not new, Jeff Sutherland gave it a unique allure with his allusion to the Dire Straits hit.
Desired Benefit Incentivize both customers and suppliers to focus on functionality that provides genuine value.
Structure This works with Agile software projects because there is little or no work in progress. After each Sprint, functionality is either complete or not started. Work is basically on a Time and Materials basis with a cost target, often with the intention that the project should not use up the entire project budge…