What is a Scrum Master? How do they differ from a project manager?

What is a Scrum Master? How do they differ from a project manager?

In any Scrum team, there’s one person who stands as the guardian of Scrum values and principles. That’s your Scrum Master. They ensure that Scrum is established correctly within your organisation, enabling developers and the team to work smoothly and deliver a working product increment every Sprint.

The Scrum Master is also the bridge that connects the team with the Product Owner. They collaborate with the Product Owner in identifying the best value for the project and encourage effective collaboration with stakeholders.

At its core, the role of a Scrum Master is to ensure Scrum values are embraced and implemented as intended.

Scrum Master misconceptions

Here’s where it gets interesting. There are a few misconceptions about what a Scrum Master does, which I’ve noticed are quite common. Firstly, some tend to view the Scrum Master as a sort of administrative assistant or clerk – booking rooms, managing Jira, and so on. That, however, is far from the truth.

Even more often, I see Scrum Masters being confused with project managers. This stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of Scrum and its principles and is often demonstrated in the job advert already where you look at the copy and realise someone went through the effort of replacing project manager with Scrum Master. But Scrum isn’t just about swapping out the two roles; it’s a whole different way of working.

Crucial differences between a Scrum Master and a Project Manager

So, how does a Scrum Master differ from a project manager? In a traditional environment, a Project Manager is in charge of scope, schedule, and budget. This can create a conflict of interest. If you’re set on maintaining one aspect, the other two need to be flexible. So in this triangle, you may have to choose two corners and the third will have to give.

But the classic project manager has to deliver on time, on budget and on scope. Sadly, I often see projects becoming so dynamic that the drive to deliver these three elements overshadows the need to deliver the right outcome for end-users.

In Scrum, we create a separation of power, much like in a democracy where we have a legislative, an executive and a judicial branch. The scope and schedule reside with the Product Owner, who determines the most valuable elements to be delivered and when.

The Scrum Master’s true role

The budget mainly refers to the people doing the work – the Developers – as they are the largest cost factor. At its heart, the Scrum Master role is about protection and guidance. They protect the Developers, enabling them to do professional, high-quality work.

This is the essence of what we call Professional Scrum. There’s Scrum, which means adhering to Scrum rules and doing everything correctly, then there’s professional Scrum, which includes all as well as work ethics. There are certain things you do, and others you never do. Never, there’s no excuse.

As professional Developers, they create high-quality product with robust testing, comprehensive documentation, and everything else needed according to the definition of done. The Scrum Master ensures that if there’s pressure from outside, developers can maintain their professionalism and still deliver these high-quality products.

A Scrum Master might not always be at the forefront, but they’re behind the scenes, ensuring everything runs as it should. In many ways, the role is versatile and demanding. It’s not just about following the Scrum Guide to the letter, but also about understanding the spirit of Scrum and promoting its values within the team.

When fully embraced, the Scrum Master role becomes the beating heart of the team, promoting Scrum values, supporting collaboration, and driving the delivery of value as planned.

About Effective Agile

Ralph Jocham is a Change Agent in Scrum // Agile // Coaching // Evidence Based Management and also a Professional Scrum Trainer based in Europe.

As one of the first Professional Scrum Trainers in the world, Ralph has worked directly with cocreator of #scrum, Ken Schwaber, and has played an integral part in the course development of the #PSPO (Professional Scrum Product Owner) as well as the delivery of all #scrum.org certified courses.

If you’re looking to invest in training that transforms and empowers teams to successfully adopt #scrum or #agile, and create high-performance #productdevelopment environments leveraging the agile values and principles, visit https://effectiveagile.com/agile-scrum-trainings/

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