3 minutes

Scrum Master or Project Manager - which role is most suited to you?

James McNicol
19th Feb 2024

On the surface, it might seem that a Scrum Master and a Project Manager are one and the same. After all, they do have similar roles by leading on business change projects. However, there are some key differences between how a Scrum Master and a Project Manager operate. Read on to find out whether you’re more suited to the role of Scrum Master or Project Manager…


Is a Scrum Master the same as a Project Manager?

Scrum Masters and Project Managers may certainly have skills that overlap, but they are not the same job role. While they might both play an important part in product development or business change projects, they have very different working methodologies. Each role requires a different set of skills, bringing different dynamics to the job. The role that is needed will also depend on the industry. Some industries are more naturally suited to the way a Scrum Master operates while other industries require a more traditional Project Manager style of working – our blog on Is Agile Right for Every Industry explains more.


What is a Scrum Master?

A Scrum Master helps teams to deliver successful project outcomes for a business owner. He or she follows an agile working methodology, breaking up complex projects into short cycles, known as ‘sprints’. This allows the team to stay flexible, be self-critical and respond quickly to changes as the overall project develops. Unlike traditional project managers, they don’t manage the team or make decisions for them. Instead, they create an environment where the team can self-manage and make decisions independently. If you’re new to the concept of agile, see our blog on Agile terminology.


What is a Project Manager?

A Project Manager oversees all aspects of a project from start to finish using what is known as a waterfall or linear methodology. He or she will have overall responsibility for the process, which includes the initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, control and closing of a project. Heading up a team of people, the Project Manager will keep a close eye on each stage of the process. The Project Manager will also be accountable for budgeting and scheduling and will need to communicate regularly with the client about the progress of the project.


5 differences between a Scrum Master and a Project Manager

1. Working Methodology

The main difference between a Scrum Master and a Project Manager is the methodology that each uses to run their projects. Scrum Masters follow agile working principles, while Project Managers follow waterfall working principles. 

A Scrum Master will promote the principles of agile working within a ‘scrum team’ by following a scrum framework – breaking down projects into short ‘sprints’. Each sprint cycle lasts under a month, and a good Scrum Master will encourage a team to self-organise and self-manage each sprint, enabling them to be flexible, accountable and to respond quickly to changes. 

On the other hand, a Project Manager assumes overall responsibility for a project and will follow each step of a project in a linear (or waterfall) fashion. They will assign and manage team members but retain authority of all the day to day logistics of a project until that project is completed.  


2. Project Responsibilities

Working within an agile framework, a Scrum Master will facilitate scrum events for the scrum team, such as sprint planning and daily scrums as well as sprint reviews and inspections. This allows the team to continuously assess their progress and to make improvements before the next sprint cycle. 

A Project Manager is generally more concerned with the logistical elements of a project. He or she will set out the scope of the project then ensure all the right elements are in place for that project to be completed on time and on budget. That means hiring suitable staff, planning budgets and timelines, doing risk assessments, and allocating resources.


3. Leadership Style

Unlike traditional leadership styles, the Scrum Master assumes the role of a coach and mentor, guiding his or her team to self-organise, self-manage and to make decisions through collaboration. Scrum Masters will support the scrum team to complete their goals by removing barriers and obstacles that might hinder their progress. This style of leadership has led to Scrum Masters also being known as ‘servant leaders’.

This is different to a Project Manager who will lead from the top down by assuming complete authority over a project. They will assign tasks to team members and then manage staff to ensure that all elements of the project are being met and delivered according to the original scope.


4. Product versus Project

A Scrum Master is most concerned with creating a good product or service for a client. The agile methodology allows for reflection and adaptation at regular intervals so that continuous improvements can be made along the way. Success is measured on how efficiently a team delivers value to a client and how well they execute on the product goal.

A Project Manager is more concerned with carrying out a good project. This means managing all the logistics of a project from the planning stage through to final delivery. A successful project is one that is delivered on time, on budget and that meets a client’s objectives as laid out in the project scope.


5. Strategies for Improvement

Working within a scrum framework, a Scrum Master will facilitate regular inspection and adaptation during each sprint cycle. This constant reflection helps to create a self-sustaining team that continuously delivers value to the organisation while fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

This is different to most project management strategies where the Project Manager will hold a ‘lessons learned’ meeting upon the completion of a project. This will be conducted with team members and clients to reflect on what went well and what areas could be improved upon, with a view to incorporating these reflections into future project planning.


Are you a Scrum Master or a Project Manager?

It all comes down to your management style. If you enjoy coaching and mentoring and working alongside team members in a collaborative way, and you can respond quickly to continuously changing goalposts, then you should look at Scrum Master roles.  

If, on the other hand, you like to have overall responsibility for a project from start to finish, and prefer to manage people while adhering to a strict deadline and budget, then a Project Manager role would suit you.To find your ideal role, contact our ea Resourcing team. We have vacancies for Scrum Masters and Project Managers, as well as Graduate Project Manager opportunities on our ea Futures graduate scheme.