Wednesday, July 24, 2024
Wednesday, July 24, 2024

When Should a Project Manager Be a Scrum Master?

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Which better suits your organization? Scrum masters or project managers? It’s a question worth exploring if you are experiencing difficulties in employee morale or productivity.


Let’s make the assumption by virtue of reading our website that you already know what a project manager is and have a basic grasp of his or her duties. Not sure what a scrum master is and how it differs? Who better to turn to than the Scrum Alliance?
Its website says, “Traditionally, the project manager is a leader, a decision maker, a planner, someone who manages the project and the team and is the person accountable to the business for accomplishing the project objectives. The ScrumMaster’s role is more that of coach and facilitator, a role that sits between the project and the customer. The ScrumMaster doesn’t manage the team that produces the work; instead, he supports the product owner, coaches the team, and makes sure that Scrum processes are adhered to.”
OK, so what’s a scrum process? Scrum.org provides that answer. “Scrum is a simple framework for effective team collaboration on complex projects. Scrum provides a small set of rules that create just enough structure for teams to be able to focus their innovation on solving what might otherwise be an insurmountable challenge,” it says.
The site goes on to explain the scum process in a step-by-step manner. “Building complex products for customers is an inherently difficult task. Scrum provides structure to allow teams to deal with that difficulty. However, the fundamental process is incredibly simple, and at its core is governed by 3 primary roles.

  1. Product Owners determine what needs to be built in the next 30 days or less.
  2. Development Teams build what is needed in 30 days (or less), and then demonstrate what they have built. Based on this demonstration, the Product Owner determines what to build next.
  3. Scrum Masters ensure this process happens as smoothly as possible, and continually help improve the process, the team and the product being created.

Writing at the PlanBox blog, Steven Starke attempts to answer the question of project manager vs. scrum master. Reading his thoughts might help you determine which is best for how your organization works. He says “Specifically, the project manager is responsible for:

  • Understanding the intended outcomes of the project and ensuring the outcomes are realistic and measurable. They need to understand the outcomes expected from the business case!
  • Collaborating with the team to define the scope of work (e.g. under each colored box above, what’s in it, what is the expected outcome), who is responsible for delivering it, and when will it be delivered. Specifically:
  • Understanding the point person from each functional team(s) associated to the work (each colored box) and how they have been allocated for managing their work. If allocation bandwidth issues exist, this person would be responsible for facilitation and ultimate resolution of the resourcing issue.
  • The job of the project manager is to remove ambiguity in roles and responsibilities by clearly mapping out activities against expected outcomes relative to time. Identifying the interdependencies between deliverables and functional teams up front will better determine what teams should be more integrated and when, relative to the overall product development process.

Starke would appear to put the scrum master one step below the project manager. That doesn’t demean the role but clarifies how it might fit into your organization. He says, “A Scrum Master is usually the team leader. A Scrum Master should ideally have a good balance of the following skills:

  • Technical expertise
  • Understands the Product Owner’s intent
  • A good team player and mentor
  • Understands the teams capabilities
  • A good motivator
  • Problem solver.

Identify one or the other (maybe even both) to see if your company’s approach to project management needs to evolve.

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