A ScrumMaster Does NOT Equal a Project Manager

Scenario: Your a newly appointed Certified Scrum Master and you have enough experience to back up your Agile-ness, or you may have a desire to fill a more Scrum-role instead of traditional project management.

No problem! Log onto your nearest job site and type in “ScrumMaster.”

This is what you see:

Wait a minute! Hold on there! Your studies and experience is that a ScrumMaster has pretty much pre-defined roles and responsibilities? What’s going on with all the “ScrumMaster+++” going on here?

Ah, reality sets in. You are really just applying for a project manager position.

David Bland wrote a fantastic article about this recently and we decided to do a little research. Is that really how ScrumMaster jobs are being advertised these days?

Yes sir. So what’s the issue? Maybe the marketing of ScrumMaster isn’t correct, or maybe, the ScrumMaster certification doesn’t hold water, or maybe it’s something else. Some thoughts to chew on. Read about David’s insights below.

What are your thoughts?


31 Responses to “A ScrumMaster Does NOT Equal a Project Manager”

  1. Derek Huether
    December 10, 2010 at 9:56 am #

    Here we go again! When it comes to hiring managers, they go for buzzwords. They commonly hire certifications and degrees, not people. ScrumMaster…PMP…it doesn’t matter. You think the Agile community has a problem communicating its message to the layman, try a hiring manager. As Agile practitioners, we need to do a better job educating THEIR industry.

    • ScoutMaster
      December 10, 2010 at 1:08 pm #

      Absolutely. Education is essential. Which is why AgileScout is here! :)

      Buzz words for hiring managers kill the community of practice diluting the value… *sigh*

  2. rainwebs
    December 10, 2010 at 10:27 am #

    I discussed this with a more traditional German company recently. They already had started with some sprints searching for another Scrum Master. They assumed that nobody would understand what they were asking for only using “Scrum Master”. So, they used “Project Manager” in the headline ;-).

    • ScoutMaster
      December 10, 2010 at 1:08 pm #

      Well I hope you educated them! And helped them find the right person for the job!

  3. Eric Willeke
    December 10, 2010 at 1:05 pm #

    I wrote a similar humor post about this not too long ago… you might like it.


    • ScoutMaster
      December 10, 2010 at 1:08 pm #

      Thanks a bunch for this link. Liking it!

  4. Mike Cottmeyer
    December 10, 2010 at 9:46 pm #

    Agreed… Scrummaster does not equal project manager. Question… where does the project manager fit on an agile team?

    • peter
      December 10, 2010 at 10:06 pm #

      Good question. The Project Manager on the team is there to keep the books.
      As a coach, I’ve seen the PM work as several roles in different organizations:

      1. Keeping the overall strategy maps and time schedules in line.
      2. Working with the Product Owner to manage expectations to the business on features for release
      3. (Bad example here) Keep gantt charts based on iteration planning…

      The best PM I’ve witnessed was simply a liason to the business and did everything she could to keep the business at bay and let the ScrumMaster and Agile team work almost un-interrupted. It was fascinating to watch in real time. Literally she would be the UBER buffer for any interruptions.

      What say you?

      • Mike Cottmeyer
        December 10, 2010 at 10:18 pm #

        I think that Scrum split the project manager’s responsibilities between the ScrumMaster and the Product Owner. A project manager can play either role depending on the context involved.

        I generally think that a GOOD project manager is a waste as a Scrummaster for a single team. A good project manager could Scrummaster for several teams, or serve as a Scrum of Scrum master for a program and provide that interface to the business for the collection of teams.

        In most complex product organizations, I split the PO role across several people and create a PO team. The PO team can have a Product MANAGER, and architect, a project manager, sometimes a BA… whatever it takes to do all the things a good PO needs to do… but given the complexity of the organization… is too big for a single person to fill the role.

        A good Project Manager will focus on managing the context around the team… get them what they need… clear the path… manage expectations… rather than manage the individuals on the team.

        • peter
          December 10, 2010 at 10:21 pm #

          NICE! Well said, as we talked about before, Mike, the PO team or Product Alignment Team as I call it is a great way to spread the PO role. Thanks for the feedback!

  5. Pichat
    December 30, 2010 at 7:30 am #

    What would Schwaber and Sutherland say? The Scrum Alliance website describes a Scrum master still as an ‘agile project manager’. What makes things worse, when you teach a role description which is contradictory to the Agile Manifesto you will never get the shift in mentality that is required for holistic agile/lean adoption in an organisation.

    In the number of tweets and blog postings the problem of ‘agile project management’ has gotten worse in 2010. In my opinion it doesn’t matter if PMs are task driven, feature driven or value driven… to manage knowledgeable people is an old concept and we need to get rid of hierarchical impediments/waste in an agile/lean environment.

    Many greetings from an agilist in Sweden!

    • peter
      December 30, 2010 at 8:29 am #

      Ooo. Very nice. Good point here. I’ll make sure and check it out.

  6. Rahul
    March 2, 2011 at 12:03 am #

    While PM is NOT a SCRUM role, it’s still needed (and very much there) in an org. SCRUM/Sprint defines the lowest level of delivery mechanism of the project/product. But there are other “management” activities (e.g. Overall Schedule Management, Contract Management, Procurement Management, Executive Reporting – especially for agile ignorant/resistive exec management, resource management etc).
    For a relatively smaller / simpler project, I think ScrumMaster can play this role. But in more complex project (where many stakeholders are involved), typically you need a dedicated person for this who can manage all these as well as hold the higher level view of the reality.
    True that Product Owner owns many of these responsibility – but typically they come from business world – so doesn’t have interest or skill for these activities.
    ScrumMaster is closest to this role – but that person has to wear two completely diff mental frame while playing these two roles.

    My 2 cents

  7. Micaël
    March 2, 2011 at 12:46 am #

    I think as I said elsewhere, that the 2 roles don’t have the same responsabilities and goals.

    It may be the same person doing that Scrum role and the PM job title. Although I don’t think it’s the best candidate, since goals don’t really align together well in rush situation. And as Rahul said, PM job title and responsabilities are still required in organizations. It can bring value to the team in many ways, but PM have to know the difference with being a PM and being a Scrum master, if they really want to do it.

    My opinion is that single responsability is always simplier in code as in life, if someone is assigned many priorities, he will chose the ones he want to be adressed first. Which means that one role may end up with no ressource allowed to it when you think you have put resources.

    Do an organisation understands what a Scrum master is if it doesn’t even allow time to someone do that role?

    • Rahul
      March 2, 2011 at 1:07 am #

      One important thing to add … one of important expectation from both ScrumMaster and Project Manager is “SHIELD Pigs from NOISE”. If that is lost somehow, positions/designations doesn’t matter – it’ll fail.

  8. Mike Vizdos
    March 30, 2011 at 10:55 am #


    Great stuff. The problem is only getting worse… but what does that tell us as an industry?

    I did a 3 part series on this a while back at:


    History. Repeats.

    • peter
      March 30, 2011 at 11:08 am #

      Great! Thanks for the link!

    • Derek Huether
      March 30, 2011 at 11:34 am #

      Mike, I just read your 3 part series. I thought your idea of having the team select their ScrumMaster as brilliant. I think we need to empower those who will be working with the new hires to make the final hiring decision. They’ll get a much better vibe than a hiring manager. I’ve interviewed a few people who seemed to have the qualifications but it made my skin crawl thinking I may have to work with them full time.

      • peter
        March 30, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

        Excellent stuff!

      • Micaël
        April 1, 2011 at 6:40 pm #

        I agree, the team should choose it’s own Scrum master and personnaly if I would be in a mood to change my job and apply for any position in a scrum team, I would like to meat then and maybe event work with them one day before switching.

        We need to ensure agile practices are well implemented, that the team is a nice one and that the Scrum Master role is well define.

        Some (maybe many) company in the industry don’t recognize the value of a full time Scrum Master. Or at least someone dedicated to be a scrum Master on many projects.

        Why this happen? Probably since going above an beyond (excellence) is a value in many company and this encourage people to handle many responsabilities.

        Also an agile team mature enough with a well running project don’t need a lot of input, analysis or coaching from the Scrum Master.

        That is why many other roles usually wear the Scrum Master hat partially, since it’s better than nothing. Although it may be hard to totallly change our perception when we are also inside the team or have other concerns to address.

        I see the scrum master more like a keeper of the good practices and improvement. And this more aligned to a Software Engineer or Director of Software Engineering practices role, or …

        Maybe there is too many Scrum But organisations or a perpetuel lack of resources or a bad understanding of the Scrum Master role by the High level managers.

        But in the end, you can still be successfull without a full time scrum mater, Srum is just a framework, if you found a formula that work for you team do it :)

        Rotating Scrum Masters, Dedicated Project manager / Team Coach / Scrum mater, Scrum master for many projects / …

        • peter
          April 2, 2011 at 9:43 pm #

          Thanks so much for the insight. The ScrumMaster is the “keeper of good practices!”

  9. Thomas Karlsson
    September 10, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

    This is an interesting topic.
    What is happening now in many organizations is that the Scrum Master is added as a new role while the Project Manager role stays. Probably partly since the Scrum Master role don’t include everything a traditional Project Manager do. And to a large extent because it is much easier (not to those doing the real work of course) and requires little change of the organization.

    This was never the intention, see for example:
    Ken says “We have replaced the project manager with the Scrum Master”.

    I think this may well be a serious issue we are facing and I have written down some of my thoughts at:

  10. Sverteczki Kornél
    April 11, 2012 at 6:53 am #

    Talking about titles can be confusing sometimes, it both reader and writer is familiar with the terminology. Scrum terminology helps to point out the differences in the concept.
    Accordning to Dean Liffingwell-s book, “Agile Software Requirements” the
    Scrum Master works in the team level, with the development team. Traditional Project Manager is not needed in team level, only at Program level, and Portfolio level. If you are facing with a big and complex project using scrum method, this book can help you out!

    • peter
      April 11, 2012 at 8:43 am #

      Thanks, love Dean’s book!


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