Know the Difference: Project Manager vs. Scrum Master 

While the terms Project Manager and Scrum Master are sometimes used interchangeably, they are two distinct and unique roles. At Project 3 Consulting, we’ve drawn a comparison that Project Managers are pandas and Scrum Masters are tigers. Both are fascinating and able to draw major crowds at the zoo, but at the end of the day, they’re not quite the same beast. 

Just like pandas and tigers are both important members of the zoo community, Project Managers and Scrum Masters are important in their own way at an organization. So what are the differences? And how do you know if you need a panda or a tiger (or both!) at your organization? 

Mindset and Focus: External vs. Internal 

Project Managers are attuned to the needs and expectations of customers and stakeholders. They serve as the bridge between a project’s objectives and external influences. Most of their effort is focused outward – ensuring that stakeholder requirements are passed to the team, and that the team’s progress is communicated to stakeholders. 

On the other hand, while they do at times interface with stakeholders, Scrum Masters tend to be more internally focused. They are committed to the team’s well-being. They concentrate on optimizing team dynamics, ensuring agile principles are upheld, and removing obstacles to boost productivity.  

While both roles emphasize communication, they are tailored to different audiences. Project Managers cater to external stakeholders, while Scrum Masters prioritize internal team cohesion. Given their complementary nature, both roles are critical for different aspects of a project or transformation. 

Leadership Style: Manager vs. Coach  

Project Managers tend to adopt a directive style of leadership, offering clear guidance and ensuring tasks align with a project plan. You can consider the Project Manager as a manager, overseeing a project’s logistics with a keen eye on delivery and execution. 

Conversely, Scrum Masters adopt a coaching role. This approach encourages self-management and ownership among team members. The Scrum Master is constantly monitoring and nurturing the team’s growth, encouraging autonomy and adaptation to change, establishing psychological safety, and fostering a dedication to continuous improvement. 

We’ve found that in many circumstances, teams benefit from a blend of both of these approaches.  

Metrics that Matter: Qualitative vs. Quantitative 

Both Project Managers and Scrum Masters appreciate the importance of metrics (the best ones do, at least). The difference? Project Managers tend to prioritize quantitative data, such as adherence to budgets and timelines. These are important for the Project Manager to monitor because they are indicators of project progression. 

Scrum Masters, on the other hand, primarily focus on qualitative measures, closely monitoring team dynamics and the team’s processes. By doing so, relevant performance metrics (velocity, release cadence, and cycle time, for example) improve as a result. 

When considering adding a Project Manager or Scrum Master to your team, we encourage you to ask: which of these types of measurements matter more at your organization? Being honest about this answer will set your new team member up for success. 

Scope and Responsibility: Project vs. Team 

Project Managers are typically responsible to see that the scope, budget, and resources are managed effectively to achieve project goals. They tend to be responsible for creating and maintaining a project plan and all of the reports and artifacts that stem from it. Teams review and execute the plan, and the Project Manager monitors the project milestones and deliverables as they are completed.

Scrum Masters, on the other hand, are embedded within teams, with a responsibility to enhance team efficiency and to foster the team’s agile mindset focused on value delivery. Scrum Masters optimize on the team level, and the benefits realized here flow out. Customers and stakeholders benefit from the team’s ability to deliver the right thing at the right time, in an efficient and predictable manner.  

Depending on the nature of the project, there may be considerable overlap between the responsibilities of the Project Manager and the Scrum Master. In these circumstances, establishing solid working agreements between the two is a good idea. 

Key Takeaway: Know When You Need a Panda or a Tiger 

If you take away one thing from this comparison, let it be this: Project Managers focus on project progression, while Scrum Masters focus on team progression. It’s as simple as that. The decision between bringing in a Project Manager or Scrum Master (or both) should be based on your organization’s specific needs and context of the task at hand – whether that’s a time-based project or a more lofty digital or agile transformation. 

If you’re seeking precise project management or team-focused coaching, Project 3 Consulting can provide the knowledge and experience you need. We’d love to chat with you to learn how we can help.