My Scrum Master Still Thinks He Is A Manager

When a company transitions from Waterfall to Scrum often there will be project managers who will take on the role of Scrum Master. Some of these project managers may not fully understand the difference between being a Scrum Master and a Project Manager. This can lead to many unforseen problems.

What is the difference between being a Scrum Master and a Project Manager?

A project manager:

  • is in charge
  • directs and manages the activities of the project team
  • keeps everyone on schedule
  • guides the project through the various phases of the development lifecycle
  • reports progress to stakeholders
  • makes sure that deliverables match requirements
  • Is ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the project


A Scrum Master:

  • is not in charge. A SM is a facilitator and mentor.
  • facilitates the activities of the team.
  • assists with the schedule, but is not required to ensure that the members of the team stay on schedule. Staying on schedule is a team responsibility.
  • does not manage the phases of development. Scrum does not have sequential phases of development. As it is iterative, all phases of development are encapsulated in each iteration. It is not the SM’s responsibility to ensure all necessary activities within an iteration are completed. This, again, is the responsibility of the team.
  • does not report progress to stakeholders. With the right use of technology, the stakeholders should be able to follow the progress of each sprint in real-time. The stakeholders should also be actively involved in decisions regarding the product backlog via the product owner. The more traditional reporting mechanisms associated with waterfall should not be required if Scrum is implemented correctly.
  • does not match requirements to deliverables. As Scrum requirements are embodied in the product backlog,  again, with the right use of Scrum technology , it is easy to see what is remaining in the product backlog and what is in the current sprint. Scrum also requires a continuous feedback loop meaning that after each two week sprint the user stories that have been completed are either approved or rejected by the product owner. This is the equivalent of matching requirements to deliverables incrementally, after each sprint.
  • is not ultimately responsible for the success or failure of a project, the team is.


Scrum Master Role Defined

  • Oversees the process and helps team members with the process where necessary.
  • Removes impediments. An impediment is anything that prevents the process from moving forward.
  • Works with the product owner to keep the product backlog in order so that the next batch of user stories are ready for the next sprint.
  • Protects the team against unnecessary intrusion from outside.


Having a command-and-control project manager as the Scrum Master can lead to the following problems:

The Scrum Masters attempts to ‘direct’ the work of the team.
This defeats the purpose of Scrum. The purpose of Scrum is to allow each team member to take responsibility for their contributions and self-direct their own activities with the support of the team.

The Scrum Master may think that he/she ‘knows best’ what should or shouldn’t happen at any time.
The Scrum Master is not there to impose his/her ‘expertise’ on activities. The SM role is to facilitate the decision making process amongst the team members.

The Scrum Master may question the accuracy of estimates, backlog priorities, technical solutions and so on.
Again the Scrum Master is subordinate to the teams decisions. The Scrum Master may make recommendations, but ultimately it is the team and product owner who will decide whether to implement those recommendations.


Ultimately not all project managers are suited to the role of Scrum Master. The Scrum Master needs to bend to the will of the team and to meet the needs of the team as they progress through the sprints. It isn’t a position of authority per se, so project managers who are used to being ‘in charge’ may find it difficult to adapt.

My best advice to project managers who are embarking on a career as Scrum Masters is to really read up on Scrum so that they have a clear understanding of where their responsibilities begin and where their responsibilities end.