Scrum Master, an Agile Role That Is Not a Project Manager

Agile and non-agile product management require two core components – team members, who are knowledgeable about the technical components of a given project, and a leader to guide the team members through the project.  The leadership role in agile product management differs from that in non-agile product management, though, for there is the introduction of a Scrum Master, who is neither a development team member, nor a direct leader.

Non-Scrum Leadership Role

Project Manager Role Defined

In product management, the leading role is that of Project Manager, the person who is responsible for seeing the project through to success.  Essentially, this person establishes the project goals, plans the necessary steps for achieving those goals, monitors progress, and makes decisions regarding various aspects of the project.  The Project Manager is the key decision maker and commander.  In controlling the outcome of the entire project, the Project Manager must also maintain responsibility for the team’s work, making sure that they are on-track to successfully completing the project.  He sets the framework, essentially, for the team in any given project, by establishing their goals and timetable.

Scrum Leadership Roles

Product Owner

In agile product management, particularly Scrum, however, the role of Project Manager is non-existent.  The responsibilities of that role are instead divided into two leading positions – the roles of Product Owner and Scrum Master.  Of the two roles in agile product management, the Product Owner role is the closer one to that of Project Manager in non-agile methods.

Scrum Master

The Scrum Master, on the other hand, serves as an intermediary between the development team members — those working on completing sprint goals and deliverables – and the Product Owner.  The Scrum Master role differs from a Project Manager role in that the Scrum Master is more hands-on with the development team.  When a technical malfunction occurs and hinders a team member from completing their task, it falls upon the Scrum Master – not the Product Owner – to handle the issue and ensure that the team member is able to complete their work.  In non-scrum project management situations, the Project Manager would not be the one to handle such details.  The Scrum Master is responsible for eliminating any impediments that hinder the development team’s accomplishment of sprint goals, ranging from a development team member’s computer malfunction to handling an uncomfortable temperature in the work environment.  As such, part of the Scrum Master role is to work on behalf of the development team, including facilitating the team’s meetings and coaching the team towards successful self-management and completion of sprint goals; the Scrum Master is there for the team’s benefit.

The other part of the Scrum Master role is to work on behalf of the PO.  In this sense, the Scrum Master can be regarded as the “servant leader,” for he does not make large, product goal decisions as the PO would, but the Scrum Master may make decisions on how to improve the development team’s work environment in order to enhance their productivity.  The Scrum Master ensures that the team meets the PO’s project goals, namely by removing impediments to the team’s success and communicating information about the team’s progress to the PO.  He helps the PO to lead the team by holding them accountable for the project commitments that they make in each sprint, and by doing what is necessary to enhance the team’s productivity.

Essentially, the Scrum Master facilitates the work of both the development team and the Product Owner.  Though the Scrum Master does not make main project decisions as a Project Manager does, the Scrum Master is nonetheless a vital role in scrum product management.  The Scrum Master interprets and solves team issues, and works to help them maximize their productivity, which benefits the Product Owner, as well, by bringing the project closer to successful completion.