Scrum Master VS Project Manager. Who They Are?

Project Manager or Scrum Master, Scrum Master or Project Manager… Who the heck they are and how do these roles differ? Let’s knock it down.

In this article we are going to break through the ambiguity between two project leading roles. We are going to define who is a project manager and who is a scrum master. Will touch base on how these roles differ and if they differ.. Also we are going to define when do we need to call for a project manager or for a scrum master. The goal of this topic is to make it crystal clear who these guys are and when do we need them on a project. Let’s get started.


First of all, let’s start from the roots. And when I am referring to the initial source I am talking about the project management or product delivery methodologies. They have made us differentiate these two roles: project manager and scrum master. And here I am referring to adaptive Agile project management methodology or product delivery methodology and its frameworks. As well as to the classical predictive one which we call Waterfall.


The grand dad of the software development and project management is Waterfall. To make a quick recap we pick Waterfall for projects that usually have constraints in time and budget. For such projects we aim to plan everything much in advance. Therefore, Waterfall is also called predictive. We do not welcome changes with Waterfall and we put a lot of labor in the initial research, documentation, schemas to build the overall project management plan. Thus, if a project is on Waterfall I doubt it could survive without a project manager.


Later on with the evaluation of the product delivery techniques the world has come to the new adaptive methodology which is Agile. And Scrum is one of the most popular flavors of it. Actually I am not going to dive deep into this right now, but if you wanna know how to differentiate the most common project delivery methodologies, make sure to check this video where I am breaking down all the most popular product delivery methodologies and helping to define how to pick the most appropriate one for the project. Just in a couple of words, the general idea of Agile and the general difference between Agile and Waterfall is flexibility and adaptability. Agile welcomes changes. It can implement changes on a fly. Agile retrieves feedback. Implements improvements after the feedback is received to deliver a better product and to deliver it faster. That is why it is called adaptive. So who leads projects with both methodologies? And by the way, let me know in comments which project management methodology do you prefer on projects?

Project Manager

Project Management knowledge

We all know who project managers are. If we can recall, project management is generic, cross-functional and multi-applicable. In the general mindset project managers are typically stick with the classical Waterfall methodology. It assumes that a project has five delivery stages. They are: Initiation, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling, and Closing. 

This is what we are taught by the Project Management Institute; this is what we are getting certifications on. If you wanna know more details about the project management duties view this article. There I am outlining step-by-step what do we usually do to deliver a project. 

However, this is not that simple. Actually, educated and experienced project managers can efficiently manipulate and exploit both classical and adaptive methodologies. We can efficiently pick the one that is more appropriate for the project, and even mix and hybrid them to make the delivery of the project as efficient as it needs to be.

Scrum Master

Ok.. but who the scrum master is? And why that many organizations are struggling to define if they need a scrum master or a project manager?
To proceed with, let’s look into the definition provided by the Scrum Alliance and let’s identify who is a scrum master according to their opinion.

The Scrum Master is a team role responsible for the ensuring the team lives Agile values and principles and follows the processes and practices that the team agreed they would use.
The responsibilities of this role include: 

  • Clearing obstacles.
  • Establishing an environment where the team can be effective.
  • Addressing team dynamics. 
  • Ensuring a good relationship between the team and product owner as well as other outside the team. 
  • Protecting the team from outside interruptions and distractions.

    In other words, scrum master is delivers the clear expectations about the project to the team. Also, he / she is delivers the requirements of the project. Making sure the project has all the necessary resources, both human and material. Works with the team to evolve and to improve the collaboration. Manages communication and stakeholders engagement. Works with risks and their mitigation.
    That is a really important role, don’t you think so? But finally, how does scrum master differ from a project manager?

    Project Manager or Scrum Master?

    Don’t you feel that a scrum master and a project manager are the same people? They both have similar accountabilities and they execute similar activities. Both of them are responsible for planning, scheduling, cost, quality, risks, resources, communication, stakeholders and so on. All they do is the same. 

    The difference is in the title actually. That is why when we do Waterfall, we usually call for a project manager. And when we are doing Agile we want a scrum master on a project. 

    Obviously, is we do more Waterfall and if we stick with this approach we are getting more proficient in classical project management. While if we narrow to Agile and all we do is practicing Agile and Scrum methodology we are getting closer to a scrum master. However, more or less the roles are pretty much similar to each other. 

    Let me know which role would you prefer on a project?