How to manage the Scrum Master

In the realm of project leadership, there are lead characters and key protagonists. While they all play vital roles, they have distinct definitions.

In agile methodology, the term ‘Scrum’ was created to describe the framework for completing complex projects. Originally devised for software development projects, Scrum works for any complex, innovative scope of work and is used by Fortune 500 companies around the world.

Scrum Master vs. Project Manager

The Scrum Master and Project Manager roles are often confused, but very distinct. The Scrum Master’s role is defined as one that is a conduit between the project and the customer. It is more a coach and facilitator role, rather than one that manages the team that’s delivering the work. The Scrum Master is central to supporting the product owner, coaching the team and ensuring that the Scrum processes are in place and implemented correctly.

In the other corner, the Project Manager is the decision taker, leader, planner and accountable to the business for delivering the project objectives. Working in co-operation, the Scrum Master and Project Manager are tandem leaders in overall delivery for all the stakeholders. From a style perspective, the Scrum Master looks at the project from all angles and is available to coach, mentor and offer an overall consultancy role. The responsibility of the project deliverables remain squarely with the Project Manager—yet, they can (and should) defer to each other on crucial issues coveting user experience, functionality and client concerns or refinements.  

Having these two leaders in the mix also helps the team achieve its goals. Team members may need guidance in solving issues and potential blockers that can only be assisted by someone with a bird’s eye view—the Scrum Master. The Scrum Master can also suggest additional resources when skills or experience are lacking.

Let the games begin...

During project development, often resourcing and needs change. This can either come from the needs of the project/product itself, from user feedback or client demands. Here the Scrum Master can help facilitate these changes by providing the external view and assisting the Project Manager understand the impact of these changes, and can then communicate to the team.

The profile of a Scrum Master:

  • Sits objectively above the project with client interest at heart
  • Removes impediments
  • Manages the Scrum process, making the process work
  • Plans the release
  • Protects the team from external interfaces
  • Ensures clear communication among all stakeholders.

The profile of a Project Manager:

  • Manages all aspects of the project
  • Achieves expected outcomes as defined by the business case
  • Full accountability for managing all aspects of the program
  • Understanding the intended outcomes of a project, ensuring they are achievable and measurable
  • Manages communication of dependencies between tasks and team members.

Overall, the Scrum Master is there to enhance the team’s effectiveness and productivity. This is very distinct from the Project Manager’s role of managing the project.

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