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Can a project manager fulfill the role of a scrum master? Contrary to popular belief, the project manager and scrum master are two extremely disparate roles, which only appear to be similar on the surface, and they need to be kept separate, if the Scrum process is to be effective and successful.

Project Leader Rather than Scrum Facilitator

As Code Enigma points out, the role of a Project Manager is most closely equivocated to the Product Owner rather than the Scrum Master. A project manager is considered to be a leader who the group relies upon and turns to. The project manager must be accountable for the results of the project and must be able to make firm decisions at every fork in the road. Consequently, the project manager takes on significant amounts of control.

A Scrum Master, on the other hand, functions as a guide. They are a facilitator for the scrum process and their only interest is ensuring that the process itself operates as it should. The Scrum Master coaches others within the group and manages the organizational system through which decisions are made and processes are completed, rather than controlling these decisions and these processes.

The Harm: When a Project Manager Becomes a Scrum Master

Scrum Master Like Puzzle Solver

A Project Manager attempting to be a Scrum Master will quickly get in their own way; they will have conflicting goals that cannot both be achieved. A Project Manager will want to control the process and, moreover, will not always have the expertise and understanding of the team necessary to draw out the best in people during a Scrum process. Scrum Master is a highly specialized position which requires motivation, problem solving skills and mentorship. In this way, a Scrum Master role is a lot like a puzzle solver: they are provided the pieces and need to ensure that the pieces are fit properly together.

In the Agile model, it is more effective to turn towards the Product Owner when decisions need to be made and when the comprehensive vision for the product needs to be discussed. The Product Owner does not direct the Scrum process, but instead has a more complete overview of the product, its users, its competition and the current marketplace.

The role of a Scrum Master is, at many times, entirely at odds with the role of a Project Manager — but that is not to say that both roles aren’t necessary, they’re only different. Ideally, a Scrum Master and a Project Manager (Product Owner) will work together to ensure the continued quality of the Scrum process and the product. The Scrum Master functions as a hands-on coach, ensuring that the team works effectively and that all Scrum processes are followed. Meanwhile, the Product Owner or Project Manager serves as a bigger picture individual who identifies the product’s requirements within the context of business, finances and the marketplace.

A significant amount of job compartmentalization would be required to put a Project Manager in a Scrum Master role and it’s unlikely that either would have the skills or knowledge necessary to fulfill their opposing role. To create an effective and solid Scrum process, the Scrum Master must be just that: the Scrum Master.