Scrum Master vs. Project Manager: What's the Difference?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 25, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Scrum masters and project managers have important leadership roles in many industries and businesses. Though many of their responsibilities are the same, they also have slightly different objectives, duties, and skills. Learning about these professions and how they differ can help you decide which career is suitable for you. In this article, we discuss what scrum masters and project managers are, find the similarities and differences between them, and discuss finding the best role for you.

Scrum master vs. project manager

Here are the definitions of scrum master vs. project manager to help you learn more about each role:

What is a scrum master?

A scrum master is a professional who promotes a project, provides guidance and leadership to a team of other professionals called a scrum team, and helps the team follow scrum software development practices. They have responsibilities such as introducing software development practices to a scrum team, checking work from the team to help ensure they follow the processes, and improving the performance of teams with the scrum framework. These professionals primarily focus on projects involving software and software development, meaning they may have skills with computers, technology, and programming. They often work in office settings with opportunities to work remotely.

Related: 46 Scrum Master Interview Questions (With Sample Answers)

What is a project manager?

A project manager is a professional who plans and oversees a project for an organization. These professionals have responsibilities, such as organizing resources for a project, including funding, technology, machinery, and other materials a project needs to be successful. They also have duties such as leading other professionals with directions for a project and creating goals for teams to achieve. Project managers also communicate with executive officers and stakeholders to help ensure the project meets their standards. Typically, they work in an office setting with some telework opportunities available.

Related: What Is an Agile Project Manager? (With Crucial Skills)

Comparing scrum master vs. project manager

While some aspects of scrum masters and project managers are similar, there are also critical differences between these two roles, which can help you decide which role is right for you. Below are similarities and differences between Scrum masters and project managers to help you learn more:

Certifications

The certifications you can earn for each role are different. These certifications also have different maintenance requirements to keep them current, such as the renewal period, and the training or updates when renewing your certifications. Below are descriptions of certifications for each position:

Certified ScrumMaster (CSM)

The Scrum Alliance offers this certification for professionals who want to show they have in-depth knowledge and training in Scrum. To earn this certification, you complete a face-to-face course with a Certified Scrum Trainer (CST) and 14-16 hours of training with the CST, and pass a 60-minute test. CSM completes continuing education courses and renew their certifications every two years.

Read more: A Detailed Guide on Scrum Certification (With Jobs)

Project Management Professional

The Project Management Institute offers this certification, besides many other project management certifications. To earn a PMP, you need education, experience in leading projects, and a minimum number of certified education hours. You also require passing an exam that covers the basic project management areas. To keep a PMP credential current, holders complete 60 education hours every three years.

Read more: A Guide to Becoming a Certified Project Manager (And Skills)

Communication

Communication is a major difference between these two positions. Project managers communicate with all relevant personnel in a project. This includes stakeholders, internal production professionals, customers, and other departments of an organization to make sure the project follows all guidelines and has the resources to do so. Project managers don't rely on other professionals to communicate for them. Instead, they go to the sources of information or find resources themselves.

Scrum masters only communicate with the Scrum team and other internal stakeholders within a project. This includes executives in an organization and project managers. They don't communicate with customers, external stakeholders like investors, or other departments within the organization. Instead, they rely on other professionals, such as a Scrum product owner, to communicate with those external stakeholders.

Related: 7 Essential Channels of Communication in the Workplace

Duties

The duties of each position are also different. Scrum masters work internally and coordinate the internal aspects of a project. These include creating meetings, getting tools for production professionals, and managing projects to help ensure they meet the guidelines and deadlines of an organization. Scrum masters don't work on all aspects of a project, they simply follow guidelines an organization provides.

Project managers are involved in every aspect of a project. First, they organize the project, including setting a budget and deadlines for important tasks. Second, they monitor team progress. Finally, they provide tools to team members. Typically, project managers have a direct impact on all aspects of a project.

Industries

Project managers can work in almost any industry where organizations produce goods or services. They have skills that support them and their leadership regardless of their specific projects. For example, a project manager for one company might work on a technology product for a year or two and then work on an outreach project for the next few years.

Scrum masters almost always work in the information technology industry. They have skills that support completing quick sprints of work, and then resetting and completing another sprint. They often work on the same style of projects, though specifics within the projects can change. For example, they might help create the software for an educational tool for one project and then help create software for a personality test on another project.

Project framework

Scrum masters follow the scrum framework for projects. This framework has a series of steps for specific actions. The entire process is a cycle, so it can start with either step one or step two. Below are steps to the scrum framework:

  • Product backlog: This is the part of the Scrum cycle where an organization stores product ideas until a Scrum team can produce them.

  • Sprint planning: This part of the cycle is when a Scrum product owner sets production goals and deadlines for the Scrum team.

  • Sprint backlog: This part of the cycle is where products wait until a Scrum team accesses them or a Scrum product owner starts the production of the product.

  • Daily scrum: This is the work that the Scrum master and the Scrum team perform each day.

  • Increment: This is an artifact in a Scrum cycle that's comparable to an achievable goal for a Scrum team.

  • Sprint review: This part of the cycle is where a team reviews the most recent sprint and changes to increase productivity and adapt to changing products and markets.

  • Sprint retrospective: This is a review of the product that helps an organization increase the quality or effectiveness of a product.

Project managers can work in different project frameworks. This means they are usually more flexible than a Scrum master when they search for roles. Below are the frameworks a project manager may work with:

  • Critical chain: Framework that encourages the fastest and most cost-effective path to reach a goal

  • Agile: Framework that encourages professionals to work on a project in segments to reach a goal in manageable bursts

  • Kanban: Framework that promotes visualization of all aspects of the project so everyone understands their roles

  • Lean: Framework that encourages reducing resource loss and eliminating unnecessary tasks within the production cycle

  • Scrum: Framework that divides tasks into short, easily completable tasks that production teams can follow every day

  • Waterfall: Framework that encourages linear production of a product, where the project manager organizes them by the order in which teams complete each task

Related: Guide to a Project Management Framework (With Types)

Which role is best for you?

The best role for you depends on the type of work you want to do, the industries you want to work in, and how much responsibility you want. Project managers can work in a variety of industries, while scrum masters mostly work in one. Scrum masters have fewer responsibilities than project managers, but have specific tasks they complete regularly. Finally, scrum masters work mostly with technology and software, while project managers can work on a lot of different projects depending on the company they work with, their background, and other factors. The best role for you depends on your preferences.

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