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Does a project need a scrum master and a project manager?

May 5, 2015
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The IT world is going agile. Many companies try to take a slice of both methods, Waterfall and Agile methodology to make use of the best practices of both. Some companies use the Agile methodology but keep a project manager and a scrum master. Sometimes one person takes on both the roles and sometimes there are different persons for each role. But in this process, the roles and processes get muddled and lose their meaning. This leads to teams not able to take maximum advantage of both. There can be conflicts between the project manager and the scrum master. Let us look at what are the responsibilities of a project manager and scrum master and what they are not responsible for -

Role Responsible For Not Responsible For
Project Managers
  • Manage the internal and external resources to meet the project objectives
  • Manage Costs,scope and Schedule
  • Engages with the Stakeholders Manage project risks
  • Communicate Project Status to Stakeholders.
  • Pricing of the Product
  • Agile Process
  • Deciding on Product/application features
  • Manage Sprints
  • Facilitate Creativity of the team.
Scrum Master
  • Process Expert and Facilitates the team to develop the product/application
  • Empower the team to improve productivity
  • Manage sprints
  • Create burndown charts
  • Coach the team.
  • Team Management
  • Manage operational issues
  • Deciding price of product/application
  • Manage contrast commitments
  • Reporting to senior managements.

In a realistic scenario, many times the scrum master is made the project manager and sometimes the project manager is given the role of the scrum master. There is another way to look at the two roles. Certain project parameters can decide whether the roles of a scrum master and project manager are required or whether one role is enough to deliver the project successfully.

Size – In case of a small project with small sized sprints and fixed delivery schedule, a scrum master is enough to handle project responsibilities. But in bigger and more complex projects, the scrum master will not be able to handle project management and his responsibilities of a scrum master alone. In medium to large scale enterprise projects, the process of getting things delivered becomes more complex. On a small project it may be a case of releasing a single software deliverable, whereas enterprise level projects often need to deliver larger scale change, including infrastructure and business process change. All of this requires a much greater degree of structure and planning.

Team - If the project team is small and in one place and stakeholders are few, a scrum master can handle the project manager responsibilities as well as there may not be too many. It does not make sense to have a separate person in the role of a project manager. But if there are many teams, many external and internal teams to coordinate with and teams are geographically dispersed, a project manager will be required so that there is better collaboration and communication.

Risks - There will be risks in all projects. If there are only risks related to features, client responses and changes in requirements, the scrum master can handle them. But if there are other risks and the complexity and probability of risks is higher, it is better to have a project manager in place who can manage the risksusing risk management techniques.

Commercial and governance considerations – If the project has many commercial complexities or is part of a bigger program wherein revenue, costs, contractual commitments are many and interrelated, it is better to have a project manager who can handle these things better.

A project manager is a decision maker. He does a lot of planning and responsible for reporting to senior management. He needs to lead and direct the team. A scrum master is responsible for sprints, scrum process, facilitating and coaching the team. Depending on project conditions, experience of the project manager and scrum master, it has to be decided whether separate persons are needed for project management and the responsibilities of scrum master or one person is enough for both the roles.

The project characteristics determine if the role requires more of a scrum master or more of a project manager. Does your company follow the Agile methodology? If yes, how is the team structure in the project?


About the Author

Vidya Kumar is a management graduate with 14 years of experience in the IT industry managing complex Software Projects across various industry verticals. She has around 6 years experience in content development. She has co-authored two eBooks and writes regularly on personal finance, IT, travel and other business topics.


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