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Project Manager to Scrum Master

April 17, 2008

Many organizations looking to Agile methodologies to gain better results more quickly at lower costs are taking on the question of what is the role of a Project Manger (PM) on Agile Projects. It is common for a traditional PM to take scrum master training and then assume that role for agile development. But, how similar are these two roles?  Let’s begin with definitions:

  • Project Manager: responsible for project success through planning and coordinating; staffing; assigning and tracking tasks; managing scope, issues and risks; tracking schedule and budget; ensuring quality, etc…
  • Scrum Master: specialized in ensuring scrum principles are implemented as intended by facilitating agile practices on the team and protecting team members from impediments and distractions.

Agile teams assign themselves tasks and report their own status.  In addition, agile projects are confined by time and scope with requirements adjusting to deliver the highest value based on input from the Product Owner.  This means traditional PM methods don’t fit.  It is important for all to understand the transition is not as easy as adding a few new tools to the PMs kit.  The shift in a PMs role from director to one who serves and supports a team requires at once a fundamental shift in philosophy and development of significantly different new skills. 

PMs who successfully transition to agile must make a mind shift from focusing on technical activities like planning, executing and controlling to becoming adept at a more creative process of speculating, exploring and adapting.  They will find themselves learning how to guide their team in responding to change rather than managing to a plan. They will build softer skills in facilitation, collaboration and communication to get results in a new environment where the team makes decisions instead of being told what to do. Rather than accepting responsibility themselves, they will help team members take more individual responsibility and better understand the business and its users.  Most team members may be uncomfortable with their new roles at first, so the PM will need to build understanding while fostering team cohesion and good communication. 

Clearly, the new agile role is different from the traditional one.  The shift is not easy, but PMs dedicated to results and willing to make the change will learn to apply new principles and skills that are rewarding and worth the effort.

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