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Can a Project Manager Be a Scrum Master?


Can a Project Manager be a Scrum Master

When companies dip their toe in Agile waters, they often start by simply trying out an Agile framework such as Scrum to deliver something relatively small, such as a project. And that's a great way to start. However, with this comes the question: Can a Project Manager be a Scrum Master?


The answer is a resounding yes. While the transition may require some adjustment and a shift in mindset, Project Managers possess a wealth of experience and skills that can - for many - actually be beneficial for those fulfilling the Scrum Master accountability.


But beware! While many skills typically associated with Project Management can be useful for a Scrum Master, there are also differences between traditional approaches to value delivery - such as waterfall - and Agile frameworks - like Scrum. This article will explore the skills that transfer well from Project Management to the Scrum Master accountability, as well as the aspects of Scrum that sometimes present challenges to traditional Project Managers.


10 Transferrable Skills:

The following list includes skills that Project Managers may often bring to the Scrum Master accountability.


  1. Team Building:

Project Managers often excel in building high-performing teams. They understand team dynamics, resolve conflicts, and foster collaboration. These skills are invaluable for a Scrum Master, who must create a cohesive and self-managing team.


2. Removing Impediments:

Project Managers are adept at identifying and eliminating impediments, aligning with the Scrum Master's duty to help the team to removing obstacles to value delivery.


3. Focus:

Project Managers demonstrate a strong focus on tasks and goals, ensuring that the team remains on track and delivers results efficiently. This can translate well to Scrum, but only if the Project Manager also promotes the team's ability to self-organize around how to deliver against the Product goal.


4. Stakeholder Management:

Project Managers are skilled in managing various stakeholders, ensuring clear communication and alignment of goals. The Scrum Master can use this to coach the Product Owner and Developers in how to work together with stakeholders to maximize the value of the Product.


5. Communication:

Project Managers possess strong communication skills, enabling them to convey complex information effectively and facilitate smooth interactions within the team and with external stakeholders, enhancing the Scrum Master's ability to facilitate communication within the Scrum team and with external parties.


6. Facilitation Skills:

Project Managers are proficient in facilitating meetings, discussions, and decision-making processes, enhancing collaboration and problem-solving within the team, which complements the Scrum Master's role in facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed.


7. Ability to Navigate Change:

Project Managers are experienced in managing change effectively, adapting plans and processes to meet evolving project requirements, which is crucial for the Scrum Master in guiding the team through changes in priorities and requirements while maintaining focus on delivering value.


8. Focus on Delivery:

Project Managers prioritize delivering projects on time and within budget, emphasizing the importance of meeting deadlines and delivering value to stakeholders, aligning with the Scrum Master's responsibility to help the team to deliver increments of potentially shippable product at the end of each Sprint.


9. Conflict Resolution:

Project Managers are skilled in resolving conflicts and addressing issues within the team, promoting a positive work environment and ensuring that conflicts do not hinder progress, supporting the Scrum Master in fostering collaboration and addressing conflicts within the Scrum team.


10. Adaptability:

Project Managers demonstrate adaptability in responding to changing project requirements, unforeseen challenges, and dynamic environments, enabling them to adjust plans and strategies accordingly, which complements the Scrum Master's accountability in helping the organization to establish empirical product planning for a complex environment


What to Watch out for:

While many Project Managers possess valuable skills that could easily apply to the Scrum Master accountability, it's also important to understand what habits may be challenging for traditional Project Managers seeking to fulfill the Scrum Master accountability.


Below are some of the key things for Project Managers who are considering the Scrum Master accountability to be aware of.


  1. Purpose

The purpose of the Project Manager is to deliver the original scope on time and on budget. On the other hand, the Scrum Master's purpose is to improve the adoption of Scrum so that the team can maximize value delivery for the organization. These are two very different things. The Project Manager is focusing on their scope and budget which are very internally facing. The Scrum Master is focusing on helping their team to maximize the value provided, which is externally facing. These things can be at odds if the Project Manager focuses too rigidly on the original scope and as a result, limits the Scrum team's ability to be creative and find ways to maximize the value of the product.


Here's one way to avoid this issue. Project Managers should manage Agile projects with an Agile charter which outlines the vision and goals of the project, but which does not dictate scope or requirements up front. See my recent article Using agile in project management.


2. Values

High-performing Scrum teams live the values outlined in the Agile Manifesto, which are as follows:


  • We value Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

  • We value working software over comprehensive documentation

  • We value customer collaboration over contract negotiation

  • We value responding to change over following a plan


Unfortunately, these values are often at odds with the mindset of traditional Project Managers. Here's how:


  1. "We value Individuals and interactions over processes and tools"

    1. Traditional Project Managers may uphold processes around change control, requirements approval, and so on to control value delivery and limit risk. Scrum teams on the other hand create and modify their own processes (within organizational guardrails) to maximize value delivery.

  2. "We value working software over comprehensive documentation"

    1. Traditional Project Management approaches include creating an agreed upon Scope (in the project charter) and documenting Requirements up front (in the Requirements phase). Scrum teams - on the other hand - are continually refining their Product Backlog, so there is no time at which the team could say that requirements are 'done'. In addition, Scrum teams document just enough to enable value delivery - and no more - so each item in the Product Backlog will contain only enough information to enable the Scrum team to deliver it. Some organizations require more documentation and others require less.

  3. "We value customer collaboration over contract negotiation"

    1. Customer or stakeholder collaboration is important even in traditional Project Management approaches, but collaboration is typically limited during the Development phase of the Project whereas Scrum teams collaborate with stakeholders throughout delivery.

  4. "We value responding to change over following a plan"

    1. The purpose of a traditional project is to deliver the original scope, but Agile teams welcome change because as more is learned, Agile teams can take those learnings and change direction easily.



3. Self-Management:

Scrum recognizes that those closest to the work know how best to deliver the work. That's why Scrum champions self-management. This can be a hard one for many traditional Project Managers to really adoption. Traditional Project Managers may see themselves adding value by controlling the work in order to minimize risk. Scrum Masters - on the other hand - add value by helping the Scrum team to become ever more self-managing.


4. Incremental Delivery

Incremental delivery is at the heart of Scrum. Incremental delivery is completely different from traditional project delivery. In a traditional project delivery, the work is delivered in one giant deliverable at the end of the Project. However, Scrum teams use an incremental approach to value delivery. Incremental delivery means that working product is delivered frequently, not just at the end of the project. See our article The value of incremental delivery in Scrum for more on this topic.


5. Adopting an Agile Mindset:

Transitioning from traditional project management to agile requires a mindset shift. Scrum Masters must embrace agility, including uncertainty, valuing interactions over processes, and embracing change. This mindset enables effective navigation of dynamic projects.



Conclusion:

While project managers possess skills beneficial to the Scrum Master role, there are differences in approach. Balancing dual roles or transitioning from Project Manager to Scrum Master requires an understanding of the differences between the Project Manager and the Scrum Master. To learn more about Scrum, signup for the Applying Professional Scrum course with Rebel Scrum.


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