Why A Project Manager Can Be The ScrumMaster

When I’m teaching Scrum to teams that have never worked agile before, I’m always emphasizing the self-organizing nature that development teams have. Development teams consist of capable, educated, intelligent professionals that know how to implement the required functionality better than project managers. So the Product Owner decides where the team should go, and the team decides how to get there.

When it comes to explaining the three roles that the Scrum framework provides, there’s one question that frequently pops up: “Is the Project Manager the same as the ScrumMaster?”

The answer I always give is ‘No’.

However, the truth is actually a bit more subtle than that. For a start, let’s not forget that before Ken Schwaber invented the ‘ScrumMaster’ role, the Project Manager actually was the ScrumMaster (sort of). And a lot of the duties a ScrumMaster has to do, are basically management tasks: making sure the required events take place, removing impediments so that the team can work in an optimal manner, helping the Product Owner managing the Backlog and influencing the organization to help it work agile.

In a lot of organizations, the ScrumMaster’s influence is limited. The ScrumMaster is a part-time role, fulfilled by one of the members of the Development Team and his or her influence basically doesn’t go far beyond the Development Team’s influence. To really have things changed, and really have impediments removed often requires the help of the Project Manager.

So, why not simply make the Project Manager the ScrumMaster then?
It all has to do with the change of mind-set. Traditionally, a lot of Project Managers are used to command-and-control, micro-management and monitoring every step of the Development Team. This of course, goes against the principle of self organizing teams and creates a lot of waste.

Introducing Scrum into an organization, but keeping the old title of ‘Project Manager’ intact, suggests that the change is less all-encompassing than it actually is. Also, when searching for a new employee, a vacancy for a ‘Project Manager’ raises the image of a job profile that is something else than you actually are looking for. The term ScrumMaster was invented to make clear that things have drastically changed.¬†As Ken Schwaber said: “The vocabulary of Scrum is a vocabulary of change’.

So, back to the start: is the Project Manager the same as the ScrumMaster? No!
Can the Project Manager become the ScrumMaster? Yes!

I’ve worked with Project Managers who really understood the principle of facilitating the team and therefore, in my opinion, would make excellent ScrumMasters. These people have traditionally more influence in an organization so are probably able to pull more things off, than a ScrumMaster would in a lot of organizations. Just let the old habits loose and make the team fly.

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