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Do you need a Scrum Master for your team? We often see this request but when we dig into the detail, the hiring manager would be better served by a different role. Often a project manager or Product Owner role is what the team requires right now.

Let’s take a look at the different roles and how they are different but complementary. You might need them all, on different projects and at different times, and knowing what value they bring to your team will help you make the right choice.

The Role of A Scrum Master

First, a Scrum Master is not a jack of all trades. They don’t fill the role of project manager or devolve you of the responsibility for having a real Product Owner in place.

A Scrum Master, according to the Scrum Alliance, helps teams use Scrum properly. In turn, this increases the likelihood of success: process steps are not overlooked, and corners are not cut.

The Scrum Master:

  • Understands Scrum values, techniques and practices and coaches others on them.
  • Improves the Product Owner’s effectiveness by maintaining the Product Backlog for the Product Owner to prioritize
  • Maintains the release plan
  • Organizes meetings
  • Facilitates communication between teams and encourages transparency
  • Ensures the team is efficient and effective and has the tools required to do the job

It may look like this is broadly similar to the role of a project manager but a Scrum Master would generally have deep knowledge and expertise in the field beyond what most project managers would bring to a team. This is especially important in software development teams.

Key Differences Between Scrum Master and Project Manager

A project manager is seen in the organization as the person leading the change (even if there is an Exec leadership team and project sponsor in the picture too). They are the day-to-day owner of the work, they make decisions and they plan the upcoming tasks. They manage the team, although they may not have direct line management responsibility for the people in it.

A Scrum Master is much more in the role of facilitator. The role is responsible for the process but not the team. It’s a position designed to remove roadblocks and ensure that the customer gets what is requested. Think of the Scrum Master as the internal consultant on the team, someone to advise on how best to get the outcome you want.

The project manager operates in a highly structured environment with a clear role profile. Projects managed with a waterfall or iterative methodology have a clear business objective and clear project phases. The project manager uses his or her skills to ensure the team arrives at the destination on time, on budget and with a deliverable that meets quality targets and business criteria.

The Scrum Master works in a more fluid environment, without the strict change control procedures that ‘traditional’ project teams work within. In short, the Agile team works in an environment where features are fluid and time, cost and quality are flexible. The reverse is the case for the project manager: their role is to deliver the features, and time, cost and possibly quality are measures that can shift along the way.

Who Makes A Good Scrum Master?

We often see excellent Scrum Masters come from a project management background but that isn’t the case for everyone. A project team member or a business analyst could also make a move and become a great Scrum Master – even Product Owners sometimes enjoy the environment and pace of change so much that they leap to the other side!

On the subject of Product Owners, let’s look at those

Product Owner: Something Different Again!

Product Owners are another critical part of a Scrum team, but again, they are not a project manager. It’s also a different role to Scrum Master. It’s their project and they are responsible for the requirements and planning the prioritization of those requirements to fit business needs. The Product Owner uses business knowledge to steer the project in the direction that provides the best fit to strategic and tactical objectives, flexing the work of the team to ensure that each sprint delivers something of value.

Decisions sit with the Product Owner, as the person ultimately responsible for the end result. There could be dozens of decisions per week, and they need to be taken in a timely manner to ensure the project team is not held up. That can result in a lot of change, and it can be tricky to get your head around delivering something that is fundamentally different from what you thought you were going to deliver, albeit that the result is better and more valuable to the business.

They can, of course, lean heavily on the  Scrum Master for advice at any time. Experienced Scrum Masters have been through many Agile projects and have in-depth knowledge that Product Owners may not have. Together, the pair can ensure the project delivers business value in an Agile way.

Can you find someone who could fulfill all of these roles depending on the project, and flex their skills according to what you need at the time? Those kinds of individuals are few and far between, but you know what? Why don’t you ask us and we’ll work with you to find a candidate who is the best fit for your organization. Contact Triumph Strategic Consulting today.

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