Do you really need a Scrum Leader and a Project Manager?

by Bianca |
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Do you really need a Scrum Leader and a Project Manager?



The complexity of a software project demands efficiency. Deviations and additions add up, meaning you need leaders who are able to prioritize core objectives. 


If you’re not in the software industry, the value of and difference between a Scrum Leader and Project Manager may be alien to you. 


Enough mumbo-jumbo, let’s dive in. 

Lots of companies use ‘agile’ to complete a project or commission. It’s a methodology based on four principles:

  • Responsive evolution > following a plan
  • Person > process
  • Collaboration > negotiation
  • Working deliverables > writing everything down


Then there’s scrum. It’s an agile framework (stick with me here) which runs on work cycles called sprints. It’s a way of working within the principles of agile. And it’s a popular one. 


Scrum encourages human insight and connectivity, rather than a strict set of rules. The (well-proven) hypothesis is that it increases quality, efficiency and usability. These are the general stages:


  • A business owner or individual approaches a software development company to fix, build, test or create something. They describe their idea and identify key objectives

  • A client’s project is broken down into pieces that are put in a log

  • The Scrum Master assigns tasks to developers from the backlog for a two week ‘sprint’ cycle

  • At the end of each cycle, results of that sprint are considered, with any learnings integrated into the coming sprint

  • Repeat 


The players in this cycle include the Scrum Master and Project Manager, along with some other roles. Of course, you’ve got your friendly neighborhood development team. Cute.


Then you’ve got a product owner.


This person is responsible for making sure the project or product is as valuable as it can be. They manage the backlog, as above, the hub of tasks associated with executing the project. 


For example, if you’re making a website, the backlog would break down all the different steps needed for the team to do that. It’s the product owner’s job to make sure the backlog is clear and understood. 


They have to make important decisions regarding the product, and be excellent communicators across teams. They are also effectively, the marketer to the client, helping preserve the integrity of the product as it’s being made. 


Now let’s dive into a Scrum Master vs. a Project Manager.


As one of my development colleagues aptly put it:


A Scrum Master is team and detail-oriented


A Project Manager is client and big picture-oriented


Scrum Master


Usually certified, the number one qualification for this role is working knowledge of Agile framework and working within a Scrum team. The Scrum Master has to be savvy with the developers they’re working with, patient and great communicators. They’re a cheer squad, mentor, taskmaster and timekeeper all in one. That said, their overview on progress is limited to just the team they're working with. 


Their role is to lead and coach the team in implementing Scrum. They assign tasks from the backlog, remain responsive to support needs, and make sure to optimize developers’ use of time. Leading Scrum meetings, they help problem-solve and integrate pivots for greater productivity over subsequent sprints. 


Less concerned with the grand design of a project, it’s their job to make sure the work is executed efficiently, with an emphasis on quality and real-time improvement, all within sprints. They are the support and advocate for their developers. 


Project Manager


Where a scrum leader is focused on teams, task assignment and developer optimization, a project manager thinks big picture. They’re concerned with deadlines, deliverables, budget and client satisfaction. 


At the very beginning of a project, the Project Manager works with the client and Product Owner to develop a business case. This assesses the benefits and risks of different project approaches, ROI projections and governance structure, among other factors. It’s important they achieve a solid understanding of the client’s objectives, from which they’ll create the project flow. 


Where there are unknowns, it’s the Project Manager’s responsibility to make provisions that mitigate surprises down the track. This includes financial surprises; budget management also comes under the Project Manager umbrella. Once acceptance criteria is determined, they develop the overall plan and timeline, monitoring this on an ongoing basis.


If a client wants to pivot, add or alter, the project manager is the go-to person. It’s on them to collaborate in order to meet the client’s needs, without jeopardizing unnecessary time and resources. Later, they’ll maintain responsibility for hand-off of the product, assessing what work will be needed in maintenance or tutelage. 


The upshot


Titles can mean a lot less than flawed human behavior. Ultimately, the company you work with will have self-knowledge to determine the team for your particular project. 


While Project Managers are client-focused and bird’s-eye view with a focus on administration, Scrum Masters are hands-on, team-oriented and ensure Agile execution of deliverables. Both are vital in contribution and nuanced in scope.  


Having just a Scrum Master or Project Manager means that one person is responsible for managing relations with the development team AND the client. Either is already a handful, and it takes a very competent person to make a go of both. 


For a tiny project, of course it may be less necessary. However, it’s safe to say on a project with lots of customizable features, more user access requests and layers, having a Scrum Leader and Project Manager on board is the best strategy to optimize results. 


The majority of the time, the decision lies with the software company. When you work with an experienced team, your Project Manager will be able to break down your budget and objectives, advising on best approach. Which is why you want to make sure you’re working with industry players who know what they’re doing. 


Here at Synic, we curate a group of talented professionals we feel are best suited to your project. We assess scope, budget and objectives to inform the best choice for you and your company. Get in touch today to learn more.