project manager or scrum master

The Agile transition in 2020 for engineering: Scrum Master vs Project Manager

Making an Agile transition is a full-on organizational change for the engineering branch. Workflows, processes and even team roles need to be adjusted. Understanding the key roles of Scrum often has a direct effect on the methodology succeeding or failing. One of the most common misconceptions is that the Project Manager and the Scrum Master roles are pretty much the same.

Agile transition is particularly relevant in 2020 during the times of COVID-19 and increasing popularity of remotely working teams. For engineering businesses coming from the traditional project management point of view the Agile transition could seem simple. You rename Project Manager into Scrum Master and the senior management to Product Owner. Seems right? Well, it isn’t. With a changed concept of now self-managing agile team, the role of project manager changes as well.

Scrum master vs. Project manager

scrum master vs project manager
Scrum Master vs Project Manager,

To put it shortly, Scrum master and Project manager are completely different roles in these key aspects.

Team management

Project managers in traditional engineering companies assign tasks, monitor deadlines, manage risks and control the team to achieve the desired result. They prioritize features and may also coordinate with other dependent teams. Meanwhile the Scrum masters after the agile transformation focus solely on the application of Scrum methods. They help the team understand how it works, but have no say in task allocation, deadlines and other related matters. They remove blockers that hinder project progress and help teams estimate and increase productivity. For that they might use an agile board like Kanban to help coordinate the process in an effective and visual way. Furthermore, Scrum masters facilitate scrum meetings and sprint planning. As well as act as a glue that holds the team together, help improve its dynamics and motivate the team. They lend support to whatever part of the project needs assistance at a certain time.

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Taking care of outside relationships

Another major part of both roles is managing not only the team, but the outside relationships as well. Project managers focus on communicating with senior management and other parties of the project to ensure the continuous progress. In other words, they report to business leadership on project development. Scrum masters do the same, but with a slightly different angle. Once the initial team processes are set up and functioning, they help team members establish good communication lines with the outside contractors and teams. So instead of taking on the role themselves, they make sure the team does collaboration effectively on their own by promoting continuous communication.

Controlling the big picture

Lastly, there is no business without the big picture. Project managers aim to stay within the deadline, manage resources and control the team to achieve the end result. Meanwhile the Scrum masters look at the organization as a whole and help it achieve a holistic Scrum implementation. As an example of that, Scrum masters coach Product Owners and team on successful Agile application. As well as explain Agile to stakeholders and facilitate change in the organization.

scrum master and other actors
Scrum master influences on other actors
project manager and other actors
Project manager influences on other actors

What does that mean for the project managers?

Are you a project manager in an engineering company overgoing an Agile transition and now seem lost? There is no need to worry, but you have to accept that your role will have to change. Scrum offers three basic roles. As a project manager you will have to choose the one that suits you best. When you switch from Waterfall to Agile, the responsibilities of the project manager are split among a variety of team members. Some responsibilities go to the product owner, some to the Scrum Master, and some to the team in general.

If you were always a more hands on kind of a leader, becoming part of the team might be the best fit. You will have to actually perform tasks and execute the project, but this way you will stay very close to the action. As a team member you will feel the beating heart of the project daily.

On the other hand, if you were always more concerned with the big picture while letting the team handle the day-to-day tasks alone, Product owner could be a great fit. You will communicate with clients and create the holistic vision for the team to execute. You will get a chance to see progress during Sprint reviews and steer the team in the right direction to move forward.

Lastly, you could become the Scrum master. Keep in mind that this role requires deep knowledge of Scrum, especially in the beginning when the team is adapting. But in case you are the one pushing for the transition and can offer your knowledge base to the team, this will be a great option.

scrum roles: scrum master, product owner, development team
Product owner, Scrum master, development team.

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What are the benefits of undergoing an Agile transition in the engineering branch in year 2020?

Under the pandemic engineering companies have been made painfully aware of the fragility of the critical systems upon which they depend and of the need for resilience. Without a doubt, the companies in the engineering branch that will emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis will be the ones that manage these key factors well: embracing change, speed delivery and continuous collaboration. Accordingly, that is precisely what Agile offers.

All agile methodologies including Scrum seek to deliver 4 main values defined in the Agile manifesto from year 2001.

People and interactions

Firstly, that is people and interactions, which ensures the constant sharing of information and prevents isolated working styles. The strength that this supplies engineering teams with in the unstable pandemic times is undeniable. It also minimizes dependencies as multiple people have access to the same information. In Agile work is defined, managed and executed by empowered teams who are not focused on the task, but instead the outcome they are trying to achieve. Stronger connection between teams and business goals, combined with fewer handovers and better coordination of roles, improves both efficiency and effectiveness. In addition, Agile brings about higher employee engagement and commitment to the company that come from a strong sense of purpose and belonging. In Agile every employee is motivated and empowered to contribute to the team and the organization with transparent goals and strategies.

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Responding to change

Secondly, it is responding to change. In an ideal case agile functions not even as a responsive, but rather as a proactive system. In other words, it predicts changes in the market before they even appear and adjusts the direction of product development accordingly. For instance, consider the speed with which an agile organization can reprioritize the relevant features in product or service development. That is especially relevant in Covid-19 context. An Agile organization adapts to a massive shift—or temporary evaporation—in demand by using regular and frequent feedback and retrospective sessions. Streamlined decision making and governance also enable faster responses to new conditions and shorter time to market.

Collaboration and working solution

Thirdly, another Agile standard is collaboration. We already mentioned the importance of collaboration between team members, teams and other internal actors. However, the collaboration with customers and stakeholders is just as important in Agile. This standard is closely connected to the ultimate goal of Agile systems – the delivery of a working solution to the customer. In other words, the Agile approach to engineering optimizes processes and workflow to provide highest customer satisfaction. Agile engineering teams aim to collect customer feedback as frequently as possible. That way they to stay on track with the constantly changing customer and stakeholder requirements. As a result, they can present a relevant and potentially shippable end product.

In conclusion, the agile transition in your engineering company is a big change that will affect various parts of organizational and production stages. However, it is definitely the most efficient strategy to increase your competitiveness and deliver satisfactory end products in the current market of 2020.


Kanban board for engineering

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