The Agile transition for engineering: Scrum Master vs Project Manager
Taking on Agile 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.
Transitioning over to Agile is particularly relevant in 2020 during the times of COVID-19 and the increasing popularity of remotely working teams. For engineering businesses coming from the traditional project management point of view switching over to Agile 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 a now self-managing agile team, the role of what is an Agile project manager changes as well.
Curious how other project management roles differ? See Project Manager vs Product Manager vs Product Owner.
Scrum master vs. Project manager
Scrum master definition
To compare the two roles, we first have to understand what they actually are.
A project manager – manages the team by organizing all of the work processes and assigning tasks.
A scrum master – is a guide that helps the team implement Agile practices. His or her role is about aiding and guiding the team in this process.
Thus, as we see from the Scrum master definition, the two roles differ quite a bit. One aims to control the process and the other supports implementation of Agile methods. To better understand the underlying differences, let’s explore them through several different aspects.
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 master focuses 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. A professional Scrum master removes 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, the Scrum master facilitates scrum meetings and sprint planning. As well as acts as a glue that holds the team together help improve its dynamics, and motivates the team. They lend support to whatever part of the project needs assistance at a certain time.
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 continuous progress. In other words, they report to business leadership on project development.
Scrum master does the same, but with a slightly different angle. Once the initial team processes are set up and functioning, Scrum master helps 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. The scrum master is responsible for empowering the team instead of doing the job for them.
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 master looks at the organization as a whole and helps it achieve a holistic Scrum implementation. We can use this example to define the Scrum master role – it is her or his responsibility to coach Product Owners and the Scrum team on a successful Agile application. As well as to explain Agile to stakeholders and facilitate change in the organization.
How to transition from PM to a professional Scrum master?
Are you a project manager in an engineering company overgoing an Agile implementation 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 Scrum team in general.
More on the difference between Agile and Waterfall.
Member of the Scrum Team
If you were always a more hands-on kind of 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, the Product owner could be a great fit. You will communicate with clients and create a 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.
Certified professional Scrum Master
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 master meaning
If you decide to go for the Scrum master role, keep in mind that you will require a completely new skillset. So make sure to understand the role of a Scrum master what is crucial before you begin. Take the necessary courses, learn about Agile and Scrum and consult with another more experienced scrum master to truly get into the new role and benefit your team.
To become a great scrum master, you will have to leave the leading role behind and become the supporting actor to your Scrum team.
What are the benefits of implementing Agile in the engineering branch in the 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 the 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 within 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 on the outcome they are trying to achieve. A 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 comes 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.
Start your Agile transition with Teamhood
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 the 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 the 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, implementing Agile in your engineering company is a big change that will affect various parts of the 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.
Learn more about the state of engineering project management.
Kanban board for engineering
Ensure cross-team collaboration, end-to-end process management, and visualize complex projects.
2019 - Present Co-founder and CEO @ Teamhood.
2015-2019 Head of software engineering department at Danske Bank.
2017-2018 Partner Associate Professor at Vilnius University. Lecturer of Software Architecture course
2011 - 2015 Managed numerous smaller IT teams at Prewise.
Co-founder of RaveIT, Eylean, No Brakes Games
Certified Agile product owner and practitioner. Managed large scale enterprise projects as well as launch of small startup products.
MSc of Software Engineering at Vilnius University.
Hobbies: Racing, MTB cycling, Windsurfing