Project Manager vs Scrum Master: Who’s Steering the Ship?

Balazs Refi

January 4, 2024

Follow us:

Understand the differences between IT project manager vs scrum master roles. Methodology, tasks, responsibilities, and salaries.


Effective project management is critical to the growth of any organization. The roles of an IT project manager vs scrum master may appear similar at first glance, but they are not. 

My goal is to demonstrate the distinctions between the IT project manager and scrum master roles in terms of responsibilities, tasks, and required skills. I will go over the similarities between the two roles, as well as the skills and knowledge required in the finance sector to become an IT project manager or a scrum master.

If you are not fully familiar with these roles, we recommend you read our blog posts on IT Project Manager and Scrum Master roles.

1. Comparison From A Project Methodology Standpoint

It is critical to understand the distinctions between an IT Project Manager and a Scrum Master. Because of differences in methodologies, these roles take different approaches. Understanding these differences enables us to apply the methodologies more precisely, improving team functioning and collaboration and increasing the chance of project success.

IT Project Manager vs Scrum Master Comparison - Bluebird Blog

a. IT Project Manager (PM)

Traditionally, an IT Project Manager employs the Waterfall method or similar sequential project management approaches. These methodologies progress linearly: starting with the collection of the project requirements, moving to design, then implementation, verification, and ultimately, maintenance.

b. Scrum Master (SM)

A Scrum Master works within the Scrum methodology of the Agile framework. Scrum is iterative and emphasizes collaboration, adaptability, and the delivery of small functional segments in brief periods known as sprints. Continuous feedback and regular adjustments are integral to its success.

2. Comparison Based on Tasks

Comparing the roles of IT Project Manager vs Scrum Master based on tasks provides clarity on the distinct responsibilities each holds.

Bluebird Blog

a. Tasks of an IT Project Manager

  • Develops a detailed project plan.

  • Manages project scope, schedule, and costs.

  • Coordinates resources.

  • Manages risks and issues.

  • Monitors and reports project progress.

b. Tasks of a Scrum Master

  • Facilitates Scrum ceremonies like Daily Standups, Sprint Planning, and Retrospectives.

  • Removes obstacles for the team.

  • Ensures that the team follows Agile principles and Scrum practices.

  • Shields the team from external interferences.

  • Coaches the team and organization in Agile practices.

Project Manager vs Scrum Master - Bluebird Blog

3. Comparison Based on Responsibilities

Comparing the responsibilities of the IT Project Manager and the Scrum Master highlights their distinct roles in the project and assists teams and stakeholders in setting clear expectations.

IT Project Manager vs Scrum Master Comparison - Bluebird Blog

a. Responsibilities of an IT Project manager

  • Ensures that the project is completed on time, within scope, and on budget.

  • Manages stakeholders' expectations.

  • Leads the team towards project goals.

  • Makes decisions about the project direction based on data and metrics.

  • Ensures quality deliverables.

b. Responsibilities of a Scrum Master

  • Ensures the Scrum process is followed.

  • Works to create a productive environment for the Scrum Team.

  • Addresses team dynamics to ensure a cohesive and collaborative approach.

  • Acts as a servant-leader for the Scrum Team.

  • Liaises between the team and stakeholders to optimize communication.

4. Comparison from the Standpoint of Prerequisites

The roles of IT Project Manager and Scrum Master require different knowledge, skills, and backgrounds. Companies that are aware of these prior expectations will be able to select and recruit the right people, as well as set clear expectations for professional development and job roles.

Bluebird Blog

a. Requirements for an IT Project Manager

  • Typically requires a background in IT or related field.

  • Certification like PMP (Project Management Professional) can be beneficial.

  • Requires understanding of traditional project management tools and methodologies.

  • Requires strong organizational and leadership skills.

b. Requirements for a Scrum Master

  • Knowledge of Agile methodologies, especially Scrum is essential.

  • Certification like CSM (Certified ScrumMaster) is often preferred.

  • Requires a collaborative and adaptive mindset.

  • Requires strong facilitation and coaching skills.

5. Another Crucial Point of View - Relationship with the Team

Comparing the IT Project Manager vs Scrum Master roles by their relationship with the team is crucial because it highlights their distinct leadership styles, illustrating how each fosters team dynamics, collaboration, and productivity. Understanding these differences can optimize team function, ensure effective communication, and determine which role is best suited for a particular organizational context or project type.

IT Project Manager vs Scrum Master Comparison - Bluebird Blog

a. IT Project Manager and The Team

  • Often has a top-down relationship with the team.

  • Makes critical decisions and instructs the team.

  • Monitors the team's progress against the plan.

b. Scrum Master and The Team

  • Maintains a peer relationship, acting as a servant leader.

  • Doesn't make decisions for the team but facilitates the decision-making process.

  • Encourages the team's self-organization and autonomy.

6. Comparison of Salaries

Comparing the salaries of IT project managers and Scrum masters is important because it helps employees make informed career decisions and enables organizations to offer a competitive compensation package to new and existing (!) professionals.

Comparis of salaries - Bluebird Blog

a. Salary of an IT Project Manager (12/24/2023)

  1. 1
    Junior Project Managers' average salary in the US is $111,000 per year.
  2. 2
    Project Managers' average salary in the US is $125,000 per year.
  3. 3
    Senior Project Managers' average salary in the US is $171,000 per year.
  4. 4
    Visit our salary guide for more information on IT Project Manager salaries.

b. Salary of a Scrum Master (12/24/2023)

  1. 1
    Junior Scrum Masters' average salary in the US is $96,000 per year.
  2. 2
    Scrum Masters' average salary in the US is $113,000 per year.
  3. 3
    Senior Scrum Masters' average salary in the US is $144,000 per year.
  4. 4
    For more information on Scrum Master salaries, see our salary guide.

Source: Glassdoor

7. Similarities

There are several similarities because both the IT Project Manager and the Scrum Master have the goal of ensuring project success. Let's look at them one by one!

  1. 1
    Team Leadership and Facilitation: Both IT Project Managers and Scrum Masters play leadership roles. They guide, support, and facilitate their teams, ensuring that the team can perform their tasks without hindrances.
  2. 2
    Stakeholder Communication: Scrum Master role and also IT Project Manager role act as a bridge between their teams and external stakeholders. They communicate progress, risks, and any other pertinent information to ensure that everyone is informed.
  3. 3
    Risk and Issue Management: Both Project Managers and Scrum Masters identify potential risks and impediments that might derail the project or sprint. They take proactive steps to mitigate these risks and address issues as they arise.
  4. 4
    Focus on Value Delivery: The ultimate goal for both roles is to deliver value. IT project managers ensure the delivery of the project on time, within scope and budget, while Scrum Masters ensure that the Scrum team delivers potentially shippable increments each sprint.
  5. 5
    Continuous Improvement: Both roles emphasize the importance of process improvement. IT project managers achieve this through post-project evaluations and reviews, while scrum masters use sprint retrospectives for reflection.
  6. 6
    Resource Management: While Scrum Masters don't manage people directly, they do ensure that the team has all the resources (tools, knowledge, etc.) needed for a sprint. Project Managers also ensure that their teams have the necessary resources but they often manage resource allocation more directly.
  7. 7
    Adherence to Process: IT Project Managers ensure that the team follows the chosen project management methodology, be it Waterfall, PRINCE2, etc. Similarly, Scrum Masters ensure the team adheres to Scrum framework principles and practices.
  8. 8
    Coaching and Mentoring: Both roles include elements of coaching. A Scrum Master coaches the team in Agile and Scrum processes, while project managers can teach and mentor team members in various aspects of the project management process.
  9. 9
    Team Dynamics: Both roles pay attention to team dynamics, ensuring that team members collaborate effectively and resolving conflicts.
  10. 10
    Goal Orientation: Both the Project Manager and Scrum master are goal-oriented. While their specific goals might differ – with Project Managers focused on project objectives and Scrum Masters on sprint goals – both roles always have an eye on the endgame, ensuring that the team stays on track to meet these objectives.

While the methods, practices, and immediate objectives of IT Project Managers and Scrum Masters may differ, both roles have a shared foundation of ensuring team success, and stakeholder satisfaction.

8. Working in The Financial Services Industry as a Project Manager or Scrum Master

Working in the financial services industry brings its unique set of challenges and demands, given the nature of the industry and the high stakes associated with financial transactions. If you aspire to be a Project Manager (PM) or Scrum Master (SM) in this sector, here's what you'll specifically need:

  1. 1
    Regulatory Understanding: Financial services are heavily regulated. Familiarity with regulations like the Dodd-Frank Act, Basel III, or the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), depending on your region and focus, is vital.
  2. 2
    Financial Products: A grasp of various financial products, services, and their lifecycle can give you an edge – be it loans, securities, insurance, or investment products.
  3. 3
    Risk Management: Given the sensitivity of financial data and transactions, an emphasis on risk management, especially around data security and compliance, is essential. Understand the frameworks and tools that assess and mitigate risks in financial projects.
  4. 4
    Stakeholder Management: The financial industry often has multiple stakeholders, from internal teams to regulatory bodies, to end consumers. Effective communication and stakeholder management skills are paramount.
  5. 5
    Data Literacy: A comfort level with data is crucial. Be it for understanding financial metrics, analyzing project data, or ensuring data integrity, the ability to work with and interpret data is vital in the financial sector.
  6. 6
    Technology Familiarity: Financial technology, or "FinTech", is booming. Knowledge of digital platforms, payment systems, blockchain, or any other relevant technology can be a significant advantage.
  7. 7
    Certifications for Project Managers: PMP (Project Management Professional) or PRINCE2 are standard, but you might also consider certifications that focus on risk management or financial services specifically. 
  8. 8
    Certifications for Scrum Masters: The usual CSM (Certified ScrumMaster) holds value, but also look into certifications that blend Agile and financial services.
  9. 9
    Soft Skills: Given the high-stakes nature of the financial industry, qualities like attention to detail, analytical thinking, and robust decision-making skills are especially valuable. Additionally, managing work under time pressure or handling stress is of fundamental importance.
  10. 10
    Ethical Standards: In the financial services industry, we place great emphasis on trust. Adhering to high ethical standards is not just an advantage, but a necessity.
  11. 11
    Continuous learning: The financial sector, especially due to technological advancements, is rapidly evolving. Continuous learning and up-to-date knowledge of financial and technological trends are absolutely essential if you want to work in this field.

Do You Need IT Project Managers or Scrum Masters?




Q1: What is the difference between a project manager vs a scrum master?

A: While both project managers and scrum masters play important roles in project execution, they have distinct responsibilities. A project manager focuses on planning, organizing, and leading a project team, ensuring that it meets its objectives within the set constraints. On the other hand, a scrum master facilitates the implementation of agile methodologies, fosters collaboration, and removes obstacles for the development team.

Q2: What are the key responsibilities of a project manager?

A: A project manager is responsible for defining project objectives, creating a project plan, assigning tasks to team members, monitoring progress, managing risks, and ensuring timely delivery. They are also in charge of stakeholder communication and managing project budget and resources.

Q3: What are the specific duties of a scrum master?

A: The duties of a Scrum Master include facilitating daily scrum meetings, sprint planning, sprint backlog, sprint reviews, and retrospectives. They act as a coach and mentor to the software development team, remove any impediments to progress, track the team's advancement, and ensure adherence to agile principles and practices.

Q4: What are the key differences between project managers and scrum masters?

A: Project managers have a broader focus on planning, organizing, and leading projects, while scrum masters focus on facilitating the implementation of agile methodologies. Project managers follow a structured approach, while scrum masters embrace an iterative and flexible approach. Additionally, project managers manage the entire project lifecycle, whereas scrum masters primarily focus on the development phase.

Q5: How does a project manager act as the captain of the ship?

A: The project manager acts as the captain of the ship by leading the project team, making crucial decisions, and steering the project toward success. They provide direction, manage resources, facilitate communication, and ensure that all project activities align with the project goals and objectives.

Q6: What are the main responsibilities of a scrum master as a facilitator and coach?

A: As a facilitator, the scrum master enables effective collaboration between team members, ensures that the necessary resources are available, and helps remove any obstacles that might hinder progress. As a coach, they guide and mentor the team in understanding and implementing agile principles, fostering self-organization, and continuously improving their processes.

Q7: What skills should a project manager possess?

A: Project managers should have strong communication skills to effectively coordinate with team members and stakeholders. They must also possess skills in leadership, problem-solving, risk management, time management, and adaptability. Additionally, a solid understanding of project management methodologies and tools is essential.

Q8: What skills are necessary for a scrum master?

A: Scrum masters should have excellent facilitation and coaching skills to guide the development team and foster collaboration. They need strong communication and interpersonal skills to effectively communicate with team members and stakeholders. Additionally, skills in conflict resolution, problem-solving, and agile methodologies are important.

Q9: How do project managers and scrum masters approach collaboration and communication?

A: Project managers typically follow a top-down communication approach, ensuring clear and timely communication with stakeholders and team members. Scrum masters, on the other hand, encourage collaboration and open communication through regular meetings, such as daily scrums, sprint planning, and retrospectives, to foster transparency and empower the software development team.

Q10: What are the differences between agile and traditional project management?

A: Agile project management is characterized by an iterative approach, flexibility, and close collaboration between team members, allowing for quick adaptation to changes. Traditional project management follows a linear approach with a fixed scope, project timelines, and budget. Agile methodologies, such as scrum, emphasize incremental delivery and continuous improvement, whereas traditional project management focuses on detailed planning and execution.

Q11: When should a project manager be chosen for a project?

A: A project manager is typically best chosen for projects that have a high level of complexity, a large team, and a strong need for leadership. When a project requires detailed planning, coordination, and stakeholder management, then it is the project manager who is most likely ensures the project's success.

Q12: When should a scrum master be chosen for a project?

A: Scrum master is recommended for projects that embrace agile methodologies, have self-organizing teams, and require iterative development. Agile projects prioritize flexibility, collaboration, and continuous improvement. A scrum master's expertise in facilitating agile practices and fostering team autonomy can greatly contribute to project success.

We hope you found our comparison of project manager vs scrum master roles useful.

If you are interested in IT Project Manager or Scrum Master jobs, please check out our IT job openings and IT projects.

Follow us on LinkedIn and Facebook to be the first to hear about new blog posts!

More Content In This Topic