Mission Impossible: Can a Project Manager Be a Scrum Master at the Same Time?

There are a lot of hot topics around Scrum since this framework was introduced in the late 20th century. One of them is the differences between scrum master`s and project manager`s roles, and whether it is possible to combine both roles in one and the same person. The supporters or Scrum usually try to decouple a project manager from the team. Many people believe that the job of a project manager is to assign and direct the work, therefore, a manager is not a part of the team and is placed on the top of it. On the other hand, a scrum master is positioned as a team player, a member of the team, who serves its needs and protects the team members from the outside interferences.
Personally I believe that, in general, nothing prevents a project manager from playing a scrum master’s role. In a modern IT world a project manager isn’t a boss who comes and gives directions on what to do and how to do it. In the most cases we`re dealing here with another type of a leader, who is called a servant leader.
But as is usually the case, it depends on the situation. In this article I’ve collected the most popular arguments why project manager can`t be a scrum master and my counter arguments to each of them.

Why a project manager can`t be a scrum master

1. There is no role of a project manager in Scrum.

The first argument against combining project manager`s and scrum master`s roles is pretty simple: Scrum does not provide for the role of a project manager at all. In Scrum there is the role of a product owner who is responsible for the product and the role of a scrum master who is responsible for processes.

Counter argument: Actually, this argument comprises counter argument on its own. There is a difference between the role and the position, or title. The point is that scrum master is a role in Scrum framework and project manager is not only a role, but also a position (or a title) in a company where Scrum framework can be applied. You may be called a project manager but, in fact, act as a scrum master or a product owner. Those project managers who enjoy solving problems, building consensus and rapport with colleagues and workers, and take delight in knowing the big business picture can make excellent scrum masters.

2. A project manager and a scrum master have different focuses

The project manager’s main focus is on the success of the project, however, the scrum master’s main focus is on the team and its development. Many people believe that these two things cannot be done successfully by one person simultaneously. Moreover, these different focuses may come into a conflict.

Counter argument: Well, I agree that the main focus of an agile project manager is aimed at the project success. But it doesn’t change the fact that a project manager can keep team`s interests and people`s development in mind when applying Scrum. Good processes and continuous improvement is a keystone of the overall project success. This is an obvious thing.

3. A project manager isn’t allowed to fail or to show that the team is failing

Those people who prefer to clearly delineate scrum master`s and project manager`s roles emphasize that a scrum master works closely with the team and admits both success and failure. This helps scrum masters improve the processes and maximize the output of team work. On the contrary, a project manager is a person who is commiting to business stakeholders for the scope of work that the team can complete at a given period of time. Therefore, a project manager as a person in charge most probably avoids reporting and admitting the failure by any means. And this, in turn, prevents the team from continuous improvement.

Counter argument: First of all, I’d like to agree that in some cases (maybe in many cases) this is true. But it depends on the organisation`s culture and the personal traits of a particular project manager. If the organization allows transparent communication between a project manager and the above management layer, and if projects in this organization are ought to die or to be killed off, in this case project manager can be completely fine with focusing on the team and process improvements, exactly as Scrum prescribes.

4. Combining both project manager`s and scrum master`s roles needs too much time to be possible

The main point here is that a project manager does a lot of time consuming activities such as communication with customers and stakeholders, reporting to executive management, managing risks and budget, etc. The person who is in charge of so many tasks can`t be able to take care of the team at the same time.

Counter argument: I’m sure that it depends on the situation. If a project manager has only one scrum team up to 10 people and works in a company with a simple structure and a low bureaucracy level, I think it’s completely possible for this leader to do both a management job and facilitating the scrum team. We can look at this point from different angle. I rarely meet pure scrum masters who have a full time position within one team. Usually scrum masters have not enough work to do within one team, and the company management forces them to take care of several scrum teams. If there is a lot of ongoing projects in the company, a scrum master can serve a couple of them. But if there are few projects in the company, it is natural to add some extra responsibilities to a scrum master in order to use his or her working capacity effectively.

5. Project managers try to fix scope, time and budget of the project, which is not the case in Scrum.

The point is that traditional command-and-control project managers are accustomed to sticking to the initial plan by putting barriers around changes. That is not the case in Scrum because agile process implies and embraces frequent changes to the plan. Those people are not good project managers for agile projects. They are terrible project managers for geographically distributed projects, where you must work through influence.

Counter argument: Well, the mentioned issue may be true for some old school project managers who don`t understand Scrum and have no experience applying it. But I believe that good managers, who keep up with the time, have to understand what framework they are using on a particular project and adhere to this framework.


There are a number of arguments on why project manager can`t be a scrum master at the same time, and all of them make sense. But when you look closer at these arguments you`ll see that, in fact, there’s nothing incompatible about those two positions. None of the roles is necessarily a full-time job (especially as the scrum team becomes experienced), so there’s no reason they can’t be performed by the same person. There are definitely some constraints defined by organizational environment, project specific and managers character, but, in general, it’s not impossible for a project manager to play a role of a scrum master at all. If a team trusts a single person to do both and the stakeholders are satisfied with the value delivered by the team, then we’re done here. But these are just my personal thoughts based on my experience.
What do you think? Do you have an experience of combining both roles or you`re in a strong opposition to this point of view? Please, share your thoughts in the comments.

Image credit: https://www.deviantart.com/zh0ya/art/Fire-and-Ice-157826349

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