Scrum Master, Project Manager Product Owner, What’s the Difference?

Author: Karen Stackhouse
I’m often asked about the difference between a Scrum Master, a Project Manager and Product Owner.  They all are very distinct roles and are interconnected and dependent on one other.
So, what’s the difference?  In Agile development there is typically a Product Owner and a Scrum Master.  Depending on the organization, a Project Manager may also be part of the overall team.
The Product Owner is responsible for the overall product development and its lifecycle.  They set the vision and the metrics for the product (through market analysis, control groups, etc.).  They also maintain and prioritize the Product Backlog (consisting of user stories) of features.
The Scrum Master is responsible for managing the work of the team developing the features.  They work with the delivery team to deliver features, monitor the team progress, work to remove impediments and protect the team from outside influences; they are responsible for the overall health (both progress and satisfaction) of the team.  They work closely with the team and the Product Owner to ensure the Development Backlog is groomed and is maintained to maintain project velocity and progress.
In general, the Product Owner maintains the vision of the product and the Scrum Master works to make sure the vision is met according to the Product Owner’s specifications.  In some organizations, a Project Manager is injected into the project team.  Their main responsibility is to oversee budget and timeline and work in cadence with the project team to make sure the project is delivered accordingly.  If the Scrum Master is tasked with monitoring budget and timeline, they take on the responsibility of the Project Manager; however their main task is to oversee the Development Backlog and the health of the team and report progress upward to Management.
A Project Manager maintains the budget and timeline of the project and reports status to management.  They also coordinate with other organizational project efforts to make sure that the organization as a whole is healthy from a strategic vision.
the flow between product owner, project manager, and scrum master
In general, the Product Owner maintains the vision of the product, the Scrum Master works to make sure the vision is met according to the Product Owner’s specifications, and the Project Manager is tasked with managing the budget and timeline and ensuring the company’s strategic vision is met.
Some organizations choose a hybrid of the Scrum Master and Project Manager roles.  If that is the case, the Scrum Master takes on the added responsibility of the budget and overall timeline.  This hybrid is one that is become more common as organizations streamline their staff and task them with greater overall knowledge of the organization’s vision and processes.  This doesn’t change the Scrum Master’s responsibility to maintain fluidity within the product and development environment and protect the team from outside influences.
As a consultant, I typically fill a hybrid role, since my clients require I manage the budget and the team on a daily basis.  I use the general tenants of Scrum (Daily Stand Up, Sprint Planning, Retrospecitves).  I also have the team participate in consistent backlog grooming where we review the stories, estimate them and add any information required for development and acceptance.  I have the added responsibility of overseeing the budget and overall timeline and reporting progress to management.  I may not be the Scrum Master in the traditional sense, but I’ve found with support from management and the important input and responsibility of the Product Owner, we can create success.
Author: Karen Stackhouse

Posted in PMO