Why an Agile Project Manager Is Not a ScrumMaster


A reader asked why the lifecycle in Agile Lifecycles for Geographically Distributed Teams, Part 1 is not Scrum. It's not Scrum for these reasons:

A reader asked why the lifecycle in Agile Lifecycles for Geographically Distributed Teams, Part 1 is not Scrum. It's not Scrum for these reasons:

  1. The project manager and product owner start the release planning and ask the team if the release planning is ok. The team does not generate the initial draft of release planning itself. In Scrum, the team is supposed to generate all of the planning itself.
  2. The checkin is different from the Scrum standup and the objectives of the checkin are different. I did suggest to the teams that if you want to create a cross-functional team where the functions are separated, if you ask people how they are working together, you might help them work together. Sometimes those questions work, and sometimes they don’t. It depends on the team and whether the people want to work together.

I didn’t mention retrospectives or backlogs in my examples so far, because I took them for granted. Yes, both examples of these teams do perform retrospectives and have product backlogs. They also have agile feature roadmaps, which are on my list to blog about.

The real difference is the difference between a Scrum Master and an Agile Project Manager. A Scrum Master is not a project manager. A scrum master does not manage risk by him or herself. A project manager will take on the risk management responsibility without asking the team.

A Scrum Master has only allegiance to the team. A project manager has responsibility to the team and to the organization. That means that the project manager might feel torn when the organization pressures the project manager to do something stupid. (Although, I just downloaded the Scrum Guide, and the Scrum Master’s responsibilities have grown considerably since I took my CSM with Jeff way back in 2006.)

But agile provides transparency when the organization asks the agile project manager to do something stupid, so it’s easier to retain your integrity as a project manager.

Want to move a feature higher in the backlog? Change the feature roadmap with the product owner and then change the backlog with the product owner. I expect the agile project manager to collaborate on the feature roadmap and the backlog with the product owner.

Want to change the velocity of the team to please some crazed manager? Both the Scrum Master or the agile project manager protects the team in these ways:

  • Explain that velocity is not a productivity metric
  • Say No and explain why
  • Play the Double Your Velocity schedule game
  • Or choose some other way to remove this management obstacle.

Agile makes it easy to protect the team. The question is this: does the Scrum Master have other responsibilities in addition to protecting the team or is the Scrum Master full time? An agile project manager tends to be full time on a geographically distributed team. Even on a geographically distributed team, a Scrum Master is not seen as a full time position. Bless their tiny little hearts, managers don’t seem to understand that transitioning to agile, especially for silo’d distributed teams with different cultural norms is non-trivial. They will make room for a project manager, but a Scrum Master? Oh no. Makes me nuts.

Cut corners on quality? I don’t see how. The team doesn’t meet the acceptance criteria on the stories and doesn’t meet their criteria of done for an iteration, and can’t show a demo. How does that serve anyone?

Help a team go faster? This is the one place where a project manager may have an edge over a Scrum Master, and that’s only because of


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