Scrum Roles versus Traditional Project Manager Duties

By Mark C. Layton

Scrum takes traditional project management duties and more appropriately aligns them with each of the three scrum team member roles (product owner, development team, and scrum master) so that the product owner is concerned with everything related to the “what” and the “when,” the development team is concerned with everything related to the “how” and “how much,” and the scrum master is concerned with reducing organizational drag on the team, helping the scrum team become effective and understand the “why” of scrum and the processes used within its framework.

Everything regarding project integration, scope, time, cost, quality, human resources, communications, risk, and procurement are handled by one of the three scrum roles. With scrum, rather than one person trying to manage it all, each scrum team member shares in the accountability and ownership of each of these in more natural alignment and collaboration to maximize efficiency and effectiveness.

For each scrum team member to effectively collaborate together, he or she should have a proper balance between product/market knowledge and technical knowledge of how to create the product.

Ideally, product owners have significant market and product knowledge to enable them to provide quick and decisive clarification to the development team, and to be able to maximize the effectiveness of the development team through the product backlog. Their technical knowledge isn’t very important, because they shouldn’t define technical solutions or limit customer goals by what they think is technically possible.

The scrum master, to effectively facilitate interactions and events, as well as to both reactively and proactively recognize impediments and remove them, should possess a moderate amount of both product and technical knowledge and experience. The scrum master needs to understand the difference between impediments that are critical from impediments that are inconveniences.

The development team should have a moderate understanding of the market, customers, industry, and product domain knowledge to enable solid communication with the product owner, balanced with strong and expert technical knowledge to innovate and create successful solutions to the needs of the customer.

Former project managers love scrum because responsibility and accountability are naturally aligned with the role executing the work, not with a proxy responsible for “driving” the project to success.