From PM to Scrum Master?

In view of the current job market situation, many project managers are asking themselves whether they should not switch completely to agile PM and become Scrum Masters. Some project managers ask themselves whether they may have automatically become a Scrum Master the moment their company switched to agile management. HR consultants, on the other hand, naturally want to take a more differentiated view of the question.
Brunette woman smiles past the camera and points to a blackboard.

Differences to project management

Whether someone is a project manager or a Scrum Master depends on several factors. The role that a Scrum Master has to fulfil is deep and wide. A Scrum Master has to support his team and at the same time work with all other stakeholders to create an ideal environment for the implementation of agile methods. A Scrum Master is not the one who leads or manages a project. Also status reports, which belong to the tasks of a project manager, are not part of the work of a Scrum Master. Often Scrum Masters are not involved in the project at all to the extent that they could prepare a report on its status. Here the areas of responsibility clearly diverge.

Other tasks, other skills

Scrum Masters need different skills than project managers. Crucial for a good Scrum Master is the ability to act as a coach and mentor, guiding the members of the Scrum Team and all other stakeholders. This is less about leadership and direction and more about removing hurdles and allowing the team to work in the greatest possible freedom and flexibility. The Scrum Master must ensure that his team succeeds. This includes meetings with outsiders from whom support is hoped for. A Scrum Manager can suggest a direction and support his team to reach the right conclusion. Decisions like those made by a project manager are not expected from a Scrum Master. Many project managers have these special skills that a Scrum Master must have. But some do not have them. Someone can be an outstanding project manager and fail as a Scrum Master. They are simply two fundamentally different jobs. At the same time, an excellent Scrum Master can fail at the tasks of a project manager. It all depends on the environment and the work situation.

Scrum versus PM

The point here is not to find out which role is "better" - that is not possible at all. This is otherwise comparing the proverbial apples and oranges. It's about finding the right fit for a job. And it is about each person finding out for himself or herself whether he or she sees his or her home and vocation in Scrum or in traditional project management. If you look at the Scrum managers of our generation, it quickly becomes clear that most of them do not come from traditional PM. In a survey by and Age of Product, only 31% of Scrum Masters said they held the title of Project Manager at some point earlier in their career. So less than a third of all Scrum Masters took this route in their careers. The study showed that 25% of the respondents had previously been either an engineer or software developer, 10% had been a business analyst and 8% had been employed in quality assurance. The remaining 26% held all sorts of job titles and came to Scrum from a wide variety of fields. What is clear from this is that it is not a requirement for Scrum Masters to be skilled in traditional project management. It also seems clear that it cannot be the goal of all project managers to become a Scrum Master. But of course it can't hurt for a Scrum Master to know a little about traditional project management. They just have to realise that the tasks as a Scrum Master require completely different skills.

Can PMs be successful in Scrum?

Of course they can. However, those who come from PM to Scrum must be able to think flexibly. You must be aware from the outset that you are entering uncharted territory. Be careful not to become a spreadsheet manager. Don't rely on your skills that have served you well in project management, but be open and flexible. Approach your team and always focus on the team, not the project. According to Barry Obereem, a good Scrum Master must combine leadership and operation, he must facilitate the team's work, be a coach and at the same time a manager, a mentor, a teacher a pathfinder and a change agent.

Is Scrum the only alternative?

If you are a project manager and love this job, then you should not assume that it is inevitable for you to have to act as a Scrum Master, even if your company takes the step towards agility. Project managers are still needed in the age of Scrum and you, with your skills, may simply not be the first choice for a new Scrum Master. Your skills as a PM will not become less important. On the contrary. So think carefully about which direction you want to go. Do you want to become a Scrum Master? Then go for it! Throw yourself into the new role and learn as much about it as you can. Do you feel more comfortable in PM? Then find the role in your company where you can be of use. Good project managers are still needed.
Author: IAPM internal

Key words: Project management, Agile Project management, Change management, Agile transformation

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