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Software Development Projects | Key Roles & Responsibilities
Jas Behari
Agile Project Manager , DVT

Software Development Projects | Key Roles & Responsibilities

Wednesday, 11 November 2020 14:59

A page out of a Project Master Scrum Manager’s Diary

A successful software development business understands that the dynamics of a high-performance team is key to its delivery. However, what criteria or discipline does such a company reference, when selecting the appropriate role to drive (Project Manager) or enable (Scrum Master) the projects team and its members?

For the purposes of this article, we will focus on two different disciplines, the two common most roles associated with managing or facilitating Software Development Projects within the Information Technology space; the Project Manager and Scrum Master.

So, how does the seasoned business practitioner select the right candidate to lead or mentor project and development teams? Do they flip a coin, or do they compare each role before deciding on a manager or facilitator?

Let’s review the specifications that are often seen on a job advert for a Scrum Master / Agile Project Manager: that the ideal candidate be able to drive the Agile process and coach teams, manage customer relationships whilst building and communicating the vision of the project and have a functional understanding of the product.

That is quite an ask of requirements from differing roles, those being: Agile Coach, Product Owner, Project Manager and Scrum Master all rolled into one neat little package.

What then does a business want out of this champion to take their development teams to victory? Perhaps Mambo No.5 by Lou Bega sums it up quite nicely:

“A little bit of a Project Manager in my life
A little bit of a Scrum Master by my side
A little bit of a Product Owner is all I need
A little bit of Agile Coach is what I see”

This article will set out to answer these questions:
  • What is a Project Manager? What is a Scrum Master? What are the roles within Project Management.
  • Comparison of characteristics, skills and responsibilities of a Project Manager and a Scrum Master.
  • Which role should one look to appoint and when?
  • Can a Project Manager and Scrum Master work together?
  • Can a Project Manager become a Scrum Master and vice versa and the importance in separating these roles?
  • How does one morph from one role in to the other when the requirement presents itself; or, when are each of these roles expected to merge and successfully integrate different thought processes?
What is a Software Project?

A Software Project is a complete process of software development, incorporating a lifecycle from analysis and requirements gathering through to implementation and maintenance according to the chosen execution methodology with a specified start and end date to produce or release an intended software product.

What is Project Management?

Project Management can be defined as the application of knowledge, skills, and processes of leading the scope of work to achieve the project objective within a specified timeframe whilst adhering to cost, quality, and budget constraints.

Software Project Management is the art of leading and planning software projects and is considered a sub-discipline of Project Management.

Project Management has been in existence for decades. Organisations, however, began to apply project management tools and techniques around the 1950’s to engineering projects with incremental and iterative software development emerging as early as 1957. Several lightweight software development methods emerged with the introduction of Scrum in 1995.

Project Management harnesses about 15 different methodologies with the most common being:

  • Agile [Automatic Generation of Instructions in Languages of Eastern Europe] (software tool): Agile methodology is a particular approach to project management that is utilised in software development. It is a collection of software development principles that values adaptability and small, incremental changes in an effort to improve software quality and provide better responsiveness to changing business needs. This method assists teams in responding to the unpredictability of constructing software. It uses incremental, iterative work sequences that are commonly known as sprints.
  • Scrum: An Agile project management methodology or framework (a lightweight process framework)
  • Kanban: (Introduces change through incremental improvement)
  • Waterfall (SDLC)
  • Six Sigma
  • Scrumban
  • Lean
  • eXtreme Programming: (Lightweight software development)
  • Prince2 (Full stack Waterfall)
  • PMI/PMBOK: (Rather a guide detailing a set of standards and not an actual methodology)
What are Project Managers and Scrum Masters?

A Project Manager can be found in just about any industry, whereas a Scrum Master is limited to an Agile Project best suited to software development, within the construct of a cross-functional Scrum team consisting of a Product Owner, Scrum Master and a Development team.

Differences in Team Structure

Role of a Project Manager

A Project Manager is a key decision-maker for the project and takes a lead role in planning, executing, monitoring, controlling, and closing projects and is accountable for the management of end-to-end delivery of the project scope.

A Project Manager is responsible for:

  • Risk management and mitigation.
  • Managing all project resources and their work allocation, the budget, the overall deliverable in terms of quality and timelines, and artefacts produced (i.e. project charter, project plan).
  • Stakeholder management and communication of project status between the customer and stakeholders.
Role of a Scrum Master

A Scrum Master’s role is primarily one of facilitator and coach for a Scrum team and does not wield any real authority.

A Scrum Master:

  • Can be considered a servant-leader of a self-organising (self-managing) team and responsible for promoting and ensuring the team follow Scrum and Agile practices & methodology.
  • Is the link between the Development team and the Product Owner, providing support and guidance to both Development teams and Product Owner (the Product Owner provides the Scrum team with vision of their goal and priorities and is the point of collaboration between the Development team and Stakeholders).
High-level comparison of characteristics, skills, and responsibilities:
Project Manager Scrum Master
Manager of Projects & People Leader of a Scrum Team
Project setup & planning Team agility to gain maximum productivity
Business needs Core team
Driver Enabler
Decision Maker Facilitator
Controller Mentor
Processes and tools Individuals and interactions
Comprehensive documentation Working software
Contract negotiation Customer collaboration
Following a plan Responding to change
Project objectives Team goals
Delegates an impediment to be removed Removes an impediment

Although the scope, responsibilities characteristics and skillset of a Project Manager and Scrum Master differ, there are some commonalities in both, thereby grounding or overlapping the roles.

Shared characteristics, skills, and responsibilities:
  • Understanding the project scope and goals of the project
  • Leadership
  • Coaching and mentoring the team
  • Assisting to remove team impediments or blockers
  • Problem solving
  • Risk management
  • Time management
  • Backlog maintenance and management
  • Ensuring quality is achieved
  • Keeping the lines of communication fluid
  • Service to both development and business teams
  • Understanding metrics
  • Reporting to stakeholders
Which role to appoint and when?
Business Need Project Manager Scrum Master

Agile Methodology

Hybrid Methodology

Product Owner

Managed Team

Project focus

Team focus

Self-organising team

Decision-making authority

Manage and maintain tasks etc.

Specific requirement

Respond promptly to change

Can a Project Manager and Scrum Master work together?

Yes, a Project Manager and Scrum Master can work together. Although both disciplines have differing points of view to software development which can cause a bone of contention and lead to conflict in decision-making, however, they have also proven to successfully work together side-by-side.

In terms of hierarchy, arguably, the Project Manager’s role can be viewed as more distinguished than a Scrum Master’s role, with the latter being managed by the Project Manager. A single Project Manager can have a one-to-many relationship with multiple Scrum teams.

Can a Project Manager become a Scrum Master and vice versa and the importance in separating these roles?

A ‘dual-screen role’ often refers to an actor playing two roles in a single production. In theatre, the dual role dates back to as early as 1916 and the rationality or appreciation behind this idea often varies; ascribed to budget related decisions, comic effect, the significance of the storyline or the desire to create a challenge for an accomplished actor such as Eddie Murphy who is notably the ‘king’ of playing multiple roles… that is, until he reportedly considered it “tiring and irritating”.

A dual role may work on camera, but can this same principle be applied to Project Managers and Scrum Masters?

One can draw a similar conclusion on the desire or expectation to create a challenge with respect to a Project Manager, Agile Project Manager or Scrum Master within presumably inter-changeable, varying roles. The expectation is to marry or cross-pollinate management and leadership positions.

A Scrum Master is not a Project Manager and Project Managers are not Scrum Masters. Having a Scrum Master does not necessarily invalidate the need for a Project Manager.

Each of these disciplines have different responsibilities and approaches to software development.

A candidate therefore cannot play a dual role of Project Manager and Scrum Master, and to attempt to merge these roles can lead to conflict.

Can a Project Manager become a Scrum Master? Yes, with great effort, the transition is possible. The Scrum role can be adopted by an experienced Project Manager (Project Management is not a requirement for becoming a Scrum Master), whereas it is not always easy for a Scrum Master to manage all project expectations.

The SME considered for the purposes of comparison is depicted above, similar to the glyph of the Pisces star sign, symbolised by two fish swimming in opposite directions, almost as if they are being pulled in opposing directions thereby having a direct impact on their decision making.

One of the challenges to swapping between wearing a Project Manager’s versus a Scrum Master’s hat, in my personal experience is the concept of “control”. Misconception, easier said than done.

The idea to want to control the deliverable means extra effort in restraining oneself to want to press down hard on the organisation around you. Practical guidelines to managing the urge to control, is the ability to understand that the team is working toward the same objective, just in a different way.

In conclusion, can Jas Behari attest to being the ‘queen of role play’ given the challenges and dissimilarities of the roles that are dictated by the varying Project Management Methodologies and Frameworks at each of the client environments her engagements have led her to?

Yes, it takes a special skill set together with the art of trust, negotiation, and the understanding that one is constantly learning to make a success out of the oppositions and exceptions of these distinctly varying roles.

Published in Agile
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