We’ve talked a lot about our switch to agile, and while it has resulted in improved outcomes for our clients and for ourselves, it wasn’t always a smooth transition. Developers and designers kept doing their thing in the new team environment format, but our team of project managers faced a big hurdle: the transition to scrum master.

This week’s Noodles and Doodles explores how our project managers were able to give up some of the responsibilities of  project managers and make the leap to become scrum masters. Are you a project manager about to jump into the world of agile? Want to be a more successful scrum master? We can help.

Scrum Master.

For those of you in the Agile biz, these words don’t need an explanation. But for most people, it likely conjures up images of a Judo Sensei or an underground DJ. In reality, a Scrum Master is a team member in Agile projects who helps organize and facilitate the Scrum process. You might liken a Scrum Master to the Project Manager of the group, and while these roles share some common ground, there is a world of difference between the two.

As we’ve found during our transition to agile web development, moving from a traditional PM to a SM can be jarring and requires a paradigm shift… but the rewards are incredible.  While I could write a book on the differences, I’ve focused on what I and my fellow scrum masters believe to be two of the more prominent distinctions.

Ringleader to Servant Leader

A traditional development project goes something like this: the PM receives the project from the higher-ups and creates a plan of attack for the project. The PM provides the team with direction and keeps everyone on point, on budget, and on time while communicating with the client and other stakeholders. The success or failure of the project falls almost solely on the PM’s shoulders.

The typical scrum retrospective, minus the thoughtful shoulder rub.
The typical scrum retrospective, minus the thoughtful shoulder rub.

As an SM, your reality is altered. No longer are you barking orders or operating as carrier pigeon between your team and the stakeholders. The team does not work for YOU, YOU work for the team… ergo the ‘Servant’ in ‘Servant Leader.’ Your role is to help the team in whatever capacity they need in order to execute your COLLECTIVE goals and iterate successfully.

If the team needs someone to test their work, you’re on it; if they need someone to shield them from an onslaught of non-project-related requests, you get your armor and get to the front lines. Because the team is cross-functional and is working collaboratively (more to come on that), the PM isn’t making decisions for the team: the team is collaboratively responsible for decision-making, and therefore for victories and defeats.

This concept can be challenging for the Type-A PM (which, as far as I can tell, has been every effective PM ever) as you have to cease control. Stop telling everyone what to do! Step away from the spreadsheet! Letting go takes the full burdens of a project off your shoulders, but it also empowers the team to make decisions and make every project their own. Because everyone is responsible, everyone brings their A-game… all the time. What a concept, right?

Compartmentalization to Collaboration

In traditional project management, there is a tendency (maybe an unspoken rule) that engagement gets compartmentalized.

Here’s what I mean: Susan is a software developer, so she only focuses on software development – she doesn’t bother with marketing discussions. Kyle is a front end developer, so he doesn’t bother with talks about feature programming…why bother?

Well, I’ll tell you why: in Scrum, everyone works together to determine the best possible solution. Now, this isn’t to say that there isn’t a time and a place for individual conversations, but that should be the exception and not the rule.


From a waterfall perspective, it can be hard to see the value of that sort of collaboration, but our switch to Agile has shown me time and again that increased insight from team members has only lead to positive outcomes that we would have missed without that engagement.

As a PM, this is something that I would have struggled with, given the natural tendency to enjoy pulling the strings and being the one with “The Big Picture” in mind, so everyone else can focus on their roles. But by ceding control, you’ll see that collaboration is contagious and helps the team respect each other’s roles (including yours) in a way they couldn’t before. It fosters respect and camaraderie within the team, and believe me – clients will notice it. And they’ll love it.

In Conclusion…

So, what is the moral of the story? Glad you asked: Be scrummy, you Type-A Project Managers. Make the effort to really move from a traditional Project Manager to a Scrum Master. It’s not easy and will require great patience and discipline, but it’ll be worth it.

Video transcript below

[Jennifer]: Hi my name is Jennifer Fix, I’m a scrum master for 352, and today I’m going to be talking about moving from a traditional project management role to a Scrum Master. This can be a real challenge for you “type a” project managers because you’re used to being in charge, you’re used to being the one making decisions, and making the leap to being a Scrum Master can be really hard, but we’ve got a couple ideas that I think will help you.
Tip 1:
To understand better what your role as an agile development and help make better environment not only for yourself but also for your team, the first step is moving from a ringleader to a servant leader. In traditional project management the project manager is the one leading the team. They’re in charge the budget, the schedule, they liaise with the client and they’re the ones who are practically barking orders at their members for the whole time.
In agile you move to being a servant leader with the importance being on servant. No longer are you the one in charge in a traditional way, you are all working together as a team to make decisions, to manage the budget, manage the timeline and you’re all talking to the client.
The wonderful thing about this is that the onus is no longer on you, it’s on the team as a whole, and your job becomes to be the team’s number one cheerleader. You’re there to help the team in whatever way they need. So if they need someone to test their work, you’re there. If they need content integration you’re integrating content. Always, you’re putting the team first. You’re thinking about how to meet their needs and then the team is able to work together to make the decisions. You don’t have to do it by yourself anymore which means that you get to win and lose as a team and having that collective energy is so much more powerful than the project manager who’s on their own island.
Tip 2:
That brings us to our second area, which is moving from compartmentalization to collaboration. In traditional international project management you have everyone on their own islands as we were talking about a minute ago. You have your designer, programmer and quality assurance, and a project manager who live in their own world, in their own compartments and really they only interact with the other team members as much as they need to get their individual work done.
In agile development your all collaborating all the time. You’re a collective as a team and the scrum master’s role is to help other team members work together to consistently to come up with the best possible solutions.
This creates a really incredible sweet spot for yourself and for your clients. You come up with the most incredible ideas, you have this collective energy and it’s so much more dynamic then being split into separate areas.
Moving from project management to being a scrum master can be really hard it does take a lot of communication, a lot of discipline, and a lot of patience. But at the end of the day if you can make that transition and make that change you’re going to see so much benefit be so much happier with yourself and your team. Thank you.


352 is an innovation and growth firm. Leading companies hire us to find billion-dollar opportunities, build killer new products and create hockey-stick growth. We bring grit and new-fashioned thinking to innovation, digital development and growth marketing.