Transition from Project Manager to Scrum Master

Transition from Project Manager to Scrum Master

Being a Great Scrum Master can be Learned

In my related post, I argued that most Project Managers make lousy Scrum Masters. It’s not on purpose, it just happens that the skills that make them great project managers actually hinder them from being great Scrum Masters. However, I believe that any project manager can learn to be a great Scrum Master.

I’m a big fan of Carol Dweck’s Mindset book and the idea of the growth mindset. Dweck contends that everything can be learned. I agree, and I believe that anyone can the soft skills needed to be a great scrum master. I think in addition to overcoming their need to control, project managers need to change their mindset or worldview. The following table shows some of the shifts in thinking that will be needed to be a great scrum master:

Project Manager Thinking vs. Scrum Master Thinking

I know what is best The team knows what is best
I need to make decisions The team needs to decide
I focus on status I focus on team health
I see myself in the middle of everything I see myself as an outside observer and supporter
I am the connector and translator I am the enabler

Tips for Succeeding as a Scrum Master

I know that all great project managers have the potential to be great scrum masters. I did it! Here are five specific tips for how to do that:

1. Don’t try to be both Project Manager and Scrum Master

There is a unfortunate trend to hire people who are “project manager/scrum masters” or to expect one person to play both roles. Don’t do it! Trying to do these two jobs at the same time will be difficult for you and confusing or upsetting to your team members. It will be too hard to separate one from the other and to be good as a scrum master. Instead, focus on learning and mastering the scrum master role.

2. Focus on the mindset change

Be open to change and let go of old ways of thinking. Recognize your desire for control and relinquish it to others.

3. Master Scrum

I probably sound like a broken record on this, but to be effective as a scrum master, you need to train and coach others on scrum. You can’t do that if you haven’t mastered it. Get the Scrum Guide and read it. Many project managers don’t bother – be different. Dig in. Join a training course and pursue certification as a Scrum Master (we offer public courses monthly).

4. Let Go of Tasks and Status

Project managers often get distracted with tasks and status. Instead, focus on people and interactions. Pay attention to the team health, and the chemistry and motivation levels. Help the team with their self-organization, empowerment and conflict resolution. Create an environment where people can do their best work.

5. To Really Understand Scrum, Practice

As Ken Schwaber noted years ago, you don’t learn scrum by reading a book. You learn it by practicing it and getting a lot of feedback through experienced coaches and mentors. Feedback is the breakfast of champions! Invite someone to invest in you with lots of feedback and really accelerate your growth.

Resources for Project Managers in Transition

Lyssa Adkins has an entire body of work around how to transition from traditional project manager to Scrum Master and Agile Coach. You can start with her book, Coaching Agile Teams. She also has some great videos including parts 1 and 2 of The Road from Project Manager to Agile Coach.

Another great resource is Tom Cagley’s blog, Software Process and Measurement. Tom writes on a wide variety of topics which will be of interest to aspiring Scrum Masters. His recent post on consensus decision-making will be of interest to project managers who need to bolster their team decision making capabilities.

Mike Cohn has also written a ton of blog posts and books on mastering agile and Scrum.

Finally, I welcome you to join one of our public Scrum Master certification courses. We offer them on a monthly basis. Details here: Professional Scrum Master Training and Certified ScrumMaster.

I hope that this article was helpful for you to see what it takes to succeed as a scrum master. I don’t want you to feel that as a project manager, scrum is off limits or that you don’t qualify. You can learn to do both roles well and become more valuable in the process. Just recognize that some of the skills and approaches that made you successful as a project manager will not serve you well as a scrum master.

Related Posts

By Anthony Mersino

Anthony Mersino is the founder of Vitality Chicago, an Agile Training and Coaching firm devoted to helping Teams THRIVE and Organizations TRANSFORM. He is also the author of two books, Agile Project Management, and Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers.


  1. This post is fascinating to me because I am about to speak about coaching skills to a group of project managers. This list:
    * I know what is best
    * I need to make decisions
    * I focus on status
    * I see myself in the middle of everything
    * I am the connector and translator

    as a description of the style of a project manager is particularly interesting to me because I think this is an old view of project managers. More and more we are taking the human factors of our teams and stakeholders into account – at least the best project managers are – and this trend will only increase over time as every profession pays increasing attention to behavioral science and weighs process less heavily. Any project manager who does not use the wisdom of the team and does not see themselves as a facilitator (enabler has other connotations for me!) is a project manager who is making life hard for themselves. I am a big believer in project managers identifying their own strengths, as well as the strengths of their team members and stakeholders and then playing to them.
    I look forward to further discussion!

    1. Hi Ruth, thanks for your comment!

      I agree with you that the best project managers already exhibit the preferred behaviors. I’ve been a big fan of interpersonal skills and EQ and believe that it is that thinking and behavior which separates great project managers.

      I wouldn’t be bummed to be wrong about PMs today. I’ve been banging on about the need for traditional PMs to change their thinking and behaviors in various blogs on this site and in my writing for Perhaps my view is an old one and overly colored by my own experiences.

      I’d love to hear what others think. And please let me know how your speaking gig goes!


      1. Will do Anthony. I speak a lot about project managers and engagement, motivation and social intelligence and I am looking forward to sharing some survey results in the next few weeks about (a) project managers – what we expect of ourselves and what others expect of us (b) Project managers and their role in building engagement and (c) the character strengths of project managers.

  2. Hi

    Read your article with great interest as I am keen to transition across to Agile and am looking at Scrum Master. That said though I think your view of how a Project Manger operates is nothing like my own experience. As a very experienced PM I have always recognised the essential need fro team collaboration , input and discussion before making key decisions. The point here is that as a PM you dont actually assume you ‘know best’ but rely on your team BUT, and its a very big BUT, as PM you listen, digest , evaluate and make a decision. That’s what PM leadership is all about

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