Development Managers vs Scrum Managers: What’s the Difference?

Curious to learn our verdict on the development managers vs Scrum managers debate? 
Managers in scrum teams play an important role because they identify tasks, provide instructions, and oversee the backlog.

The development manager handles the technical aspects of a scrum project. Meanwhile, the scrum manager is responsible for handling the entire project, including maintaining deadlines, ensuring task completion, and managing project efficiency.

Both parties play a vital role in ensuring that the agile team works well.

In this article, we go over what development managers and scrum managers do as well as what differentiates them.

Let’s dive right in. 

What is a Development Manager? 

A development manager is someone who oversees the tasks assigned to the development team. This includes everything from the code architecture to the demo and end-user quality. An agile team assigns a development manager who is responsible for product quality and deliverables. 

Agile Product Development Approach

Credits: Educore

Due to their seniority in the team, one of the chief responsibilities of development managers is to review code. They ensure that each team member contributes to the long and short-term goals of the project.

Since they are working alongside the development team, they play their part in setting project objectives, team dynamics, and tech stacks.

Working in close proximity with the product and project allows them to communicate results to project leaders, senior management, and other smaller scrum teams, if applicable.

In addition to that, development managers also take an active part in the hiring process. Unlike scrum master responsibilities, development manager responsibilities tend to change depending on the industry and project scope.

If a development manager involves themselves in the hiring process, they: 

  • Reduce the total hiring time and ensure that it doesn’t distract the scrum team 
  • Search for candidates in a separate capacity to minimize focus distortion 
  • Help onboard new team members in a smoother and more efficient manner, allowing easier integration and lesser team lag 

This allows agile teams to focus on the product and necessary scrum practices 

What Differentiates a Development Manager? 

Development managers have a good grasp of project management. That makes it easier to provide consistent feedback, coach team members, and do one-on-one meetings.

For that reason, development managers mentor team members and act as a partner.

Mentoring engineers and other development team members improve overall scrum processes and product quality. This adds to the culture and ideas that cover multiple teams, leading to better tests and code.

Furthermore, development managers also have a good idea about when to intervene.

Let’s say your team gets stuck with the code architecture. The development manager chooses to either allow the team to learn and continue or intervene if there’s a tight deadline.

In addition to that, development managers also have a good idea of the estimation process. In the scrum framework and agile methodology, the people closest to the work best estimate, scope, and deliver.

Therefore, the development manager makes better estimations through continuous inquiry and vetting. As a partner in the process rather than a dictator, they come up with more accurate estimations.

As a result, it’s clear that the development manager works in a leadership role. They also handle team management and ensure the team meets all business requirements. 

What is a Scrum Manager? 

The scrum manager is a project leader who follows scrum principles to optimize team performance. They work with the product owner and other dependent teams to ensure successful sprints. 

Scrum Master Responsiblities

Credits: Atlassian

In large-scale projects, scrum managers are responsible for cross-team coordination through an effective communication plan. They have to make sure every team reaches the next sprint on time while the core team focuses on product development.

Scrum managers aim to keep the scrum team on the same page while keeping them efficient.

Similar to a project manager’s responsibilities, the scrum manager oversees the inputs and outputs of an agile program.

On top of that, they have the scrum master’s responsibilities, taking care of scrum ceremonies and scrum events. These include sprint planning, daily stand-ups, sprint reviews, sprint retrospectives, and sprint kickoffs.

At times, the scrum manager works with the development manager to help them with estimations of larger items. That includes epics and individual user stories that are in the product backlog.

In addition to that, since the scrum manager isn’t adept with technical knowledge, the development manager pitches in to fill knowledge gaps. 

What Differentiates a Scrum Manager? 

The Scrum manager or Scrum master works as a servant leader. Somewhat similar to project manager roles, Scrum master roles work in a facilitating capacity.

That’s why their responsibilities include things like:

  •  Defining project scope 
  • Assisting the Scrum process
  • Ensuring correct implementation of agile principles
  • Making sure the team meets deadlines

However, the primary responsibility of a Scrum manager or master is to make sure the team follows the necessary processes. On top of that, they are the key person and liaisons between the Scrum team and other teams and stakeholders.

For the most part, the Scrum manager optimizes team processes to improve the velocity of delivery.

Being a champion of the Scrum theory, Scrum managers also need to act as agile coaches for the rest of the organization. Helping the rest of the teams adopt agile practices improve story point estimation and ensure continuous delivery.

When organizations are unwilling to shift to agile practices in some cases, the Scrum manager has to advocate for them. In doing so, they have to make a case for Scrum roles and agile practices in other large projects. 

Development Managers vs Scrum Managers

Compared to a traditional project team, an agile team works with a different organizational structure. Project managers in traditional teams (also known as waterfall teams) work with a top-down structure.

This entails that senior management sets the pace of a project, its work schedule, and its organization. Meanwhile, the traditional project manager works to only maintain and oversee these things to completion.

On the other hand, agile development runs on a self-organizing principle. Agile teams self-organize to set schedules, priorities, and tasks.

This depends on the capacity of the team and the product owner.

Within this agile setting, the scrum team helps remove the gaps between individual development teams and senior management. Development managers and scrum masters/managers play their role in ensuring all parties are on the same level while ensuring a self-reliant system.

Both the roles work to optimize individuals and teams, ensuring agile practices, good quality, and goal completion. 

Like other project managers, development managers and scrum managers protect teams from distractions. These distractions include cross-functional thrash, feature creep, and side projects that defer the team from their true goals.

In order to meet project timelines, both parties work together to keep the teams on track. This also implies that they work with multiple agile teams at the same time.

Development Managers vs Scrum Managers: Final Thoughts 

The scrum master acts as a scrum manager, program manager, and project manager, depending on the project. However, it’s unlikely that they act as a development manager.

To build a true agile culture and a self-organizing team, scrum managers and development managers work together.

Both roles act as intermediaries between multiple agile teams and senior management. The scrum manager ensures agile practices and the development manager focuses on mentoring team members, hiring the right people, and ensuring streamlined development and project work.

Combined, both roles do their part in building an efficient and high-performing agile team. 

Josh Fechter
Josh Fechter
Josh Fechter is the co-founder of Product HQ, founder of Technical Writer HQ, and founder and head of product of Squibler. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.