Project Leads

If you’ve experimented with Scrum before, you’re likely familiar with the Scrum Master and Product Owner roles. In case you’re not, here’s a quick breakdown: the Scrum Masters are responsible for improving and maximizing the productivity of the Scrum Team. They have three essential priorities – support the Product Owner, support the Development Team, and support the Organization. The Product Owners are the customer representatives; they ensure that the team spends time building things that bring the most value to the organization. 

These roles sound so deceivingly simple that sometimes a single person will try tackling both roles. This can happen in a ground-up implementation of Scrum when a Product Owner is never officially assigned to the team, like in startups or the digital agency world, leaving the Scrum Master to wear multiple hats. It can also happen when the team’s Scrum Master is also an individual contributor (for example, a full-time Developer) and simply too overwhelmed to focus on the Scrum process. In this case, the Product Owner may try to step up to lead the process and their own responsibilities. Regardless of the reason, when a team attempts to combine all duties into a single role, it seldom ends well.

The Scrum Master’s Role

Scrum Masters are part of the Scrum Team trinity, including the Scrum Master, Product Owner, and the Team. Scrum Masters play their part by ensuring that the entire team is familiar with the Scrum Guide, Scrum framework, and all the Scrum events. These methods provide a smooth delivery of all user stories, requests, incidents, and enhancement capabilities.

Great Scrum Masters spend a lot of time nurturing the skills they need to get really good at their work. In the Scrum Master job, there is a vital people component and an organizational component. Scrum Masters are like skilled engineers solving complex problems: their thinking and effort is around uncovering barriers and figuring out how to overcome them.

The Product Owner’s Role

Product Owners are responsible for utilizing the team to ensure the correct product completes development. For that planning, they need a clear vision that emphasizes the product’s value. As a result, they develop the product vision using user stories, research, product and business requirements. The product backlog is a crucial component of Agile product development; thus, backlog management is the top activity of the Product Owner.

Furthermore, Product Owners are the first ones to get the release date. While Product Owners can’t single-handedly control the release of a product, they can call for the enactment, pause, or cancellation of the release. 

Besides the different responsibilities of the Product Owner and Scrum Master, the skills needed to perform each role are also quite different. To manage and prioritize the backlog, the Product Owner needs to analyze market data and have domain expertise to make the right decisions. For the Scrum Master, people management skills such as resolving conflict or facilitating communication come to the forefront. Given the disparate priorities and abilities associated with each role, there is a solid reason the Scrum Guide separates the two. Imposing the responsibilities of both roles onto one person may be overwhelming and cause distress.

Agruements to Consider

Now let’s go back to our question: Can the Scrum Master and Product Owner be the same person? 

The answer is that they can, short-term, but they shouldn’t. The Scrum Master and Product Owner should always be separate roles, as they are full-time roles. Of course, there are exceptions to the norm, and one person could do both roles, but we need to bear in mind that many teams split these jobs out for a good reason. Combining the posts might be necessary short-term but, in reality, may not be sustainable for long periods. We shouldn’t burden one exceptional person to do two jobs at a subpar level.

Here are a few reasons why having different persons for each role is beneficial to a business. First, when Scrum Masters act as Product Owners, they don’t have the same access to customer feedback. Without this data, it’s challenging to create products that fulfill the customers’ needs and goals. One could spend all this time creating products that the customers don’t like or aren’t what they expect.

The next issue is that when Product Owners act as Scrum Masters, they take on new responsibilities that devalue their original ones. If they’re taking time to perform Scrum Master duties, they’ll have to cut corners when creating the product backlog and managing the development process. There’ll be less room for innovation and more focus on completing tasks before deadlines. Since the Product Owner has too much on their plate, the product’s value will begin to suffer.

Solutions to the Dilemma

When the Product Owner acts as Scrum Master, the solution is to find a new Scrum Master inside the team who can dedicate time to the role. Placing trust in our team is a great way to show leadership, and we might be surprised by their capabilities. Not only does this free the Product Owner from managing the Scrum process, but it also helps create a healthy tension between Scrum Masters and Product Owners. 

When the Scrum Master is filling in the Product Owner’s responsibilities, the simplest solution can be to free the individual of their Scrum Master responsibilities, allowing them to focus on the Product Owner role entirely. This, of course, only works if the individual is interested in the Product Owner career path.The Scrum Master and the Product Owner roles are complex. If both of these voices reside in a single person, it will confuse the team. We won’t have that check and balance, and we’re going to end up underperforming – this thought would be daunting for anyone on the team. Single Product Owner; Single  Scrum Master – let’s try not to blend them in the same person.

The Waterfall model is the earliest Software Development Lifecycle approach that was used for software development, long before the Agile approach was embraced.

As the Waterfall Model illustrates the software development process in a linear sequential flow, it means that any phase in the development process begins only if the previous phase is complete. In this model, the phases do not overlap.

This way of working is quite different from the Agile one, as the main philosophy of Agile is centered around the idea of iterative development, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing cross-functional teams. In Agile, the software development phases overlap, as each iteration progresses.

Given this, one might think why not always use Agile, given that value is delivered faster.

There are certain types of projects which could be more successful using the Waterfall model or, why not, by combining Waterfall with Agile, to give us what?s most suitable for a specific project.

Some situations where the use of the Waterfall model is most appropriate are:

The organization is more traditional and prefers a linear process

The requirements are very well documented, clear, and unlikely to change

The technology is understood and is not dynamic, for example on a project consisting of building a website, there are already multiple coding languages that can be used and the project team can choose the appropriate one from the beginning 

The project has ample resources, with the required expertise available to support the product

Although we are starting to see mass adoption of various Agile methodologies in all enterprises, even more, traditional ones, like public institutions and federal agencies, there are still many organizations that are slow to make the change. It is also very common for an organization to transition into more of a hybrid approach that combines aspects of both Agile and Waterfall.?

Waterfall is not the fastest way to work. Deliverable results will only show at the end of the development cycle, so it could take months or even years before the customer sees the final product, as well as proving hard to keep the development team engaged, given that the release process is not incremental. As Agile shortens the delivery time and makes it easy to gather feedback in the early stages, one successful recipe would be to use Waterfall with a spice of Agile.?

Let?s think of an example of a technical project, consisting of developing software. In this example let?s use a website for a public institution.

Some of the main reasons for using a combination of Waterfall and Agile models are:

In a public institution, the adoption of the Agile culture might prove problematic, as this kind of organization is heavily relying on defining the scope upfront and on a thorough paper-based approval process. Thus, using the Waterfall model, with some elements from Agile will prove to be more efficient.

It shortens design, analysis, and planning, but lets the organization define project frames including budget and time of delivery, compliance with standards, and enhancement collaboration.

The blending of waterfall and agile should occur at the beginning of the project, as both the customer and the team will start with this mindset from the beginning, not jeopardizing engagement. For example, in the Waterfall model all requirements must be defined and approved, and in the Agile – Scrum way, a product backlog must be prepared. A key success factor to blend these in a technical project is to define the customer journey upfront. In this way, the entire team can participate in this phase and engage with the customer from the start. Let?s say we agree with the customer to deliver a batch of requirements every 3 weeks. In a Waterfall world, we would have said that the requirements and design phases will be completed after delivering all batches. And we could do all this by adding spice from Agile, as iterations (batches) were used to deliver the requirements, keeping an Agile mindset inside the team.

Another way of combining Waterfall with Agile could be to do the planning, design, and requirements definition with Waterfall, but development and test in short sprints using Agile (Scrum). In this approach, the development team gets to keep working Agile, using iterations, and does not have to wait for the entire project to end in order to see the result of their work. This approach proves to increase the team output, as well as keep the customer involved, by providing feedback at the end of each development & testing iteration.

Most importantly, let?s not forget that customers want to see their products yesterday. In today’s competitive world, time to market is a key factor for success. Basically, our customers want the speed of agile, combined with the predictability of a thorough and traditional project schedule from Waterfall, that eases their anxiety in launching new products and services to an increasingly demanding customer base.?

Creative projects (e.g., video production, marketing campaigns, web design, etc.) are characterized by a predetermined budget, strict timeline, and a diverse group of people in the team. Many things happen simultaneously, and requirements changes may occur often and almost arbitrarily. This causes uncertainty about the project timeline and the resources needed (people and money).

There are always questions and doubts about managing creative projects, especially if you’re not making the decisions and leading the processes. More clarity comes when the production pace is adaptive, and the closest methodology that can suit that is Agile.

So what’s all the fuss about creative projects? 

The main challenges in the management of creative projects include:

  • Strict timeline and limited budget
  • An array of team members producers, video editors, web designers, etc
  • Scoping the work
  • Collecting the correct client requirements and defining the tasks
  • Team building and management
  • Communication between all stakeholders

Changes can happen almost every day. There are client changes in the requirements, technology, changes in the environment. So what can you do?

Best Ways to approach Creative projects

First, you need a good (if not great) project manager to keep the balls in the air, and second, your process needs to be tight. These two crucial pieces go in tandem.

Let’s walk through the essential phases (this may look different depending on your processes):

Initiation, project charter (defining requirements, budget, and timeline).

Planning identify deliverables, milestones, tasks (possibly in Kanban / Scrum). Carefully plan the activities and the budget spending.

Execution team members perform the tasks, produce the outcomes and mark them as completed.

Submission (signoff) of deliverable

Different team members may be (director, 3D animators, web designers, etc.), and the project manager should onboard them all. The success in these projects largely depends on how information is transferred between the team members. You should encourage all team members to interact and provide honest feedback.

Other responsibilities of a creative project manager include:

Defining the phases and work breakdown structure (WBS)

Communication with clients and informing them regularly

Helping the team to avoid blockers

Creating the progress reports for the stakeholders

How can Agile practices help in Creative projects?

The companies that operate in the creative industry  usually make their decisions influenced by the rising competition. Being agile or not in this will and can affect ROI.

Therefore creatives and their projects can benefit from the agile methodology.

Try this on the next project as a starter:

  • Regularly deliver production pieces over weeks to months, giving preference to shorter intervals.
  • Collaborate with stakeholders and developers weekly throughout the project.
  • Shift your mindset to thinking about how your team can be self-organized and communicate regularly to improve their efficiency and the project outcome.

If you do the above accepting changes in requirements is more manageable, even at a late stage of development or production, since you’re delivering in iterations. Agile processes enable successful adaptation to changed requirements, which benefits your customers.

Bottom line Creative projects are feasible

They are even more profitable with a great project manager. Just because projects happen to be creative, it doesn’t mean there is no place for a clear project structure or methodology.

Some think that these roles or positions if you will are one and the same. That a ScrumMaster can easily fill the role of a Project Manager and vice versa, however, a closer look reveals some large differences in mindset and execution. Let?s dig in.

Unlike a Project ?Manager? a  ScrumMaster is a servant leader, not a manager. The ScrumMaster is responsible for ensuring that the project is carried out according to the agile framework and values.

On the other hand ? the Project manager?s duties are broader and not always clearly defined. Some responsibilities include: building and managing the team, managing the timeline, the scope, the budget, and risk. This diversity of tasks makes the manager?s focus a desired commodity for all stakeholders on the project. 

Main Project Manager?s responsibilities

Managing the scope ? i.e. the total amount of work; defining all of the deliverables and the WBS (work breakdown structure). Understanding which tasks are within the scope and which are outside of the scope?s boundaries.  

Managing the timeline ? ensuring that all tasks are started and completed on time, controlling and extending the task duration if necessary. Also ? taking care of tasks ordering and interdependencies.

Managing the resources (the budget) ? this is a complex process, involving: estimation of required resources, planning (procurement) of resources, and resource control/ monitoring ? how are they spent during the project lifecycle.

Managing the people (team)  the Project Manager should always be helpful, honest, and transparent, and put the well being of his team ahead of his own. Also he should assist the team to achieve predetermined milestones.

Managing the risk can be abundant and very complex. It can negatively impact all three project components the budget, the timeline and the quality of the outcomes. The project manager should anticipate the risk, estimate the consequences and propose risk mitigation strategies. 

The Project manager should also resolve issues that obstruct the team?s progress. He can do this by removing them himself, enlisting others to take care of them, rallying the team to overcome them, and/or introducing a change in policy or rules in the organization.

Main ScrumMaster responsibilities

The most important task of the ScrumMaster is to ensure that Scrum is well-practiced. He doesn?t have to conduct Scrum ceremonies but it helps. He engages with the team, connects with stakeholders, and, most importantly he is an example by living Agile thus actively proliferating them with the organization. 

Another important duty is to organize and attend all Scrum ceremonies (daily Scrum meetings); he should carefully consider the scrum artifacts, and let the team optimize the process and their performance step by step in every subsequent sprint.

Also, an important duty is to build the capacity and agile maturity of all team members. It is important to improve their skills in using Scrum. If the ScrumMaster overlooks this, Scrum will not be applicable and will lose its power in effecting change as well as outcomes.

An advanced task of the ScrumMaster is to use Scrum to improve the creativity, learning, and abilities of the entire team. This is not an easy task and requires large support from senior management. And this is the responsibility that has the best chance of making a long-term and meaningful impact.

Soft Skills of Both roles

The successful ScrumMasters and Project Managers will always try to create a new management approach. It is well explained by the experts that the ScrumMaster should be the conscience of the whole team, and the Project Manager should be a leader.

Both of the roles are demanding and not easy. You should be patient, kind, passionate, hungry to learn, and to ask for support from others. If you want to become a ScrumMaster or Project Manager, adopt a curious mindset ? this will make your future role so much easier.

ScrumMaster vs and Project Manager

Basically, the ScrumMaster?s duty is to improve the team’s effectiveness and productivity. This is opposite to the focus on managing the project which is done by the Project Manager. Other differences between the ScrumMaster and Project manager include (not an exhaustive list):

Assist the team to use Scrum efficiently, and not managing the team;

Remove impediments (of all types), instead of removing only difficulties tied to the project deliverables and timeline;

Provide help to others in the facilitation of the key Scrum phases, instead of leading the status updates and giving direction;

Concentrate on the team’s progress, instead of focusing on the project plan;

Hold the team together after the project, instead of working with a group of individuals for the duration of the project, and then working with others for the next project.

However, this is only a shortlist of differences. There are other interesting concepts to note, such as the roles and responsibilities of a typical Project Manager. They are split between the ScrumMaster, Product Owner, and Team Members, but that?s for another article.

The best project teams, whether practicing an agile development framework or not, work together. They are focused on what?s best for the team and the project. Whether ScrumMaster or Project Manager the main goal is to deliver a product experience that exceeds customer and market expectations.

The outsourcing vs in-house subject has been debated for the last two decades in almost all industries, including agencies. Some companies prefer to expand their networks, reduce overheads and outsource, while other companies prefer in-house for native language skills and easy timezone management. There are plenty of reasons to choose between in-house vs offshore, so it’s best to get informed before making the call for your agency. No one wants to have to make a mistake on this one. It’s costly.

Do I need an in-house or offshore team?

The key question is pretty straightforward. Do I need in-house or offshore development teams for my agency? The reasons for deciding on one or the other are unfortunately a little less simple. Looking into the pros and cons of each option can help to find the gaps and reach the solution that works for your needs. 

What makes my agency unique?

To start with, take a thorough look into your specific delivery requirements and identify activities that can be bundled as McKinsey terms it. Bundling is the systematic analysis of business processes in scope at a business, client, and project level. The objective is to discover activities that can be combined under the same ownership and location model. Each agency will be unique in terms of its bundled activities and the sourcing strategies that it will need to follow based on those requirements. Things to look out for when doing your analysis are:

  • Proximity or location-specific requirements. Teams that work closely together such as Extreme Programming teams function best in a shared setting. Having XP teams in two ?little to no overlap? time zones would pretty much defeat the purpose of the methodology. Not a good move.
  • Language requirements. Teams collaborating on a project need to understand each other easily. Language barriers, combined with remote locations add additional layers of complexity to communications.
  • Interdependencies. Think about close-knit teams like your UX copywriter and UI/UX designer. It would be much more efficient to have them in the same time zone, at least. They need collaboration time. Keep them happy.

A change from the core vs non-core activity approach, bundling allows a more flexible strategy that can mitigate geopolitical or currency rate risks, in addition to being purely a cost reduction or margin increasing exercise. Apple bundles all R&D, product development, and design in-house while keeping all manufacture offshore with their partner in China, Foxconn.

When you have the overall approach to defining your sourcing strategy needs in place, you can look at the pros and cons of outsourcing and in-house to select the best combination for your agency.

Offshoring: The Pros

For those of you who are start-ups on a bootstrap budget, this first one’s for you.


The Deloitte 2016 global outsourcing survey reports that 59% of companies consider outsourcing a cost reduction tactic. A large portion of savings comes in the form of salary differences between a developer team in India and one in the US, for example. The difference between salaries listed by Deloitte shows that an agency could outsource its development and save 3/4 of its salary costs a month. 

Added to the salary savings are the other overhead savings that can be gained. 

  • Less office space is needed.
  • Fewer training costs.
  • Less need for support functions like Human Resources and Administration staff.
Short Term Commitment

A key advantage for agencies that have some project-based clients that have future retainer potential is the ability to quickly onboard an expert team for a short-term project.

There are several options for hiring a project team:

  • Hourly model. Mostly used for individual freelancers
  • Time and Materials model. Usually for projects with an undefined scope or those that will use an agile approach.
  • Dedicated team model. Ideal for tight deadlines and agile approaches.
Core Competency

Offshoring can allow your agency to take on projects outside of your core expertise, leaving you free to do what you do best in-house. With the number of new technologies launching and the depth of specialization required for many types of digital projects, it is not always feasible to team up internally to deliver a broader range of projects.

With offshoring, you can follow Warren Buffet’s advice to “stick to your knitting” without losing out on additional revenue-generating business that can be delivered in partnership with an expert vendor. This approach can help to expand existing retainer accounts as well as build currently project-based relationships into more long-term and predictable revenue streams.

It is worth mentioning that your core competencies are not necessarily your core activities, which have been used to determine offshore strategies. McDonald’s core competency is probably standardization, while one of its finance function’s core activities may be sales. 

Risk Mitigation

For businesses, risk mitigation is an important thing to consider. Offshoring, through SLAs and legal contracts, shares your project risks with another company that has expertise in the field that your project requires. Win!

Offshoring: The Cons

Lack of control

You need to be able to trust your outsourced partners to do their job without the need to micromanage. If you find yourself needing to manage the tactical details of an entire scrum team, you are not saving time or money and probably have the wrong vendor in place.

Good outsourced partners will be able to understand the key project documentation or requirements and implement them, all while regularly collaborating and keeping you up to date.

Offshoring does represent a delegation of control vs in-house teams but should you have a good partner that does what you can’t do in-house, the risk is well justified and mitigated.

Communication and time zones

Multinational teams soon become masters of the ‘meeting time optimization’ but if you add language barriers to your team’s time zone hurdles, you are reducing the benefits of outsourcing.

Inhouse: The Pros


Having a local team in the same space can help build comradery, good communication, and streamline processes. Changes often get done in real-time. Agile teams can display visual artifacts and project information in a shared space.

Whether your company’s social culture is centered around food, drinks, sport, or charity, local teams can build out of work social bonds that keep them with your company long term.

Control and oversight

With in-house teams, you have total oversight and more immediate control over your projects. 

Especially with agile projects, in the long-term, your in-house team’s velocity increases over time as they become more accustomed to working together, improving cost efficiency.

Longevity and career growth

Being able to offer top local talent a stable environment with long-term prospects and career growth, will always ensure that you have good people and low staff turnover rates. Those hidden rehire and training costs are not worth it.

Hybrid Models

You can combine in-house roles with outsourced roles. For instance, your single point of contact can be in-house, in the same city as the client. The delivery and development team can be outsourced to a city or country with skilled people, better salary rates, and global network opportunities. There is no need for black and white in-house vs outsourced solutions. Do what works for your business.

In-house: The Cons


Teams of local professionals can be expensive depending on where you are based.

Recruitment, training, benefits, office overhead, and career progression costs all add up to the cost of running an in-house team.

Time lags

Finding and hiring top talent is not easy or cheap. While you spend time building up a great team, your company is operating at reduced efficiency. In a fast-paced and competitive marketplace, this puts your agency at a distinct disadvantage. Deliverables need to be on time and of high quality. Projects tend to go to the agency that can deliver quality, quickly. 

The solution? There is more than one.

Each agency is different. Do your analysis, assess your requirements, and use hybrid models as needed. Doing your due diligence will make sure that your unique sourcing strategy is informed by sound business logic. Lastly, your sourcing strategy can and should be fluid and adapt as your agency and project’s needs develop.