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Differentiate the roles and responsibilities between Product Owner and Scrum Master

Frédéric Aubry
Differentiate the roles and responsibilities between Product Owner and Scrum Master

Among the roles found in agile teams, the Product Owner and the Scrum Master figure prominently. Their roles and responsibilities are supposed to be different, but sometimes there can be confusion. Let's clarify things with Frédéric Aubry.

Organize the agile team well

For obvious efficiency reasons, it is important that everyone knows what their roles and tasks are. They must be defined in advance to ensure the team's coherence and its ability to deliver the deliverables for which it is responsible. The agile team includes: a development team, a Scrum Master and a Product Owner.

What is the role of the Scrum Master

He works on the "How".
He is part of the Scrum team and ensures that the team works in accordance with the Agile Scrum approach. As such, he must (among other things):

  • Facilitate Scrum events (daily scrum, sprint planning, backlog refinement, etc.) and ensure that agile best practices are followed (even implemented).
  • Assist the Product Owner in organizing the backlog for future Sprints.
  • Ensure good communication with the development team in order to resolve any obstacles encountered and contribute to the creation of value.
  • Protect the team from external interference that could disrupt the smooth running of the Sprint.
  • Encourage the implementation of good practices to ensure a high level of quality throughout the project.

The Scrum Master is like the transmission belt between the team and the Product Owner since he helps both parties and plays the role of facilitator. He is the Servant Leader according to the official terminology. That is, his leadership role is not so much to give orders on who should do what, but rather to provide leadership to facilitate teamwork and collaboration to get the job done.
One of the difficulties of the Scrum Master is therefore to succeed in being respected and heard by all the stakeholders, even though he is not playing a management role.

What is the role of the Product Owner

He works on the "What".
The PO is also part of the Scrum team. As a customer (or customer's representative) he is responsible for the product that is going to be developed. His role is fundamental because he must have a clear and precise vision (what are the customer's expectations, how is the product going to be used, what is the added value, what are the frictions...). If not, there is a risk of dispersion (of efforts, functionalities, resources, etc.) and therefore of not having a final product that meets the needs. This is why, during development, the PO must (among other things):

  • Ensure that the backlog is organized and prioritized on an ongoing basis since it is not static.
  • Ensure that the team has a good understanding of the requests.
  • Review each deliverable of each iteration.
  • Report to stakeholders (customers) on progress and changes.
  • Ensure timely delivery of the product in accordance with the requirements.

What are the risks when roles are poorly defined - or poorly held

The Scrum Master accompanies the team at each stage of the development process so that it can be as efficient as possible within the agile framework; where the Product Owner ensures that he has a clear vision of the product and the customer need it meets.
Each player must therefore respect the role entrusted to him or her in order to work in harmony. On the other hand, if everyone works in their own corner, it is unlikely that the Scrum pillars will be respected (transparency, inspection and adaptation) and that the result obtained will be what was expected.
There is another risk: poorly defined roles. Or more precisely when the Scrum Master or Product Owner goes beyond his role.
If the Scrum Master also acts as a Product Owner, he risks misguiding the development team because he does not have direct access to the customer's needs. The final product will therefore not provide the expected added value.
If the Product Owner encroaches on the role of the Scrum Master, he risks slowing down innovation in favor of accelerated delivery. He will also tend to push the development team to take on more than they can during Sprints. And, on top of that, to control more who does what to force progress, thus contradicting all Scrum principles... and the harmony of the team. In doing so, he puts his deliverables at risk.

In conclusion

If the boundaries between the roles within your Scrum team are not well defined, it is time to clarify them. Re-reading the Scrum Guide rules, organizing a meeting, reminding the respective roles and obligations, organizing mentoring, taking training courses... are all simple measures that will benefit everyone.

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