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Can the Scrum Master and Product Owner be the Same Person?

by StarAgile

November 13, 2019
Category Agile and Scrum


If I ask you a quick question of who is a Scrum Master, and what are the roles of a Scrum Master? Do you know what the duties of a Product Owner are? It is very critical for you to know the responses to both of these queries to understand whether it is possible to have a role, which is a combination of both!

A Scrum Master assures that the crew is defended. They take the accountability of ensuring that the team follows the Scrum process. Scrum Master helps the team to develop and achieve a modest pace in their work, produce a high-quality product, and try & be a faithful employee for the organization.
Let's talk about the Product Owner if you have understood the liabilities of a Scrum Master. A Product Owner is less focused on the processes to ensure that the team follows some process. They are more focused on delivering ideas on how to build things that can provide higher output to an organization. They invest their time in prioritizing the work, and they are more interested in delivering exceptional values to the organization.

Looking at the roles, do you think will there be any signs of having a person who can work as a Scrum Master as well as a Product Owner for an organization? Since roles look so similar, that someone will look out to work as a Product Owner in combination with a Scrum Master.

A Product Owner can happen to be a Scrum Master in ground-up implementation. Due to the absence of a Product Owner, a Scrum Master can be asked to act as a Product Owner. I take this decision as a disastrous decision for any growing organization. Regardless to say, when the team attempts to consider a Scrum Master as a Product Owner, there can never be a day when there is no argument. It always ends up in a negative discussion, which will be a never-ending one. Let us take a couple of instances which will give you an excellent idea about why these roles cannot be combined.

Can Scrum Master act as Product Owner

Instance 1 - Scrum Master step-in as a Product Owner!

This situation results in Scrum Master also wearing a Product Owner's apron to drive the system towards the business goals. It sounds very logical as ultimately, the aim of a Scrum Master also leads towards the business goals, right? But we forgot that Scrum Master also has access to customer reviews, which helps them to take necessary actions. Also, a Scrum Master is more focused on the team's work excellence and the team's betterment.

But being a Product Owner, they will, unfortunately, be unaware of the customer's feedback, and the team will unknowingly divide the project work into different parts and try and deliver a product that might be valued deficient. It might sound like it is an incremental delivery for an organization, but we forget that incremental delivery is just an expert way of delivering the wrong product.

In this case, it should not be mistaken that being a Product Owner, the product that is accouched is of low quality. It is a high-quality product with low value as there are no actions taken on the feedbacks that are received over time.

Now let me take you through case 2, which I feel the most interesting one in this discussion.

Certified Scrum Master

Instance 2 - Product Owner dons the hat of Scrum Master too!

We will discuss this case, but let me tell you one thing, the Product Owner is a never-ending task with full-time work. You may easily understand with this that there will be a 100% chance that the role of Scrum Master will glide away from the mind of the Product Owner, right?

Product Owners are so busy in their work that they first avoid and eliminate the meetings though they believe that it is the best way to develop a team. To follow the rules already laid, they then ask other individuals from the team to handle the meetings, which are somewhat out of my syllabus.

But there is so much difference that we may notice when a Product Owner leads the retrospective and when a Scrum Master takes a meeting. Eventually, as time goes, these meetings are canceled or postponed, which creates no importance and the lethargic environment in the team.

I am not saying that always the situation is the same. Like at times, these meetings occur, but it will carry no importance as it will be once in a blue moon. For example, let us take the daily stand up meeting, which is an agile way of working. The main focus of the meeting is to plan out your day, discuss each teammate's blockers, and how those blockers will be resolved. But, here since Product Owner is a Scrum Master, each team member will be focused on not to discuss the tasks that are assigned to them for the day. Instead, they will be more interested in giving the status of their work.
Now the question may pop-up in your mind, how will we fix this issue? Whether there is any perfect solution?

Let me tell you one thing that Scrum Master cannot be a part-time job. So as the Product Owner. Both the roles are the most dedicated ones where individuals have to dedicate full-time to give justice to their roles. But what if a single individual is taking care of both the roles?

For example, if a Scrum Master is trying to fill the responsibilities of a Product Owner, then he/she should move freely to the Product Owner's role, and the place for Scrum Master should be filled by someone else. What great can you expect a Product Owner to be? A Scrum Master moving up the ladder and working as a Product Owner is the best that an organization can dream of.

Or if the Product Owner is trying to fill the responsibilities of Scrum Master, the solution is to find a dedicated Scrum Master. It will not only free the Product Owner from taking the Scrum Master's responsibilities, but it also creates a healthy tautness and discussion between the Product Owner and Scrum Master.

You might feel what tautness am I talking about? Product Owner and Scrum Master are the opposite poles with their work and responsibilities. The Product Owner thinks from the client's/customer's point of view (perspective), whereas Scrum Master thinks from the team's outlook. This leads to a healthy tension between the Product Owner and Scrum Master.

Freeing the Product Owner from Scrum Master's responsibilities and hiring a new individual for the role of Scrum Master will balance the necessary focus, and it will help organizations achieve their brand goals/business goals.

This brings us to the conclusion of our analysis.

Summing-up

There should be two separate individuals in the roles of the Product Owner and the Scrum Master to bring a revolution for the betterment of the organization. But, there are exceptions in every rule. Always there doesn't need to be two separate individuals. When I said that an organization should hire different individuals, it is not a norm.
You need to keep in mind that it isn't a rule, but nor should it be a long-term plan of the organization to maintain a single individual in both the roles. For the constant growth and success of an organization, give these roles to separate individuals.

If an organization is struggling to find a perfect individual (substitute) for the role of Scrum Master, then training an internal employee for the responsibilities will be a great choice. But here, make sure you select the best one from your team as Scrum Master's responsibilities are attached to the team management.

If you are not able to find a perfect match for the role of a Product Owner, then it's the right time to train your Scrum Master for the Product Owner's responsibilities and hire someone for the Scrum Master's as mentioned above.

Whatever may be the situation, never let a single individual lead on both sides for long-term as it can result in sleepless nights for them, and this can end up compromising with their quality work, which as an organization, you will never aim for.

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