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Scrum Master vs Product Owner

by Manoj Chogule

June 22, 2018
Category Agile and Scrum


Before we start comparison between Scrum Master vs Product Owner, let me give you a basic overview of What is Scrum and Who the heck is a Scrum Master? What are the roles and responsibilities? Post that let me guide you all through Product Owner, who is he? What are his roles and responsibilities? And post that we shall do our comparison on Scrum Master Vs Product Owner.

What is Scrum?

If Agile is a ‘mind-set’ then Scrum is its ‘Mind’.

In an ever-challenging world where clients requirements often change with a blink of an eye, there was a need of a system so robust, flexible and scalable, that it helps the software development team to quickly adapt to every changing needs of its clients and yet deliver a quality product on time. So, this is where Agile methodologies came into picture. Now, there are many different types of Agile methodologies such as:

Scrum, Extreme Programming (XP), Crystal, Dynamic System Development Method (DSDM), Adaptive Software Development, Lean Development, Pragmatic Programming, Feature Driven Development etc.

Scrum Master Vs Product Owner

Who the heck is a “Scrum Master”?

Out of all these Agile methodologies, Scrum came into limelight due to its simplicity and high performance with quality delivery. Now with Scrum having the high-performance nature with the increasing pressure of quality product delivery in short span i.e. max of 30 days, there came many challenges, with the infamous question that aroused in a team was

“What shall we focus on ‘Technicalities’ or ‘Management’?”

Thus, the need of having an intermediary person (called “The Scrum Master”) to take care of certain roles and responsibilities so that it takes away the pressure from the team and allows them or provide them with complete freedom to focus on technicalities and avoid putting hands on managerial tasks.

Now, I see loads of IT companies these days hire scrum masters but they don’t get the quality output from those hiring’s. So here are quick guidelines on the qualities or roles and responsibilities that are ‘A Must’ for a good Scrum Master:

  1. He / She must educate the agile dev team and should be available 24X7X365 for the team
  2. Must be seen as a role model, as a leader who can motivate, lead, coach and even mentor team members when needed
  3. Should have excellent qualities in solving internal conflicts
  4. Strong Planning, Controlling and Monitoring skills required by scrum master for project as well as resources.
  5. Ensure equal distribution of work load
  6. Also, needs to ensure that all the project related updates are up to date and is available to all the team members. Thus, ensuring that all are on the same page
  7. Biggest role is to protect the team from disturbances happening from outside of the project, so that they can focus on the project completely
  8. He facilitates each and every meeting related to the project he is involved with
  9. Scrum Master tactically negotiates with the product owner if he or she feels that the targets set are unachievable.
  10. Takes and gives feedbacks at regular intervals and keep a note of the risk that are being observed and ensures that these are resolved way before it happens.
  11. Scrum Master is the one who also does the admin work inside the team, so that teams focus is not diverted to lesser productive tasks.

A scrum master must hold a valid certificate of CSM (Certified Scrum Master) from scrum alliance, thus ensuring that the candidate knows and is aware of all the standard practices that are set by Scrum Alliance.

And even organizations are assured of the knowledge depth that this certified scrum master will hold.

Well, that was some basic lines over Scrum Master and his or her must have qualities.

Now, since we got clarity on what is scrum and who is scrum master, it will be easy for us to know a bit about Product Owner and what are his or her roles and responsibilities.

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Product Owner

Every project has someone who visions big for the project, for the organization as a whole. His vision will always be in line with organizations goal. This key stakeholder who sees the product with bigger picture, conveys his or her ideas and visions to the team is the Product Owner. A person who owns this particular product. And a product owner is the one who is the key to any big success or any kind of failures of the project. A product owner is a single person and the only one who makes all the important decisions related to product and product deliveries.

So, Product owner gets all the list of deliverables from clients and list down these deliverables as Products Backlog that the team should be delivering in small sprints. And its scrum masters duty to ensure that this goes as a smooth journey for the team. Now, product owner along with scrum team and scrum master will prioritize the backlogs and get it deliver in subsequent sprint. So, the most important backlog will be delivered first from the queue in a sprint and then the next most important backlog. And this cycle continuous until and unless all the features of the products is delivered as a whole to the client.

As we have spoken earlier about scrum master’s roles and responsibilities, now let me list down the qualities or roles and responsibilities that a Product Owner ‘Should’ have.

  1. Product owners most important skills set is to maintain and manage a good relationship with the stakeholders and should be able to meet their expectations
  2. He or she must have a clear vision regarding the product and project and must define or agree on the scope
  3. He or she must define the entry and exit criteria along with the success criteria that the Scrum Master and the team is responsible for achieving
  4. Everything has to fit in within the budget
  5. He is the single point of contact between the team, scrum master and clients
  6. He or she must set the schedule, specify the priority from the product backlog and should also specify the release date of a project.
  7. Its Products owners responsibility to take accountability for the success or failure of the project as a whole

“Can Mr. A. be a Scrum Master and Product Owner Both ???”

Often a common question is asked: Can a single person be doing both i.e. “Can he be a Scrum Master and Product Owner, both?” Well this is quite debatable however there is no straight answer to this. He can be a Scrum Master and a Product Owner both and at the same time, he cannot be.

Let me explain you what I meant by it:

Yes, he can be both: 

When there are situations in a project where there are resource crunches then a single person would be responsible to act as a Scrum Master and a Product Owner both. However, it is recommended to keep the same person acting two different roles for two different projects, rather than two different roles for a single project. Cause both of the roles require different mindset. So, keeping two different roles assigned to a single person for two different project helps him to be prepare mentally and also help him to shift his mindset whenever required.

No, he cannot be both:

It’s like at one end you are driving a car and at other end you are watching a cricket match on your phone and at same time. Your probability of crashing the car is high. Similarly, it is advisable to keep two different persons for two different roles whether it be for same project or for two different projects. Cause, probability of failure is minimized and focus is intact.

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