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Product Owner vs. Scrum Master: What are the differences?

Product Owner vs. Scrum Master: What are the differences?

There are 3 important roles in a Scrum Team: that of the Product Owner, the Scrum Master and the Team itself. Having already covered how a Scrum Team works in ‘What is Scrum Methodology and Scrum project management? in this post we will be looking at the difference between the roles of Product Owner and Scrum Master.  As will be shown, both roles are closely intertwined with each other, yet both are quite different from each other.  

Product Owner (PO)

The PO collaborates with all stakeholders; from end user to Scrum team members.  Their job it is to define the product and prioritise user stories that are necessary to the products development. (For an explanation of Scrum terms please see What is Scrum Methodology and Scrum project management).  These user stories then create the Product Backlog. This is the list of functionalities to be added to the product at the planning meeting on the first day of the sprint. 

Being focussed specifically on the return of investment (ROI), the PO is solely responsible for managing the Product Backlog as they are accountable for the ‘Done’ product and the value it brings to the customer.  Most importantly, the PO must ensure that the Product Backlog is visible, transparent, and fully understood by the Team.  (See; Scrum Team: The importance of Trust and Transparency). 

As a regular attendee of the daily scrum, the PO outlines what they want the product to be in terms of functionality and end user experience.  As the project progresses, the Team demonstrate functionality to the PO for feedback during the Scrum review.  This may influence the next sprint and may result in revisions or additions being made to the Product Backlog by the PO.  In terms of managing the Product Backlog, the PO can delegate some of the responsibility to others, but they remain solely accountable for it.

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Responsibilities of the PO

  • Focus on creation of value and overall ROI.
  • Determine product vision and assess viability.
  • Decide project deadline.
  • Determine product release date.
  • Create and manage Product Backlog for implementation.
  • Prioritise product features and order of tasks for Team.
  • Define user stories and ensure Product Backlog is visible, transparent and understood by Team.
  • Provide acceptance criteria for development of user stories in a sprint.
  • Understand the requirements of all stakeholders whilst also understanding how a Scrum Team works.
  • Inspect and approve deliverables.

Scrum Master

I explained in, What does a Scrum Master do and what is their role? that the Scrum Master is coach and facilitator to the Team. They are a servant leader, helping not only the Team and PO, but also the larger organisation to find the right agile tools and techniques to aid the development of the product. 

Whilst the PO deals with the ‘what’ of the product development, the Scrum Master assists them with the ‘how’.  Their responsibility to the PO is to help to find a system that enables the Team to accomplish tasks effectively and efficiently.  They also help the PO to understand the planning of the product in an empirical environment. 

As a coach in AgilePM methodology, the Scrum Master will assist the PO to find the right agile tools and techniques for effective Product Backlog management.  The Product Backlog needs to be organised in a way that maximises product value, so the Scrum Master will assist the PO with this.  By so doing, the Scrum Master ‘serves’ the Team so that the PO can focus on the job of creating the right product consisting of the right user experience and features.

Similarly to the PO, the Scrum Master attends the daily scrum.  However, whereas the PO focuses on the product and what needs to be done to deliver it, the Scrum Master focuses on how the Team can develop the product effectively and efficiently.  For the project to be successful the Team need the right knowledge, skills and tools.  The Scrum Master ensures they have what they need.  This frees up the PO to concentrate on their responsibilities.

Scrum Master and process success

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Responsibilities of the Scrum Master

To the Team:

  • Coach and facilitate the Team in Agile methodology.
  • Coach the Team to self-manage.
  • Encourage collaboration and facilitate change.
  • Remove impediments to the Team’s progress.
  • Ensure Team understands Product Backlog.
  • Act as mediator between Team and PO.
  • Monitor progress.

To the PO:

  • Assist PO with effective techniques for defining the product goal and managing the Product Backlog.
  • Help establish empirical product planning.
  • Facilitate stakeholder collaboration if required.
  • Act as mediator between PO and Team.

To the Organisation:

  • Lead, train and coach in adoption of Scrum methodology.
  • Advise and help plan Scrum implementation within the organisation.
  • Assist Team and Stakeholders to understand and carry out an empirical approach to production.
  • Act as go-between and remove any barriers for stakeholders and the Team.

How do their roles differ?

The roles of both Product Owner and Scrum Master require good communication skills, commitment and vision, but that is where the similarity between the two roles ends.  Being solely responsible for ROI, the PO concentrates on WHAT product will be developed and delivered.  They work with the customer and the Scrum Team and prioritise tasks so that goals can be set and met.

In contrast to the PO focusing on what the product will be in terms of end user experience, the Scrum Master concentrates on HOW the product will be developed and delivered.  They mediate between the PO and the Development Team.  As a servant leader and facilitator, it is their job to coach the Team in Agile practices so that they can complete the works that the PO has prioritised.   

So, now we have looked at the difference between Product Owner and Scrum Master, look out for the next post on the difference between a Scrum Master and a Project Manager.


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