Product Owner vs Scrum Master

In this article, we’ll take a look in more detail at exactly what the Product Owner and Scrum Master do and break down the key differences.

Two roles that are often confused in Scrum are the Product Owner and the Scrum Master. Although the two collaborate and interact with each other, they perform unique tasks and it is helpful to understand the difference between them. A Scrum Master leads the Agile team and supports the Product Owner in establishing Scrum as outlined by the Scrum Guide. Whereas, the Product Owner manages the Product Backlog and ensures the company gains maximum value from the product.

In this article, we’ll take a look in more detail at exactly what the Product Owner and Scrum Master do and break down the key differences of each during the Scrum process.

Who is a Scrum Master?

The Scrum Master is responsible for implementing Scrum methodology amongst the team. They ensure that everyone understands Scrum theory and practice and that they are using it effectively. This includes both the Scrum team and the organisation. It is the Scrum Master’s responsibility to make sure the Scrum team is working as effectively as possible.

What does a Scrum Master do?

The Scrum Master is a dynamic role and they are generally responsible for the following tasks: 

  • Helping the team to reach an agreement on what can be achieved during each Sprint. 
  • Supporting the team in reaching agreements during daily Scrums. 
  • Removing obstacles which impede the team’s progress. 
  • Helping the team to remain focused and follow procedures for daily Scrums. 
  • Ensuring that only Product Backlog Items that are clearly defined are picked for Sprint Planning
  • Facilitating that Product Backlog Items become clearly defined in collaboration between the team and the Product Owner

It’s clear from the above that the Scrum Master’s main role is that of a facilitator. They must ensure best Scrum practices are followed and that the team is able to progress without anything standing in their way.

Who is a Product Owner?

The Product Owner is responsible for maximising the value of the product that the Scrum Team are developing. They are just one person, but represent the stakeholders and account for their needs when managing the Product Backlog. Anyone in the team can add to the Product Backlog, but the Product Owner has the power of deleting items from the Product Backlog, since this role is responsible for maximising value.

What does a Product Owner do?

The Product Owner’s responsibilities include:

  • Developing and communicating the Product Vision. 
  • Managing and communicating the Product Backlog items. 
  • Ordering Product Backlog items. 
  • Ensuring transparency, visibility and understanding of the Product Backlog.
  • Evaluate progress throughout the development process.

The Product Owner may choose to delegate some of the above responsibilities to others in the team, however, they will remain accountable.

For Product Owners to be successful in their role, the whole organisation must respect their decisions. Such decisions are viable in the content and ordering of the Product Backlog and through the inspectable Increment at the Sprint Review.

You can read more about each of the Scrum roles by clicking here.

Product Owner vs Scrum Master: What’s the difference?

Now we’ve looked at the Product Owner vs Scrum Master, let’s break down exactly what the similarities and differences are. The two are alike in that they are both responsible for managing and optimising product delivery. 

However, it is their approach to this goal that makes the two roles differ. The Product Owner focuses on delivering a successful product by planning far ahead, making forecasts and developing an action plan for the team (as can be seen in the bullet point list above). In other words, the focus is on the bigger strategy and the overall vision for the client’s product. 

The Scrum Master, on the other hand, is focused more on any immediate issues, often the day-to-day things, and responding to them quickly as they arise. The focus here is on refining the team’s process and ensuring the efficiency of the team. In addition to protecting the efficiency, this can be achieved through ensuring Scrum processes and procedures are adhered to and the team have the knowledge and guidance required.

Summary

While the Product Owner vs the Scrum Master does have some overlapping responsibilities, their roles are very different. Having clearly defined roles and understanding each is beneficial for both teams and organisations and understanding these differences is no exception to that. 

It’s also important to note that the Product Owner and Scrum Master should always be kept as two separate roles, for two different individuals. Both are invaluable members of the Scrum team and crucial for driving and delivering results and it’s important they keep their focus. 

If you want to find out more about the roles of Scrum you can find our additional resources here.

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