Scrum master vs product owner

SCRUM is a popular methodology that derives from agile philosophy and approach to organize production and/or development in responsive manner to external influence. It gained much traction in IT industry due to the nature of the work and the necessity to adopt to ever changing virtual world.

Even though many have adopted the methodology, it is all too often to encounter the lack of understanding the principals and spot deviations at the first glance. As the title suggests, we commonly face mixture of role in the method, most usually the scrum master and product owner. This might occur due to lack of knowledge, lack of trust in SCRUM, sloppiness, inefficient usage of people, budget cuts etc.

Every role is set in place for a reason, and serves its role for the good of the productivity and flexibility. However, it is not unusual to see mixing roles as a result of not understanding the core drivers behind each role. Way too often, organization do group positions, in the IT industry especially, into two groups, developers and not developers, which just brings us back to the stage before stepping forward to SCRUM. SCRUM suggests we all are part of problem solving, and roles are separated according to responsibilities. Therefore, we have Scrum master that represents a leader in the team and is in charge of creating high performance team, using SCRUM tools to gear team’s workflow to optimum effectiveness. Scrum master will hold meetings, track boards, burn down charts, KPI and other indicators of the work. On the other side, we have product owner, who is customer representative whose job is to turn vision and requirements into workable chunks that will spill into product backlog. It Is product owner’s job to ensure that additional value will be created through work and managing return on investment.

Why shouldn’t those two roles be one person?

In the very nature of both roles to pull in different directions. While product owner is constantly trying to draw more from the team, Scrum master is there to stand behind the team and to ensure the rules and procedures are respected. They are in conflict by design of the method. By assigning one person to both roles, we lose the benefits of the conflict. In general, mixing roles in SCRUM should be avoided even in small team and in any situation. In terms of responsibilities we can distinguish it through table 1.1. but the division is not strict, but we are talking about what are the primary accountabilities in the team. It is essential to separate the two for productive and heathy surrounding.

Work role Scrum master Product owner
Communicate with customers  

X

Manage requirements  

X

Manage budget  

X

Motivate the team

X

 
Fix problems and issues

X

 
Builds trust and leads through influence

X