Tales of the Bizarro Scrum – I’m the Product Owner and Scrum Master

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Director: “We don’t have a budget for a Scrum Master so Cathy is going to be both the Scrum Master and Product Owner.”

On a Scrum Team, there are 3 accountabilities; The Product Owner is accountable for maximizing the value resulting from the work of the Scrum Team, the Developers are accountable for building and delivering a usable Product Increment in each Sprint, and the Scrum Master is accountable for the Scrum team’s effectiveness.

These are distinct accountabilities and having 1 person take on more than one accountability is not optimal because something is going to have to give.

Scrum is easy to understand but difficult to master and implement. The Scrum Master is the team’s Scrum expert and is there to help and serve the organization as a whole, the Product Owner and the Developers. Scrum Masters are change agents that lead Scrum adoption in organizations, help stakeholders understand and use empiricism for complex product development, foster self-organization, self-management, cross-functionality, and empowerment. They help remove impediments and help the Scrum Team focus on creating high value and high quality Product Increments. They are focused on continuous process improvement. Without an experienced and dedicated Scrum Master, especially when starting with a Scrum adoption, the organization or team is likely just going to go through the Scrum motions, using new “cool” lingo with new roles and titles yet the overall work approach and results will still be the same and the team will not realize any of the benefits of using Scrum.

We also previously discussed the importance of having a dedicated and engaged Product Owner. The Product Owner is driving the team to successfully deliver on Sprint Goals to achieve the overall Product Goal and vision. Accountability for success of the product is on the Product Owner. An effective Product Owner needs to have bandwidth to properly succeed. They must have the time to spend with stakeholders and research the market to ensure that the Product Backlog reflects the latest conditions and needs. They must have the time to progressively refine the Product Backlog with the team. They must be available to address and answer any questions for the team throughout the Sprint.

Having the same person handle both accountabilities is a lot, and something will suffer. Usually, the one person leans more toward Product Owner accountabilities, forgets about Scrum Master accountabilities, and no one is left protecting the Developers. This eventually might lead to teams overcommitting, working overtime, and delivering late. Overall product quality decreases and team morale becomes low. There is an over emphasis on delivery and a lack of focus on process improvements.

The 3 accountabilities in Scrum are setup in a way that provide a good balance between building the right thing (Product Owner), building the thing right (Developers), and continuously getting better at building the thing (Scrum Master). It is essential that each accountability gets its proper focus in order to get the benefits from using Scrum.