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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Can Product Owner also be the Scrum Master?

One of the most common points of stress in a scrum project is when the same individual gets assigned more than one role in a scrum team. As you may have seen in the article titled “Participants in Scrum” each role has its own responsibilities and often times the roles clash with one another. In this article am gonna highlight why I think the roles of a scrum master and product owner should not be held by the same individual.

Reason 1: Different Purpose

The two roles couldn’t be any more different than they are now. They are both focused on different aspects of the project. The product owner spends his time thinking about what the next product increment should be and how to liaise with key business stakeholders to understand their needs. The scrum master on the other hand is thinking about how to motivate & help the team to deliver the last increment that the product owner requested and how he can remove the impediments in the teams way.

If you are from a software/IT background, I could add an analogy here between a developer and a tester. Even though a developer can do testing and a tester can do coding, there is a reason these two roles were separated. When we test our own code, a sense of confidence creeps in which hinders the testing effectiveness. Whereas, when we are testing someone else’s code, our instinctive sense of doubt prevails and we are able to find much more bugs on the code.

Get the picture?

Reason 2:  There is always conflict between the two roles

As scrum master, one of my regular activities was negotiating with the product owner whenever he/she feels the team is just not taking the new story they created mid-sprint or one of the good to have stories for the upcoming sprint. The role of the product owner is to ask for more and more stories to be included in the sprint while the scrum master tries to protect the team and make sure that they don’t overcommit themselves while they continue to deliver good quality software sprint after sprint.

This means, these two roles are going to be at cross-hairs frequently and keeping the two roles separate means either party can do justice to their respective roles.

Reason 3: They are probably busy with their individual roles already and adding another role will overburden them

Even though the roles of a scrum master and product owner may sound simple on paper, trust me, it is a lot of work and both of those parties (in a typical scrum project) are probably quite busy doing their respective tasks and adding another role would overburden them. Even if they manage to burn the midnight oil and try to do multi-tasking, it will definitely affect their productivity & efficiency

Reason 4: Team and/or Product suffers

The scrum master is the guardian or protector for the team and is always protecting them from unwanted noise & distractions. A scrum master who is also the product owner might be biased toward adding more & more scope items to the product/sprint backlog and in the absence of a dedicated guardian the team will be exposed to a massive backlog which they will be constantly overloaded with. This will result in reduced velocity (with multiple WIP stories that get spill-over to the next sprint), reduced quality and more importantly reduced team morale.

On the other hand if the individual is more scrum master and pushes back on all new requirements, the product backlog and the organizations product as a whole will suffer while the team will be quite happy and satisfied.

A good scrum project is one where we are able to balance between keeping either demands at appropriate levels and not let one side overpower the other.

Note: It is practically impossible for the same individual to do 100% justice to both roles simultaneously. Bias and impact on the team or product is inevitable.

What are your thoughts on the same individual being both scrum master and product owner? Sound off in the comments section…

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