Product Owner vs Scrum Master: Key Differences

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30th May, 2017
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Product Owner vs Scrum Master: Key Differences

Scrum Master vs Product Owner: The two most important roles in a Scrum team. Though they seem similar, there are significant differences between the two. 

The pandemic has accelerated your organization’s need to go agile. But in your quest for digital transformation which roles will you hire for?

While talking about the Scrum Master, don't forget to check out the articles on Agile vs Scrum and Scrum Interview Questions.

The Scrum Master vs Product Owner has been a long-standing debate, despite the fact that both are indispensable roles in the Scrum software development methodology and play their part in Agile transformations. Let’s look at these two roles, their specialties, differences, and contributions to the digital landscape.

To know more, check out the Scrum Masters tutorial page and Product Owner Responsibilities in detail. 

Who is a Scrum Master?

“The Scrum Master is accountable for establishing Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. They do this by helping everyone understand Scrum theory and practice, both within the Scrum Team and the organization. The Scrum Master is accountable for the Scrum Team’s effectiveness. They do this by enabling the Scrum Team to improve its practices, within the Scrum framework.”—Scrum.org

Who is a Product Owner?

“The Product Owner is accountable for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the Scrum Team. The Product Owner is one person, not a committee. The Product Owner may represent the needs of many stakeholders in the Product Backlog. Those wanting to change the Product Backlog can do so by trying to convince the Product Owner”—Scrum.org

Scrum Master vs Product Owner

The Scrum Master and Product Owner are different roles with different responsibilities, yet they complement each other. The Scrum master should support the Product Owner in every step possible.  

There should be an amicable relationship between the Product Owner and the Scrum master. Disputes may arise between the two, if the roles are not clarified.

The Scrum Master’s main aim is to ensure project success, by assisting the product owner and the team in using the right process and adhering to Agile principles.

Scrum Master
Product Owner
Servant leadership:

The day to day activity of a Scrum Master involves servant leadership where they are involved in performance planning, coaching, self- organization, removing obstacles, resolving conflicts and serving the team.
Stakeholder satisfaction:

The first responsibility of the product owner is customer satisfaction and this they carry out by ensuring that customer requirements are given priority and there is transparency between development team and stakeholders.  

The product owner guarantees stakeholder satisfaction by ensuring product success, and building a product which meets business requirements.

 
Coach and teacher:

 Agile coaching is a Scrum Master’s primary skill. Teaching Scrum skills, especially to new Scrum teams is a huge part of the Scrum Master’s responsibility.  

They need to ensure that the team is working as per Scrum and Agile principles and following processes.
Conflict resolver:

Product owners may often come across unreasonable or difficult to handle stakeholders.  

Having conflict resolution skills will come in handy to diffuse any untoward situations or escalations that may arise with stakeholders or development team members.  

 
Technical familiarity: 

There is no doubt that having some technical competence will help a Scrum Master be better at the job.  

Technical acumen will help a Scrum Master remove any impediments the team faces and build better products by providing the correct tools and techniques.
Collaborator:

A product owner is a great storyteller, which means that they are able to explain the vision of the product to the developers.  

They need not necessarily have the technical skills to prepare user stories but they can effectively collaborate with those who can.  

 
Organizational skills:  

As someone who leads and guides the Scrum team, having good organizational skills is a must-have in a Scrum Master’s repertoire.  

SMs must ensure that work is allocated correctly, there is no slippage of tasks and deadlines are met.
 
Prioritization skills:

The Product Owner must have inherent prioritization skills in order to prioritise items on the backlog.
Soft Skills:

A Scrum Master should have great interpersonal skills, should be a conflict manager with the ability to solve internal and external conflicts, should be an excellent communicator and must have empathy towards team members.
Soft Skills: 

Good communication skills and being business savvy are paramount to being successful as a Product Owner.  

Having to work with stakeholders and other parties means that Product Owners must be able to communicate the status of the product and other technical knowledge that the customer may wish to know.  

Similarly, they must be able to communicate to the team about the vision of the product and stakeholder expectations.  
Scrum knowledge:

What is a Scrum Master without Scrum knowledge? The primary responsibility of the Scrum Master is to guide the development team on all things Scrum and make sure that the development of the product is taking place according to Scrum and Agile principles and values.  

This will ensure that all benefits that are associated with Scrum and Agile are realised during the course of the project.
 
Scrum knowledge:

The product owner must have knowledge of the product roadmap, release management, product backlog management, sprint planning, review and retrospectives, in order to maximise product value.

Scrum Master vs Product Owner – A Responsibility Comparison

Scrum Master
Product Owner
Aiding the team:

As a servant leader, the primary responsibility of the Scrum Master is to help the development team perform. This includes removing obstacles that may impede the team from performing.
Defining the vision:  

The Product Owner’s main task is to define the vision of the product to the development team. This involves helping them understand the reason for the product being built, its usefulness for the clients and stakeholders, how it can evolve in the future and what it is expected to achieve.

Giving the development team a correct vision of the product will help them work better.
Helping team members do Scrum:  

A Scrum Master is well versed with Scrum processes and tools. It’s the Scrum Master’s primary responsibility to ensure that the team adheres to Scrum processes during the development of the product.
Being the bridge between stakeholders and team:  

As the go-between the development team and the customers, it is the Product Owner’s responsibility to get each party what they need to be happy.

In the development team’s case, the product owner has to ensure that they have understood without any ambiguity, what needs to be built and with respect to the stakeholders, product owner has to ensure that they get the product that they have asked for.  

At the same time, the product owner must maintain a correct balance between the two and ensure that there is complete transparency and there is no over commitment on requirements to either side.  
Arranges stand up meetings:

The daily stand-up meetings are an essential part of Scrum. The Scrum Master facilitates these meetings and ensures that all issues are addressed and the team is able to perform towards reaching its sprint goal.
Meet with all those involved with the product:

This includes meeting stakeholders, development team and all those who wish to discuss the product roadmap. These discussions could range from current product backlog items to future releases to any technical information the stakeholder may need.
Sets up an environment where the team can perform more effectively:

The development team develops the product, and a happy team means a well-built product and satisfied customers.  

The team must be allowed to work in an environment that is free of distractions and conducive to innovation and research.  

The Scrum Master makes sure that such an environment is provided to the team.
Maximises Product Value:  

The Product Owner maximises product value by identifying what items in the product backlog need to be tackled first.

Continuous prioritization and ordering of product backlog is an important responsibility of the product owner to ensure that high priority work gets into production first for release.
Helps Product Owner with product backlog:  

The Scrum Master aids the development team and the Product Owner with effective product backlog management.  

This they do by facilitating Scrum events, product planning and by helping the team to identify backlog items.
Manages Product Backlog:  

Creating and updating the backlog is a major part of the product owner’s responsibility. They have to sequence, prioritise and ensure that the development time is not wasting time or resources in doing the wrong tasks.

Updating the product backlog is an on-going responsibility of the Product Owner.  
Promoting Scrum in the enterprise:  

The Scrum Master has a greater responsibility than that of leading the team, and that is the promotion of Scrum and transformation of the entire organization.  

This they do by coaching and helping teams and departments understand Scrum and develop an Agile mind-set.
Explaining Scrum:  

You may be working with a team that is new to Scrum or stakeholders who are not aware of Scrum processes.  

As a Product Owner you will be expected to help your team understand about the Scrum processes that will be followed during every stage of product development while also helping the stakeholders understand how Scrum is being used to develop the product.

 

Scrum Master vs Product Owner


Here are some of the frequently asked questions around Scrum Master vs  Product Owner

Which is the one most important service a Scrum Master provides to the Product Owner?

The most important help a Scrum Master gives the Product Owner is in the management of the product backlog.  

While the primary responsibility of the product backlog management lies with the Product Owner, the Scrum Master pitches in when there are too many things to handle and the Product Owner is unable to perform all activities simultaneously.

The Scrum Master is also the perfect bridge between the Product Owner and the development team, helping the team understand the vision of the Product Owner and helping them realise this vision.

Are Scrum Master and Product Owner the same person?

This is a highly debated question in the Agile world. Some experts are of the view that there are clear differences between the two roles and hence there should be two individuals to manage these two roles.  

The Product Owner should have an overall vision of the client’s requirements. Due to this reason, the Scrum Master needs the Product Owner; whereas the project team requires the Scrum Master to help them deliver by creating an atmosphere conducive to development and innovation.

Who validates the product delivered in Scrum?

The product backlog is ordered on the basis of the value of the items being delivered. Though the value is influenced by several factors including the complexity, risks associated and criticality, these are not the basis for calculating value.  

The value of the product is validated by the Product Owner who orders the product backlog.

Conclusion

The Scrum Master and the Product Owner have mostly overlapping roles and responsibilities as well as overlapping skills.   

The Scrum Master ensures project success, by assisting the product owner and the team in using the right Scrum processes for creating the end product and establishing the Agile principles. The Product Owner interacts with the users and customers, Stakeholders, the Development team and the Scrum Master to deliver a successful product.   

The Product Owner and the Scrum Master are both invaluable members of a Scrum project team, as they build the perfect relation with the development team and strive to deliver the best results. 

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