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How Does the Scrum Master Serve the Product Owner?

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Last updated on
13th Jul, 2022
Published
06th Aug, 2021
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How Does the Scrum Master Serve the Product Owner?

When we talk about a Scrum team, the Product Owner and Scrum Master are the most prominent roles that come to mind. These are both indispensable roles in a Scrum project and both serve each other and the development team. The Scrum Master serves the Product Owner in several ways which are critical to team success. In this blog, we attempt to understand the role of the Scrum Master and the services they provide to the organization, the product owner, and the development team. Do not forget to check out the scrum master tutorial page for roles, responsibilities, skills and scrum interview questions.

 The Product Owner’s Role 

Product Owner’s Role

“The business is represented by the product owner who tells the development what is important to deliver”—Atlassian

The Product Owner is not a team or a group of people but just one person. He or she helps the team maximize the product value by prioritizing items on the product backlog. The product owner is also the link between the stakeholders and the development team, maintaining a transparent and collaborative mode of communication between the two.

The Scrum Master’s role

Scrum Masters are servant leaders and coaches for an Agile Team. They help educate the team in Scrum, Extreme Programming (XP), Kanban, and SAFe, ensuring that the agreed Agile process is being followed--Scaled Agile, Inc. 

The Scrum Master helps to remove impediments that the development team may face and sets up an environment that will motivate the team and help them perform to the best of their abilities. The Scrum Master is the force behind the relentless improvement of the development team. 

Scrum Master’s Key Services to the Product Owner
Scrum Master’s Key Services to the Product Owner

In their capacity as servant leaders, there are several services that the Scrum Master provides to not just the development team but also to the Product OwnerThe Scrum Guide states the following services that a Scrum Master provides to the Product Owner: 

  • Ensuring that goals, scope, and product domain are understood by everyone on the Scrum Team as well as possible; 
  • Finding techniques for effective Product Backlog management; 
  • Helping the Scrum Team understand the need for clear and concise Product Backlog items; 
  • Understanding product planning in an empirical environment; 
  • Ensuring the Product Owner knows how to arrange the Product Backlog to maximize value; 
  • Understanding and practicing agility; and, 
  • Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed 

Let’s look at these in detail: 

  • Helping the team understand the project goals:

Often there may be a disconnect between the product owner’s vision and the development team’s understanding of the vision. The Scrum Master helps the Product Owner by carefully explaining the vision and mission of the project to the development team.

  • Effective Backlog management : 

This is among the most essential services that the Scrum Master gives to the Product Owner. While the onus of creating and managing the product backlog lies with the product owner, the Scrum Master provides all possible help in order to ensure that it is always groomed and up to date.

The product backlog is a prioritized list of items that needs to be followed by the development team. Following this sequence will ensure that the most important features of the product are developed and delivered to the customer.

The Scrum Master will help the product owner in identifying the priority features and making sure that the development team is following the product backlog and working on delivering the right goals. The Scrum Master helps the Product Owner in facilitating Scrum events, product planning and by helping the team in identifying backlog items.

  • Helping the team understand the need for a clear Product Backlog:

Just like there may be misunderstandings or gaps in understanding the overall scope of the project, the development team may also be confused about the product backlog items. The Scrum Master can help the product owner by clearly explaining the product backlog items to the development team and also by encouraging the development team to approach the product owner in case more clarifications are needed. The Scrum team should keep the product backlog up to date by updating the dependencies and estimates as and when they are available.

  • Product Planning in an empirical environment:

The Scrum Master helps in product planning in an empirical environment. An empirical environment is defined as one where work and improvement is guided by experiments and experience. The Scrum Master looks back into past experiences and projects and guides the product owner and the team in planning and developing. While the Product Owner prepares the plan and the backlog, the Scrum Master can help the product owner carry it out more effectively by providing learnings and knowledge from past experiences.

  • Making sure that the Product Owner is maximizing value:

The Scrum Master helps the Product Owner by ensuring that the Product Owner knows how to arrange the Product Backlog in order to maximize value. Although maximizing value is the responsibility of the Product Owner, the Scrum Master can aid them in this exercise by guiding them and applying learnings from past experiences.

The Scrum Master can help the Product Owner by applying techniques like MoSCoW (Must Have, Should Have, Could Have, Will Not Have) where items that are ‘Must haves’ are placed right at the top of the backlog item list in order to maximize value.

  • Facilitating Scrum Events:

Scrum events are a part of daily scrum and ensure a more motivated team and aware team. The Scrum Master facilitates Scrum events such as daily stand ups, retrospectives etc. The daily stand-up meetings are an essential part of Scrum where issues are addressed and the team is able to work towards reaching its sprint goal.

  • Helping the team understand and practice Scrum and Agility:

A Scrum project has to be developed by following Scrum processes and implementing Scrum tools and techniques. While a Product Owner is also well versed with Scrum processes, it is the Scrum Master who primarily directs the team on Scrum processes and ensures that the team is adhering to scrum principles. 

This is an important help given by the Scrum master to the product owner as following scrum principles will help the team respond to changing requirements and ensure flexibility. The Scrum Master should understand that Agile is not like waterfall and should follow just in time development. 

Scrum Master Key Services to Development Team & Organization

According to Scrum.org, the Scrum Master helps the development team in the following ways:

Scrum Master Key Services to Development Team & Organization

  • Coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality; 
  • Helping the Development Team to create high-value products; 
  • Removing impediments to the Development Team’s progress; 
  • Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed; and, 
  • Coaching the Development Team in organizational environments in which Scrum is not yet fully adopted and understood. 

Let’s look at these in detail: 

Coaching the team:

A Scrum team’s ultimate goal is to be self-organized and collaborative with a high degree of cross-functionality, and it is a major responsibility of the Scrum Master to help them achieve thisSelf-organized means to reduce dependency on outside forces and accomplish tasks without being directed by others who are not on the team. The Scrum Master has to encourage and empower the team to become self-organized. This will help them become more accountable for the work they do and ultimately help them become more productive.  

According to the Scrum Guide, “Cross-functional teams have all competencies needed to accomplish the work without depending on others not part of the team. The team model in Scrum is designed to optimize flexibility, creativity, and productivity.” 

The Scrum Master helps the team become cross-functional, which helps them deliver incrementally and iteratively, implement feedback from customer and deliver a potentially shippable product at the end of each sprint.

  • Helping the team create high-value products:

High value products are created when customer feedback is implemented regularly and the product is improved through continuous iterations. The Scrum Master helps the team follow Scrum processes and incorporate feedback to produce high value products that appeal to customers.

  • Removing impediments:

As a servant leader, the primary responsibility of the Scrum Master is to help the development team perform. This includes removing impediments that may obstruct the team from performing well. These could be internal or external distractions and the Scrum Master works towards creating an environment that is free from distractions.

  • Facilitating events:

The Scrum Master facilitates Scrum events such as daily stand ups, retrospectives and other team meetings etc. These events help the development team members air any grievances or issues they might have and also celebrate successes they may have achieved by releasing project goals.

  • Promoting and aiding adoption of Scrum:

Being an expert on Scrum processes and tools, it is the Scrum Master’s primary responsibility to ensure that the team adheres to Scrum processes during the development of the product. If the team or the organization itself is new to Scrum then the development team may face challenges in the project. By helping the development team understand Scrum processes and techniques, the Scrum Master ensures that Scrum is followed and the project goals are reached.

According to the Scrum Guide, this is how the Scrum Master helps the organization: 

  • Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption; 
  • Planning Scrum implementations within the organization; 
  • Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and empirical product development; 
  • Causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Team; and, 
  • Working with other Scrum Masters to increase the effectiveness of the application of Scrum in the organization 

Now let’s look at these in detail:

  • Coaching:
     

The Scrum Master has a greater responsibility than that of leading the team, and that is the promotion of Scrum in the organization. They are responsible for ensuring that the Agile mind-set is adopted by the entire organization.

  • Planning Scrum implementations:

Just like the Scrum Master coaches the enterprise in Scrum, they are also responsible for implementing Scrum throughout the organization and ensuring that the implementations happen as per Scrum values.

  • Helping everyone involved in the project understand Scrum:

The Scrum master has to ensure that everyone involved in the project including the stakeholders have knowledge of Scrum. They guide the development team in implementing Scrum and the empirical product development processes.

  • Increasing the productivity of teams:

The Scrum Master looks for ways to enhance the productivity of the development team. This could be by introducing changes they feel is appropriate, introducing new tools or by leveraging working in the empirical environment.

  • Working with other Scrum Masters:

The Scrum Masters in the organization implement best practices that help them increase the effectiveness of the Scrum enterprise wide.

Challenges faced by the Scrum Master
Scrum Master Challenges

Agile and Scrum adoption problems:

Scrum Master, as the name suggests, is primarily responsible for ensuring that Scrum is adopted by the development team and the organization as a whole. But this is possible only when there is leadership buy in and the Scrum Master has encouragement and support in promoting Agile. 

When the Scrum Master becomes dispensable: 

Organizations often undermine the value and role of a Scrum Master and feel that it’s not needed. But not having a Scrum Master on the rolls may have a negative impact on the adoption and implementation of Scrum.   

Scrum events not conducted properly    :     

While some may consider meetings such as daily stand-ups a waste of time, they are an important part of Scrum projects and organizations. Meetings add a lot of value to the Scrum project and the process and help identify impediments and remove them.     

Scope Creep      :       

While Agile manages to curb scope creep it is possible and may happen. This can have huge ramifications on the project and the reputation of the organization. While this is not the responsibility of the Scrum Master but of the Product Owner, the Scrum Master still helps the Product Owner in managing the product backlog and hence also must tackle with scope creep.       

Conflict with Product Owner:       

Now this is indeed an undesirable situation. The Product Owner and the Scrum Master are like the captain and first mate of the ship. Any differences between them will result in mismanagement of the entire ship, in other words the Scrum project. It will also negatively impact the morale of the development team and the reputation of the organization. The Product Owner and Scrum Master should set their differences aside and learn to work together.       

Infighting in the team:       

People are different and there may be problems between team members. This will affect the balance and the productivity of the entire team but the Scrum Master must be able to use their people management skills and ensure that conflicts are resolved and the team works as one.       

Distributed teams:       

While the pandemic has forced us all to work in distributed teams the Scrum Master may still find it challenging to co-ordinate and work across geographies and time zones, which in turn may reduce productivity of teams if they are unable to collaborate.       

Non-Agile stakeholders:       

It’s often tough for a Scrum Master to convince the stakeholders about the advantages of Scrum, especially those stakeholders who are already used to working in waterfall. Such clients may make it difficult for the Scrum Master, Product Owner and the team to work in Agile and achieve milestones.       

Conclusion

While every project comes with its own set of problems, Agile and Scrum projects to a great extent are able to mitigate risks and problems, deliver value and keep the team motivated. The Scrum Master is one of the roles in a Scrum team who ensures that the problems and issues plaguing the team are solved and the team is able to achieve maximum productivity. 

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