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Scrum Roles – Introduction

05 Aug 2019

The three roles prescribed in the Scrum Guide are Scrum Master (SM), Product Owner (PO) and of course, the Development Team. Together, they make up the Scrum Team. It's very important to understand what each of these roles does and what their responsibilities are, as this will greatly affect how successful your Scrum experience is. 

With that in mind, let's have a look at the roles and what their purpose is in the Scrum framework. 

Scrum Master

The Scrum Master role is quite demanding but it's also a very exciting one. The main reason is that the Scrum Master has numerous responsibilities for both the team and the entire organization. Their primary role is to coach and educate the Scrum Team in Scrum theory and practice, ensuring the team gets the most out of the framework. 

In addition, they also educate members of the organization, as well as other stakeholders about why opt for Scrum, in the first place and how this framework can benefit everyone involved. Simply put, planning, adopting and implementing takes the majority of Scrum Master's responsibilities towards the organization so that they can ensure that the Scrum framework is properly adopted organization-wide. Aside from that, Scrum Masters work closely with Product Owners. 

They ensure that both the PO and the developers remain within the Scrum framework and reap as many benefits as possible from it. They also teach both developers and POs about the best way to get value from Scrum Events and Artifacts. Last but not least, the Scrum Master coaches and protects the Development Team. They ensure that developers can proceed without interruptions or hindrances while protecting them if a PO or someone from the upper management steps out of line and starts dictating how things should be done.

The Product Owner

The role of the Product Owner was first introduced in the Scrum framework. In other words, there's no traditional role to compare it to. A PO is oftentimes called a cornerstone of successful projects because they define and prioritize the work that needs to be done. Their main responsibility is to understand what needs to be developed and how, so that the product will bring value to both customers and the organization. 

If we were to make a comparison, a PO role would slightly resemble that of a traditional project manager role. However, a project manager who defines all the work upfront and decides on the scope itself then simply ensures it to others to put it in motion doesn't really come close to PO. A Product Owner will remain active and involved in the project and help out others to ensure a project is indeed successfully completed.

The main tool that the Product Owners have at their disposal is the Product Backlog which includes everything that the Scrum Team will work on in order to have a working product delivered incrementally. While a smart Product Owner will invite the rest of the team to collaborate on the backlog, they are still solely responsible for it.

Furthermore, Product Owners remain involved in the project throughout the entire lifecycle. They don't control the work but instead, they make sure that the work being done is aligned with what needs to be done while communicating with both the development teams and the stakeholders. The Scrum Master assists the PO in resisting the urge to become a traditional role that bosses everyone around.

The Development Team

Developers are responsible for bringing ideas to life. They are a self-organizing team that collaborates and communicates regularly and without exception. When we say developers, we don't mean that the Scrum team is made up entirely of software developers. As a matter of fact, a Scrum team consists of multiple roles including designers, testers, architects and so on. The team is autonomous, which means they ultimately decide what to work on and how. 

They are, however, guided by the Product Backlog ordered by the PO, as well as the Scrum process as coached by the Scrum Master. Other than that, the development team decides among themselves on how to proceed further. 

Both the Scrum Master and the PO are there to assist the team and not in any way control them. This flexibility and autonomy are essential in Scrum projects mainly because the concept is based on one of the Agile principles that states to trust the team to get the work done and provide them with the environment and the assistance required to achieve that. 

Working closely together

Each of the three roles has unique responsibilities but they must always work closely together to ensure a project's success. The main reason is that each individual role complements the other two. Any organization wishing to embrace and adopt the Scrum framework must understand these three roles well and allow them to collaborate at any given time. That way, the expertise of each role can support one another and ensure that the project remains with the Scrum practices and that it eventually reaches success.

It should also be pointed out that the Scrum Roles are not job titles in the traditional sense of the word. As their names suggest, they are merely the roles that people take on to make Scrum work. 

It may seem like an obvious thing, but it is important to remember this at all times.