In the product management and product development world, each person plays a particular role. Despite that, people tend to mix the roles of different team members up. If you consider how the Scrum Master vs product owner narrative is understood, you’ll see that many people are unclear about their roles.
However, it’s not your fault if you don’t understand the product owner or the Scrum Master role. Both roles are relatively niche roles, and most non-product people have little idea about them.
In this article, we’ll examine the Scrum Master vs product owner scenario and emphasize their differences.
Let's check it out.
The Scrum Master Role Basics
Scrum Masters are part of the Scrum team trinity, which includes the Scrum Master, product owner, and the team. Scrum Masters play their part by making sure the Scrum approach is being implemented during product or software development.
The Scrum process is based on the Scrum framework, and the framework is designed using an agile methodology. Scrum Masters make sure that the entire team is familiar with the Scrum Guide, Scrum methodology, and all the Scrum events.
In some cases, Scrum Masters also lead team processes with practices such as Kanban. Using these methods, they ensure delivery of all problem, request, incident, and enhancement capabilities. Scrum Masters also have to fulfill cross-departmental coordination roles. These roles may include Change Coordinator and Release Coordinator, among others.
Furthermore, Scrum masters continually work to increase team efficiency and recommend changes to the product vision, roadmap, and backlog. They help the development team and engineering teams develop faster and more efficient processes.
The role of the Scrum Master is more of an oversight role. Therefore, they need to be aware of all agile practices, deliverables, and daily Scrum activities. They also usually have a Scrum Master Certification from a reputable organization.
The Product Owner Role Basics
The product owner role is another part of the Scrum team. However, the role is often confused with that of the product manager. There’s a massive difference between a product owner and the product manager.
Product owners are responsible for utilizing the agile development approach to make sure the right product completes development. A large part of their job involves meticulous planning. For that planning, they need a clear vision that emphasizes the value of the product.
As a result, product owners develop the product vision using user stories, research, and product and business requirements.
The Scrum product owner also manages the product backlog. The backlog includes all the past and current features of a product. It also lists down any changes that were made along the way. Product backlog management makes up a large part of their job description. It’s essential to keep the product backlog items updated to ensure that the correct product is released.
Furthermore, they’re the first ones to get the release date. While product owners can’t single-handedly control the release of a product, they can call for the enactment, pause, or cancelation of the release.
Another part of their job is sprint planning and project management. You can consider sprints as product prototypes. Sprints help determine whether a feature is right for the product, whether changes need to be made, and whether the product is ready for release.
Product owners make sure successful products make it to the market by developing a foolproof vision, roadmap, and strategy.
Scrum Master Vs. Product Owner – A Skills Comparison
While both the Scrum Master and product owner are part of the Scrum team, they need different skills to do their jobs.
Scrum Master Skills
The following is a summary of the skills required to be a Scrum Master.
- Leadership Skills: The Scrum Master removes any roadblocks to ensure that the team is on track. They discover distractions and get rid of them while making sure the team follows Scrum practices.
- Collaborator: Scrum Masters also have to be excellent collaborators always to be aware of all activities, meetings, and sessions.
- Coaching and Mentoring Abilities: Being a superb collaborator means that Scrum Masters often have to coach or mentor team members.
- Communications Skills: To make sure they can collaborate and mentor, Scrum Masters need to have excellent listening and communication skills. They need to be able to discuss ideas, plans, and customer research.
- Change-Ready: The Scrim Master should be open to changes since it’s practically part of their job. They should be able to help team members adopt changes, and should facilitate the change process.
- Certifications and Knowledge: Scrum Masters should have the proper certifications and knowledge associated with product management and the Scrum process.
The skills mentioned above are people and process-based skills. Many project managers become Scrum Masters because the skills required for both jobs are somewhat similar.
Product Owner Skills
The following is a summary of the skills required to become a product owner.
- Committed to Vision: Product owners need to be able to communicate the product vision with all stakeholders. That includes explaining product backlog changes, changing requirements, and other vision-related processes.
- Constant Availability: The development team often consults the product owner because they understand the product plan completely. Therefore, they need to be available at all times and open to communication.
- Understanding of ROI: Product owners are responsible for product success and have to focus on its proper production. They are responsible for making sure the ROI is positive in the end.
- Technical Skills: The product owner needs to have an idea of everything from software development to product marketing.
- End-User Perspective: Product owners need to have the ability to think long-term. They need to develop their vision and processes from an end-user point-of-view.
All of the skills mentioned above are summarized versions. Product owners typically need an understanding of all product-based roles, thus, justifying the product owner salary.
Scrum Master vs Product Owner – A Responsibility Comparison
In smaller companies, the responsibilities of the Scrum Master and the product owner may overlap. However, in medium and large organizations, they have very distinct roles.
Scrum Master Responsibilities
The following is a summary of the responsibilities of the Scrum Masters.
- The Scrum Master manages the Scrum process while coordinating with the Scrum team.
- They facilitate the development, engineering, and Scrum team by helping them improve their processes for increased efficiency.
- Scrum Masters arrange daily stand-up meetings and facilitate with other meetings, demos, and decision-making processes.
- They also help the product owner create and maintain the product backlog. They help make the sprint backlog ready for the next sprint.
- Scrum Masters also conduct sprint retrospective meetings and help facilitate sprint planning meetings.
- Roles of Scrum Masters don’t change much, but one thing always remains constant – they help remove impediments in the product process that hinder project success.
Other than that, the Scrum Master also acts as a Scrum guide, coach, and conflict resolver. Meanwhile, they also help the team manage project risks.
Product Owner Responsibilities
The following is a summary of the responsibilities of product owners.
- The product owner attends sprint demos, sprint planning meetings, and daily Scrums.
- They develop the product vision, form deadlines, and define feature priorities.
- Product owners have to fulfill their Scrum roles by continually communicating with the Scrum master.
- Product owners also help determine the right release date and contents for products.
- They manage the product backlog and develop it from scratch. They’re responsible for adding product backlog items, user stories, and any other necessary changes.
- Out of the user stories, product owners define the epics and communicate them to the development team.
- They are responsible for prioritizing the user stories with the help of team members.
- Product owners also have to analyze and prioritize product features using sprint reviews and other similar methods.
The product owner has to be naturally curious and should always be focusing on the ‘Why’ and ‘How.’ After getting those answers, the product owner has to help the rest of the team understand the concept.
Scrum Master vs Product Owner – Utilizing Agile Methodology
Many smaller companies tend to ask whether the product owner can also be the Scrum Master. The simple answer is no.
The main reason for that is that it creates a conflict of interest. Product owners are responsible for creating the vision and plan for a successful product. Scrum Masters have to oversee the entire process and make sure it’s efficient and relevant. As a result, the Scrum Master reviews the product owner’s work and provides recommendations for improvements or best practices. Therefore, both jobs require different people for separate perspectives.
To properly utilize agile methodology, you need both the Scrum Master and the product owner.
If you are new to product management and are looking to break into your first product role, we recommend taking our One Week PM course, where you will learn fundamentals of product management, launch your own product, and get on the fast track towards landing your first product job.
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