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Why The Roles Of A Product Owner And A Scrum Master Should Be Unique In Scrum

By Expert Author: Mrugesh Panchal

The scrum process and roles
Scrum is a development methodology. The main purpose of implementing scrum in a project is to avail the deliverables in a predefined and controllable way, in a manner such that each deliverable has a certain business value attached to it. The success of a scrum project depends a lot upon how scrum is decided to be implemented. In reality, rather than deciding how the implementation should be carried out, it is more important to decide who carries out the implementation process. As far as scrum methodology is concerned, there are three primary roles:
1. The product owner
2. The scrum master
3. Development team

Each role is clearly stated and defined in the scrum guide. Businesses deciding to implement scrum often refer to the official scrum guide when in doubt, or if they need some reliable guidance regarding how a particular activity should ideally be carried out in a real time project environment. In most cases, the three scrum entities i.e. the product owner, scrum master, and the development team are unique, and individuals specialized in their respective fields are chosen to carry out the role.

Can a product owner double as a scrum master, or vice versa?
Looking at the question from a critical point of view, it would seem impractical and vacuous. However, from a theoretical viewpoint, a person assuming the role of a product owner could simultaneously take up the role of a scrum master too. If such were the case, and indeed individuals having a superficial knowledge of scrum could come up with such a question, what would be the consequences of such a situation? It could well give rise to several conflicting situations as mentioned herein.

The internal conflict within the mind
The main responsibility of the product owner is to represent the stakeholder’s interests and their point of views. The product owner is answerable to the stakeholders and they take precedence. The scrum master is basically concerned with implementing scrum, and is more concerned with the issues faced by the team. As is the case, most of the times the issues raised by the team tend to be in conflict with the priorities and method of implementation as decided by the product owner. The stakeholders might desire a particular user story to be completed in a shorter time, while the team might require additional time to complete it. The scrum master would obviously suggest taking up the unfinished user stories in the next sprint since his or her interests lie with the successful completion of the user stories and getting them “done” in the sprint review. However, the product owner might encourage the team to put in additional efforts and complete the user stories within the ongoing sprint.

A person assuming a dual role would feel the strain, since his or her priorities extend in diametrically opposite directions. The person would not be able to justify either of the roles in a proper manner.

Time conflicts
Let us face it. Each role requires the individual to spend sufficient time so that the responsibilities associated with the roles can be fulfilled in a proper manner. The scrum master is required to attend each daily scrum meeting, and remain available while the sprint is underway so he or she can immediately take up the issues and problems faced by the team to the product owner and the stakeholders. The scrum master is committed to scrum implementation, and remaining close to the development team. He or she facilitates the scrum process by remaining close to the team. The product owner, on the other hand, has to spend time in meeting the stakeholders and getting the market related feedback from them. The primarily responsibility of the product owner is to represent the stakeholders and remain close to them.

It is not practical for a person to remain physically present in simultaneous places at the same time. Enough time would not be available to fulfill both the roles at a time.

Who is talking now?
Whenever the team faces a situation, it approaches the scrum master for the resolution of the problem. If the scrum master cannot resolve it, he or she approaches the product owner for a definite solution. Once the issue is transferred to the product owner, the scrum master’s role is over. The product owner is able to decide what should be done and answers the team accordingly.

When the same person is acting both as a product owner and a scrum master, it would be very confusing for the team to ascertain who is taking – the product owner or the scrum master. It would give rise to many awkward moments, and the team would actually hesitate approaching the person in the first place, since it would feel the person might not be able to justify the role of the scrum master.

Ineffective decisions and wastage of time
Scrum should be quick, to be effective. And scrum is also required to be decisive. If something needs to be done, it should be done now, not later on. It is important to take decisions quickly and effectively to get the most out of scrum.

If a single person has to decide, and there are conflicting interests in mind, obviously the person will face dilemmas and take time to decide what should ideally be done. A lot of time could be wasted in deciding. Scrum cannot be implemented properly and successfully if such is the case.

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