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Every Great Product Owner Needs a Great Scrum Master

Published on 26th March 2014 Last Updated on: 14 Nov 2023

The Scrum product owner and the Scrum Master are two separate roles that complement each other. To do a great job, product owners need a strong Scrum Master at their side. Unfortunately, I find that there is often a lack of Scrum Masters who can support the product owner. Sometimes there is confusion between the roles, or there is no Scrum Master at all. This post explains the differences between the two roles, what product owners should expect from their Scrum Master, and what the Scrum Masters are likely to expect from them.

Product Owner vs. Scrum Master

The product owner and Scrum Master are two different roles that complement each other. If one is not played properly, the other suffers. As the Scrum product owner, you are responsible for product success—for creating a product that does a great job for the users and customers and that meets its business goals. You therefore interact with users and customers as well as the internal stakeholders, the development team, and the Scrum Master, as the following diagram shows.

The product owner role in context

The grey circle in the picture above describes the Scrum Team consisting of the product owner, the Scrum Master and the cross-functional development team.

The Scrum Master is responsible for process success—for helping the product owner and the team use the right process to create a successful product, and for facilitating organisational change and establishing an agile way of working. Consequently, the Scrum Master collaborates with the product owner and the development team as well as senior management, human resources (HR), and the business groups affected by Scrum, as the following picture illustrates:

Scrum Master and process success

Succeeding as a Scrum product owner requires the right skill set, time, effort, and focus. So does playing the Scrum Master role. Combining both roles—even partially—is not only very challenging. It also makes your job as the product owner even more demanding. This risks neglecting some of your core responsibilities or sacrificing sustainable pace and with it, your wellbeing. Therefore, do not take on Scrum Master duties, at least not on a continued basis.

What the Product Owner should Expect from the Scrum Master

As a Scrum product owner, you should benefit from the Scrum Master’s work in several ways. The Scrum Master should coach the dev team so that the team members can build a great product, facilitate organisational change so that the organisation leverages Scrum, and help you do a great job. The following table details the support you should expect from the Scrum Master:

Team Coaching

  • Help the development team collaborate effectively and manage their work successfully so that they can make realistic commitments and create product increments reliably.
  • Encourage the team to participate in product backlog refinement.
  • Ensure that the team has a productive work environment.

Organisational Change

  • Work with senior management, HR, and other business groups to implement the necessary organisational changes required by Scrum.
  • Educate the stakeholders about Scrum and explain their role in progressing the product.
  • Resolve role conflicts such as product owner vs. product manager and product owner vs. project manager.

Product Owner Coaching

  • Help the product owner choose the right product management techniques and tools.
  • Support the product owner and tackle empowerment issues.
  • Facilitate decisions and help the product owner, stakeholders, and dev team members reach an agreement.

The Scrum Master supports you as the product owner so that you can focus on your job–making sure that the right product with the right user experience (UX) and the right features is created. If your Scrum Master does not or cannot provide this support, then talk to the individual, and find out what’s wrong.

Don’t jump in and take over the Scrum Master’s job. If you don’t have a Scrum Master, explain to your management sponsor and to your boss why you need a qualified Scrum Master at your side. Taking on the Scrum Master role would cause you to be overworked or neglect some of your core responsibilities, neither of which is desirable.

What the Scrum Master should Expect from the Product Owner

It takes two to Tango, as the saying goes. The table below describes the service the a Scrum product owner should provide in more detail:

Strategic Direction

Product Discovery Guidance

  • Proactively work on the product backlog. Update it with new insights and ensure that there are enough ready items. Involve the team members in the work.
  • Provide direction and make prioritisation calls.
  • Invite the right people to sprint reviews and choose the right techniques to validate product decisions, for instance, invite selected users the review meeting and carry out a usability test.


Learn More

You can learn more about establishing an effective collaboration between Scrum product owners and Scrum Masters with the following:

Post a Comment or Ask a Question


  • Iyonia Noble says:

    I’m a new Scrum Master but receiving no input from the product owner on the vision. What’s best way to handle this situation?

    The dev team is helping me to catch up on what they’re working on, but that’s the POs job, correct? The PO is sort of new too and maybe doesn’t have a lot info?


    • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

      Hi Iyonia,

      Thanks for sharing your question. While I find it helpful for Scrum Masters to understand the product vision and strategy, what’s more important in my mind is that a) a validated product strategy exists, b) the product owner regularly reviews and developed the strategy, and c) that the stakeholders and dev team support the strategy and are involved in progressing it. If there is no vision or strategy, then I recommend discussing this issue with the product owner.

      Hope this helps!

      • Jonathan Beaty says:

        Roman –

        In your article, you used the term “ScrumMaster”, while in the users question and your response, you use “Scrum Master”. After some research, it seems there is massive confusion within the industry. I would love to hear your take on the proper usage, as it is specifically an issue when drafting a copy of one’s resume in an ATS world. Might your candidacy be excluded if you use the proper terminology? Are the HR resources configuring matching algorithms in ATS aware of the distinction?

        • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

          Hi Jonathan,

          Thank you for your feedback. “ScrumMaster” is the traditional spelling of the term, which you can find in the early Scrum literature. “Scrum Master” is a more recent spelling adopted by the Scrum Guide from 2011 onwards. The initial version of this article used the old spelling. But encouraged by your feedback, I have now updated the spelling in the text.

          Hope this helps!

  • The new kid on the block says:

    Love the article, gives you a clear insight of the 2 different roles. I have a question though, in order to improve their relationship would SM and PO meet on a regular basis, such as twice a week, to catch-up or check-in on how things are going and on how to work best together? What do you think?

    • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

      Thank you for your feedback. How to best strengthen the relationship depends on the individuals. The key is to regularly connect IMO, for example, by having coffee or lunch together. If you find it hard to deal with your ScrumMaster, then you may want to take a look at my article Dealing with Difficult Stakeholders and Team Members. Hope this helps!

  • Darren Smith says:

    Hi Roman, Great article – I based an infographic on this – thought you may find it of interest.

  • David Gentry says:

    Great post! Clear and concise. The visuals help. “The Scrum Guide” by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland is a great resource.

  • Cindy says:

    Excellent read! The question I have for you is, do we really need SM and if so, does it have to be full time?

    • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

      Hi Cindy,

      Thanks for your feedback and question. I prefer to work with professional, full-time ScrumMasters, that is, people who have had the opportunity to grow into the role and play the role 100% of their time. And yes, the role of a ScrumMaster is necessary in an agile, Scrum-based context: the ScrumMaster’s job is not only to help the development team members and the product owner develop and grow, but also to help the organisation take full advantage of Scrum and facilitate the necessary organisational changes.

      Hope this helps!

      • Cindy says:

        Thanks Roman for your response. Much appreciated.

        Don’t you think that having SM who is technically competent adds more value over nontechnical SM?

        • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

          I find it generally helpful when a ScrumMaster has some technical understanding. But the specific skills required depend a lot on the people and organisation the ScrumMaster works with.

  • Dan Monaghan says:

    Great article Roman. In terms of org chart or management, who do the developers reporting to? Who makes the hiring and firing decisions in terms of developers? Can a good scrum master make these decisions with a small development team ( three developers). Also, would the UX and wire framing person report to the project owner or the scrum master? Right now we have the product manager working with a person that does UX and specifications and then present it to the scrum master and scrum team. Is that correct or would the UX and specifications to be done under the scrum master?

    • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

      Hi Dan, Thanks for your feedback. I find it helpful when UX people work on the development team. The idea in Scrum is to reach full closure in very sprint and have a product increment that can be released. The ScrumMaster is not a traditional management role but a coach and change agent. Therefore people usually don’t report to the individual. Hope this helps!

  • Mayank says:

    Great Article…
    I have a question… if a scrum master has to choose between client and team, whom he/she choose?
    so let’s say if your client says i need this feature to be delivered at this date… I can’t change the scope , i can’t change the time and your team says we can’t deliver the feature due to unforeseen risk in the middle of sprint…Also let’s say adding more resources to the team would not make sense as they will burden the team as they will not be trained… So even if you increase the cost, it will not help you…
    So as a scrum master would you say yes to PO(client) or take the side of team and request for change of either scope or time.

    • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

      Thanks for your feedback, Mayank. It’s up to the product owner to trade off scope, time, and cost. It’s not your responsibility as the ScrumMaster. You may want to help the product owner, though, to determine which of the three factors has the biggest impact on the success of the product. Hope this helps.

  • Thibault ROHMER says:

    Very clear article about ScrumMasters and ProductOwners and how they work together.

    The first table helped me reassess what the scrum master job is, what he/she should be focused on day to day.

    Blog added to RSS feeds 🙂

  • jeff says:

    In the second table where you have: The table below describes the ScrumMaster’s expectations in more detail

    Don’t you mean product owner?

    • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

      Hi Jeff,

      The second table describes the work product owners should do and lists the ScrumMaster’s expectations.

      Hope this helps.

  • Lisa Cowgill says:

    Hi Roman,

    I’m new to the Product Owner Role (less than a year) and have frequented your site often for inspiration (love your pages on Vision Boards). What has been a struggle for me (aside from having very limited experience) is connecting smaller decisions and conversations into the larger vision and strategy. In my past jobs I never had the opportunity to own a vision for something. I was more of an ‘order taker’, I’m trying to break out of that mindset, but it’s been slower than I have wanted it to be.

    What advice do you have to new POs who are having challenges in understanding/setting a vision or strategy? I have purchased a couple of your books recently, been looking online for any articles I can find about Product Ownership, got an amazing Agile/Scrum coach and even joined an an Agile discussion group. I have been trying to drive the discussions with my business stakeholders and understand what problems they have. What more should I be doing?

    • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

      Hi Lisa, Thanks for your comment and your feedback. It is great to hear that you find my site and tools helpful. The best advice I can give you is to ask why. Why do you build a new product or invest in creating new features? Why would people benefit from it? Why would they want to use or buy it? Why does it help your business grow?

      A vision answers the big why in my mind, the reason for creating a product, the positive change it should bring about in the world. The product strategy describes how you want to realise your vision, who the users and customers are, what problem the product solves, what makes it stand out, and what value it creates for your business. You may want to compliment your strategy with a business model to describe who the product can be or is monetised and a product roadmap that forecasts how the product is likely to grow over the next 12 months or so, what goals or benefits it should provide and what results or features have to be delivered. I like to derive the product backlog from the roadmap thereby connecting the strategy to the tactics or details.

      Does this help?

      • Lisa Cowgill says:

        Hi Roman,
        Asking ‘why’ is something I have been trying to do a lot more as of late. I think you hit the nail on the head – I have been struggling because I don’t have a ‘future state’ vision or product strategy outlined for our corporate web site. I have thoughts and opinions, but I don’t have any data to back up that vision (although now it sounds like I have some data digging and internal stakeholder discussions to have). I need to put a product strategy and business model together in order to have that overarching vision.

        Can the product strategy and business model be lightweight? I have never done either before, so rather than creating these big, complicated things, I would prefer to keep both high level and have them evolve over time.

        • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

          Hi Lisa, I prefer to start with an initial product strategy and then correct and refine it iteratively particularly for new products and major product updates. If you simply want to capture the vision and the strategy of your current product, then creating a Product Vision Board preferably together with the key stakeholders should be sufficient. You may also want to consider attending my Agile Product Strategy and Roadmap course, which teaches you how to develop a valid product strategy and an effective product roadmap.

  • Mark W says:

    Great post, big fan of your work.
    In our Scrum implementation clearly there’s some team self-organising missing, and it results in our PO saying to me that she has to “manage” the Sprint tasks with the team members. Questions to the individual team members like: “when will that be ready?, “when can I see it?”, “why the delay?”, “why is it not completely done?”, “who can help you?”. In your view is this the correct behaviour for the PO, or should I as Scrum Master be more hands on?

    • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

      Thanks for your feedback and your question. I recommend you use the next sprint retrospective to to discuss the issue and dig down to its root cause. Does the product owner mistrust the team? If so why? Was the product owner a project manager and falls back into his/her old role? Does the team make unrealistic commitments? Does it fail to manage its tasks properly? What’s your role in this? Do you help the team self-organise? Have you made the product owner aware that his/her behaviour is inappropriate and unhelpful and explained why? You could use an exercise like “Glad-Sad-Mad” to bring out the different perspectives and start investigating the causes.

      Hope this helps!

      • Mark W says:

        Great help, thank you. My role is as Scrum Master. We held a Retro and I think you hit the nail on the head with, “Does the team make unrealistic commitments?”. So in Sprint Planning that followed we took some positive steps to address being unrealistic.
        Meanwhile, do you think either role should ask the “management” type questions I listed in my original post? Is it such a sin in your view?

        • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

          I recommend you see how the changes you have made help the team manage and track its work in the sprint. If there are still issues then address them in the next retrospective. A helpful technique is to ask questions as the ScrumMaster rather than telling people what to do. That’s something you could try out straight away. Hope this helps.

  • Melanie says:

    This is great, thank you.

    As a Product Owner for several years, on several products, I quite often find that there is a conflict between the SM and PO role when there is an assumption that the PO isn’t capable, and somehow needs a huge amount of coaching rather than the PO also having the experience and understanding of agile necessary. It’s interesting to read the reverse – that often people find there is an inexperienced SM in the mix and therefore the PO is taking on more.

    • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

      Thanks for you feedback Melanie. I am glad you found the post helpful.

    • Tim Nesdale says:

      I think the reason that there is often an inexperienced Product Owner is because a great deal of agile software is created by a vendor and therefore the vendor has an experienced and trained up scrum master who has worked on a lot of different projects in a number of different industries (like myself). The Product Owner is from the Clients side and most of the time they are doing this role for the very first time (in our experience) so I have to school them up on their responsibilities and make sure they’re comfortable with their commitments.

      I do disagree with the idea that the PO should write all the user stories and do the backlog grooming. Again I think this is a skill that is gained with experience and an experienced Scrum Master who has a proven track record with their development team knows exactly the format their team expects, they know what they need to be explicit about in their acceptance criteria and what they can take as a given so that they don’t waste time documenting unnecessarily.

      As a scrum master I work very closely with the PO and they are ultimately responsible for the backlog and all of the stories and ideas we commit to but I prefer to be the one that documents them.

      • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

        Hi Tim,

        Thanks for your comment. I share your observation that when product ownership (and product management in general) is new to organisations, they struggle to apply the product owner role effectively. I fully agree that product owner, team, and ScrumMaster should collaboratively work on the product backlog while the product owner provides product leadership. I have written about collaborative backlog grooming in more detail here:

  • Bruce Nix says:

    Great post! I have shared this with one of my new teams and suggested discussing over lunch to collaborate on ways to improve the relationship.

  • John Peltier says:

    I agree with your perspective – the product owner should not be performing scrum master duties. That said: what are your thoughts about agile organizations that have chosen kanban or scrumban, rather than scrum?

    • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

      Thanks for your comment, John. A product owner/manager working with a Kanban team will equally benefit from having an agile coach who advises and coaches the team and who works with the organisation. Do you agree?

  • Jon says:

    Any chance of the same analysis for Business Analyst and Product Owner?
    Of interest please

    • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

      Hi Jon, Thanks for your comment. You can find my thoughts on the business analyst role here: Does this help?

  • Srinath says:

    Nice post. A great Product Owner and a great Scrum Master can forge together a team that delivers great products. Such a team, which delivers value to the customers, would be an asset to any organization.

    • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Srinath. I agree: A product owner and ScrumMaster collaborating well are a great asset.

      • Baptiste says:

        I would say: the team as a whole… The scrum Master alone can do nothing without a good developer team, which he has to be part of by the way.
        From the wording of that comment, I’m a bit worried the dev team is seen as a detail as long as the PO and the SM are OK… Obviously it’s very wrong.

        I guess you agree, buy I thought I’d dump that thought here so that people less engaged in agile get that important point.

        Interesting article, anyway 🙂

        • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

          Hi Baptiste,

          Thanks for your comment. You are right of course: A capable team is required to develop a great product. The point I was trying to make was that product owners should focus on the product. To do this, they need a ScrumMaster/coach at their side who takes care of process, collaboration, and organisational development issues.

          Unfortunately, I find that many product owners and teams either don’t have a ScrumMaster at all or are working with someone who is struggling to fill the role properly – usually because the individual has to play other roles such as being a developer on the team, or because the person lacks the necessary skills and does not have the necessary standing in the organisation. As a consequence, I see product owners take on ScrumMaster responsibilities, which I think is generally a bad idea.

          • Roel van Beek says:

            How can one mitigate the bad idea in: “As a consequence, I see product owners take on ScrumMaster responsibilities, which I think is generally a bad idea.” If there isn’t enough budget or resource to provide for any other solution?

            To provide more insight:
            At the moment I am fulfilling the role of product owner, the engineering team lead isn’t only doing hands on engineering work but also plays the role of the ScrumMaster – in which I sometimes need to step in as he simply doesn’t have the bandwidth.

          • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

            Hi Roel, Thanks for your comment. I suggest you use your next retrospectives to reflect on how to apply the Scrum roles more effectively. The development team may be able, for instance, to take on more of the development responsibilities of the ScrumMaster so that the individual can focus on the ScrumMaster duties. This may require training up some of the team members and sharing the engineering team leads’s skills. You may also have to engage with management to help the decision makers understand why a dedicated and qualified ScrumMaster is important for your product. Hope this helps!

  • Allison says:

    I love this! I am meeting with a group of Product Owners this afternoon, and I think I’ll have them read through this list because it pertains to their needs right now.

    • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

      Thanks for your feedback, Allison. I am glad that you find the post helpful. Good luck with your product owner meeting!

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