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Every Great Product Owner Needs a Great Scrum Master

Published on 26th March 2014

Last Updated on: June 14, 2021

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 the 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 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 the 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 following pictures illustrates:

Scrum Master and process success

Succeeding as a 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 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:

Service Details
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
Product owner coaching
  • Help the product owner choose the right agile product management techniques and tools.
  • Support the product owner and tackle product owner empowerment issues.
  • Facilitate decisions and help the product owner, stakeholders, and dev team members reach 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, and it’s only fair that your Scrum Master has expectations about your work. The table below describes the expectations in more detail:

Service Details
Product  Strategy
Product Details
  • Proactively work on the product backlog. Update it with new insights and 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.

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