Agile Scrum, Part 2, Roles


In the previous article, you’ll find this Scrum implementation in a nutshell.

This article will dives into the 3 roles in Scrum.

  • Product Owner (PO)
  • Scrum Master (SM)
  • Contributor (CB)

One person is the Product Owner (PO), another person is the Scrum Master (SM) and everyone else are Contributors. It’s important the PO and the SM be different people. Don’t combine these roles into one person. More on why the SM should not also fill the PO role in a later post, but in short, it causes a conflict of interest that will negatively impact the output of the team.

The PO and SM are equals on the hierarchy. The two roles compliment each other. The PO is responsible for the “what” and the SM is responsible for the “how”.

Product Owner, Scrum Master, Contributor Relationship

Contributors are the stars of the show. They create the value. They are depicted above the SM to symbolize servant leadership on the part of the PM. The Contributors stand on the back of the SM, not the other way around.

The Product Owner (PO) Role

The product owner has 3 responsibilities:

  1. Product Vision
  2. Product Backlog
  3. Product Release Plan

The PO is responsible and accountable for defining what will be built (vision), in what priority order. A good PO will be well connected with customers and able to represent their needs articulately.

POs should attend all demos, and retros, religiously. POs should also attend some daily standups, but it’s okay to miss some of these in favor of customer contact. The PO should split his/her time between the team and the customer. A healthy balance is required. When the team is heads down working on their Sprint work, that’s a good time for the PO to connect with customers and solicit feedback. The PO should not miss team demo and retro ceremonies under any circumstances, except out sick or on vacation.

The PO must initiate backlog grooming, as this is one of the PO core responsibilities. The PO must keep the Backlog groomed, this means updating the acceptance criteria and the priority of all the stories in the Backlog. It is the PO’s sole responsibility to do this, and Scrum won’t work if he/she does not fulfill this duty. The PO will need collaboration with the SM, and sometimes Contributors, to get the information needed. The PO must take the initiative to setup the Backlog Grooming meetings to get the input he/she needs to keep the Backlog groomed. This is vitally important.

The Scrum Master (SM) Role

The scrum master (SM) is responsible for:

  1. Maintaining the scrum routine/cadence
  2. Servant leadership
  3. Contribute only when the first two are satisfied

The scrum master (SM) is the servant leader of the contributors. He/she ensures the Contributors have the tools and state of mind to perform the work. The SM is the Scrum evangelist and makes sure all the ceremonies are performed religiously. The SM, with the consult of the Contributors, sizes stories. The SM works with the PO to explain the story size and risks. The SM represents the how. The PO uses this information for prioritization, the what. The SM may also contribute, but not at the expense of SM duties.

The Contributor Role

Contributors are responsible for:

  1. Doing the work
  2. Enthusiastic participation in the Scrum process

Contributors do the work and provide consult to the SM for proper story sizing and planning. It’s important for contributors to be enthusiastic students of the Scrum process.

Don’t underestimate the importance of the Contributor role. Contributors are highly skilled developers that make the product. Without Contributors, no value is created.

The Outcome

A clear understanding of the 3 roles in Scrum allows team members to rely on each other to do their part. The combination of the 3 roles creates a synergy that has been proven to be very effective at rapid development. Although my experience has been with software development, Scrum is used in many industries with similar success.

In the next article, will define Epics, Stories and Tasks and how they fill the Backlog and turn into Sprints.