As a continuation of my earlier article, WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PROJECT MANAGER AND A PRODUCT MANAGER?, this article takes a look at the two roles of Product Owner and The Scrum Master and compares the two.
The Product Owner
The Product Owner is a role on an Agile team responsible for defining the product requirements, creating user stories and prioritizing the backlog. In some organizations, there are both Product Owners and Product Managers. As you can guess, the Product Owner and the Product Manager have very similar roles. Both roles are responsible for the overall success and delivery of the ‘Product’, but the Product Manager is methodology agnostic whereas the Product Owner is focused on an Agile team’s development work. In a previous engagement, I took care of managing the backlog, and prioritizing the tasks for the team and making sure there was a common understanding of each requirement as the Product Owner. My Product Manager on the client side was responsible for what we produced, and we worked closely together to manage the backlog. He set the direction, and I took it to the execution level. Looking at it another way the Product Manager is can be more strategic and outward looking whereas the Product Owner is more tactical, and team focused.
In some organizations there is only one role, and the product owner (or manager) not only understands the product roadmap, they create it. They not only understand the customer’s needs, they can articulate it into requirements or user stories. They are responsible for setting the path, direction and priorities of the development team, but they also must be able to articulate the needs in enough detail that they can be built.
The Scrum Master
The Scrum Master has been called the Servant Leader of the team. One could argue that most of the product roles fit that description to a certain degree. The Scrum Master is the chief facilitator of the team’s success. They coach, mentor, remove blockers or impediments, and shield the team from outside interference. As an expert and facilitator (“Master”) in Agile and Scrum, they coach, mentor, and facilitate the ceremonies and activities of the sprint (sprint planning, daily stand ups, sprint reviews and retrospectives.) A good Scrum Master prioritizes the day by removing blockers to the team’s success – whether it is access to the necessary tools or equipment, getting clarity on requirements, or even bringing in lunch during crunch time. This includes shielding off interference from well-intentioned Product Owners, or other stakeholders to allow the team to focus on the work at hand.
The final distinction, however, is that the Scrum Master is the facilitator of the Agile Scrum methodology, making sure that the team adheres to its process. In true Agile, the scope of an effort is fluid: there is no real “change request” to manage, but there is a method that should be followed to enable success.
Many different roles – Many different goals
The roles of Product Owner and Scrum Master (and as discussed in an earlier article Product Manager, and Project Manager) are distinct roles and have distinct applications. They are best suited to be handled by an individual as their roles and goals are different. While it is never ideal, in some cases these roles will be combined in one person. However, it is important to know what role you are performing and where your responsibilities lie if you are asked to take this on.