Three Roles: The Product Owner, the Development Team Member, and the Scrum Master.

This is the second of a series of introductory posts about Scrum. The previous post discussed the differences between a more traditional long-term planning/management approach, and the more iterative methodology employed by Scrum.

Welcome back! The fact that you stuck around to read this post indicates that you’re interested in learning a little more about how Scrum functions. A great team depends on great team members, and so today’s post – the first of the nitty-gritty posts on how to practice Scrum – discusses the different roles for the participants in the Scrum team. If you read the title, you probably noticed that there are three of these roles. Let’s discuss each of them in turn, with attention to what they do for the team and how they relate to one another.



The Product Owner (PO):

Accountability for the team begins and ends with the PO, and they are typically the most visible members of the team. It’s the PO’s responsibility to select priorities for the team, and to ensure that the other members of the Scrum team are compensated for the work that they do. The PO keeps the list of tasks (also known as the Product Backlog, which will be discussed in more detail in a future post) organized in order to best accomplish the various goals of the team. They are the only person with the authority to dictate priorities for the team.



The Development Team Member (DTM):

These are the people who actually carry out the work. They are technically skilled professionals with the ability to turn the PO’s priorities into usable iterations of the product. The DTMs are self-organized: each member self-selects for the work they wish to contribute and carries it out over the course of the development cycle – It is important to state that in Scrum practice, nobody assigns work to the DTMs, and that the Development Team is never divided into sub-teams.


The Scrum Master (SM):

The SM is simultaneously the referee making sure that Scrum is properly implemented, as well as the mediator that holds the PO and DTMs together. It therefore follows that the SM must be proficient in the principles of Scrum methodology, as well as an effective interpersonal mediator who is able to help the other team members clarify their goals and responsibilities for themselves. The SM helps the PO define and organize the myriad components of the project into a prioritized Product Backlog, and also facilitates technical discussions among the DTMs. Perhaps more than anything else, the SM asks a lot of questions of the other team members. Finally, the SM knows how to get out of the way of the PO and the DTM when they are working effectively.


By this point, you should have a rough understanding of the different roles that Scrum team members can have. As a final, more cautionary note, it’s important to try to keep these roles separate as much as possible – I’ve encountered several effective teams where a DTM served as a SM, but it’s very important to note that when the PO becomes the SM, the result generally winds up being a team suffering from disorganization and, ultimately, lost productivity. I’m sure that with a little attention to responsibilities, you can employ these three roles to keep your team organized, on-task, productive, and happy!

That’s about it for the members of the Scrum team. Next, we’ll discuss two important concepts: User Stories and the Product Backlog. They’re critical for getting the Scrum team organized, so if you’re still interested in making Scrum happen in your team then you won’t want to miss the next post.

These articles are for you! Please don’t hesitate to ask questions or give comments. Let me know what you’d like to see, and what’s unclear – and, in true Scrum fashion, I’ll try to tune the future posts so they’re more interesting, informative, and entertaining for you.