If you’re reading this you’ve probably recently been told that your team is now “agile” and will be using something called Scrum. Maybe you drew straws and someone pulled the Scrum Master stick (poor guy), someone else got the Product Owner stick, and everyone else is a developer. But simply changing a few titles will not make a team Agile. We must change the ways that we act, communicate with each other, and prioritize our work. Applying the principles of Agile into your workflow through clearly defined roles and responsibilities will help provide more value to the customer and to your company and we can elevate ourselves to be autonomous, self-organizing, and eventually transcendent.
The fastest way I know to describe the three roles of Scrum:
Product Owner – Build the Right Thing
Development Team – Build the Thing Right
Scrum Master – Build the Thing Fast
The Product Owner is ultimately responsible for making sure we are building the right thing, and delivering the most value with our efforts. He is responsible for understanding the needs and desires of stakeholders, customers, and management, and then communicating that understanding to the development team. He does this by producing a prioritized backlog. The Product Owner acts as a focal point between external stakeholders, customers, management, and internal development team members and the scrum master.
He is ultimately responsible for distilling and organizing all of that knowledge into the prioritized product backlog. This is a big job, and a lot of responsibility, and the Product Owner does not have to make these decisions alone. He should work together with a business analyst, technical analyst, and functional analyst from the development team that will help him prioritize and make decisions. The best way the Product Owner can provide value to the company and the customer is by generating and continuously curating that prioritized Product Backlog, and thereby making sure we are building the right thing.
The responsibilities of the Scrum Master include doing whatever it takes to build the thing fast by improving and enforcing the process. She works closely with the team, the product owner, and management to understand the needs of the team and removes any roadblocks they might encounter. The Scrum Master is one part Sheepdog, one part Secretary, and one part Servant. As the sheepdog she encourages continuous improvement of the Scrum process within the team by providing coaching and insight on how best to implement Agile principles. She herds the team towards the ultimate goal of transcendence.
She enforces the process and keeps the team safely on the right track. As one part secretary, the Scrum Master is the facilitator for all the meetings and Scrum ceremonies we hold as part of the process. She makes sure these meetings happen and that they stay on topic and are productive. Last, as a Servant, the Scrum Master is ready and willing to do anything that the team needs in order to stay productive. She shields the team from unnecessary distractions and eliminates roadblocks that are preventing team members from delivering their work or taking away from the quality of that work. As the Sheepdog, Secretary, and Servant, the Scrum Master is able to help the team deliver value to the customer and the company fast.
The development team is responsible for building the thing right by ensuring it is designed and implemented at the highest quality level. They are highly functioning, cross-functional, and self-organizing. They have all the tools and personnel they need to take an item out of the well organized and prioritized product backlog, and then build it, test it, and have it ready as a potentially shippable product increment. The development team is responsible for providing the highest quality product possible and being experts in the implementation from idea to reality. They work with the Product Owner and Scrum Master regularly in daily stand-up meetings, Sprint Planning, Backlog Refinement, Sprint Reviews, and Demos to provide consistent feedback on the product. This communication loop allows the team to respond to changing requirements quickly. They are responsible for building the thing right, in the best way possible for the customer and the company.
Ultimately, it’s not important what you call these three roles, what’s important is that the responsibilities are being fulfilled. One of the most powerful aspects of Scrum is the ability to tailor the process to meet your needs. These 3 roles are fundamental to making the process work, so make sure that your team is fulfilling all of these responsibilities and that they are clearly defined.