There are three roles in the Scrum framework. These are ideally co-located to ensure optimal communication among team members. While many organizations have other roles involved with defining and delivering the product, Scrum defines only these three.
The product owner, representing the product’s stakeholders and the voice of the customer (or may represent the desires of a committee), is responsible for delivering good business results. Hence, the product owner is accountable for the product backlog and for maximizing the value that the team delivers. The product owner defines the product in customer-centric terms (typically user stories), adds them to the Product Backlog, and prioritizes them based on importance and dependencies. A scrum team should have only one product owner (although a product owner could support more than one team). This role should not be combined with that of the scrum master. The product owner should focus on the business side of product development and spend the majority of their time liaising with stakeholders and the team. The product owner should not dictate how the team reaches a technical solution, but rather will seek consensus among the team members. This role is crucial and requires a deep understanding of both sides: the business and the engineers (developers) in the scrum team. Therefore a good product owner should be able to communicate what the business needs, ask why they need it (because there may be better ways to achieve that), and convey the message to all stakeholders including the Development Team using a technical language, as required. The Product Owner uses Scrum’s empirical tools to manage highly complex work, while controlling risk and achieving value.
Communication is a core responsibility of the product owner. The ability to convey priorities and empathize with team members and stakeholders is vital to steer product development in the right direction. The product owner role bridges the communication gap between the team and its stakeholders, serving as a proxy for stakeholders to the team and as a team representative to the overall stakeholder community.
As the face of the team to the stakeholders, the following are some of the communication tasks of the product owner to the stakeholders:
- Define and announce releases.
- Communicate delivery and team status.
- Share progress during governance meetings.
- Share significant RIDAs (risks, impediments, dependencies, and assumptions) with stakeholders.
- Negotiate priorities, scope, funding, and schedule.
- Ensure that the product backlog is visible, transparent and clear.
Empathy is a key attribute for a product owner to have—the ability to put one’s self in another’s shoes. A product owner converses with different stakeholders, who have a variety of backgrounds, job roles, and objectives. A product owner must be able to see from these different points of view. To be effective, it is wise for a product owner to know the level of detail the audience needs. The development team needs thorough feedback and specifications so they can build a product up to expectation, while an executive sponsor may just need summaries of progress. Providing more information than necessary may lose stakeholder interest and waste time. A direct means of communication is the most preferred by seasoned agile product owners.
A product owner’s ability to communicate effectively is also enhanced by being skilled in techniques that identify stakeholder needs, negotiate priorities between stakeholder interests, and collaborate with developers to ensure effective implementation of requirements.
The development team has from three to nine members who carry out all tasks required to build increments of valuable output every sprint.
While team members are referred to as developers in some literature, the term refers to anyone who plays a role in the development and support of the system or product, and can include researchers, architects, designers, data specialists, statisticians, analysts, engineers, programmers, and testers, among others. However, due to the confusion that can arise when some people do not feel the term ‘developer’ applies to them, they are often referred to just as team members.
The team is self-organizing. While no work should come to the team except through the product owner, and the scrum master is expected to protect the team from too much distraction, the team should still be encouraged to interact directly with customers and/or stakeholders to gain maximum understanding and immediacy of feedback.
Scrum is facilitated by a scrum master, who is accountable for removing impediments to the ability of the team to deliver the product goals and deliverables. The scrum master is not a traditional team lead or project manager but acts as a buffer between the team and any distracting influences. The scrum master ensures that the scrum framework is followed. The scrum master helps to ensure the team follows the agreed processes in the Scrum framework, often facilitates key sessions, and encourages the team to improve. The role has also been referred to as a team facilitator or servant-leader to reinforce these dual perspectives.
The core responsibilities of a scrum master include (but are not limited to):
- Helping the product owner maintain the product backlog in a way that ensures the needed work is well understood so the team can continually make forward progress
- Helping the team to determine the definition of done for the product, with input from key stakeholders
- Coaching the team, within the Scrum principles, in order to deliver high-quality features for its product
- Promoting self-organization within the team
- Helping the scrum team to avoid or remove impediments to its progress, whether internal or external to the team
- Facilitating team events to ensure regular progress
- Educating key stakeholders on Agile and Scrum principles
- Coaching the development team in self-organization and cross-functionality
The scrum master helps people and organizations adopt empirical and lean thinking, leaving behind hopes for certainty and predictability.
One of the ways the scrum master role differs from a project manager is that the latter may have people management responsibilities and the scrum master does not. A scrum master provides a limited amount of direction since the team is expected to be empowered and self-organizing. Scrum does not formally recognize the role of project manager, as traditional command and control tendencies would cause difficulties.
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