Product Owner and Scrum Master in one
In small agile teams working with Scrum, individual team members often take on multiple tasks and roles. As long as the tasks do not overlap, lead to conflicts or result in too much power for one person, this is generally not a problem. In this context, the question arises to what extent the Product Owner and the Scrum Master can be united in one person. However, it is important to first look at the tasks of these two roles to better understand the issue.
The Product Owner is the one who sets the goal and has a clear understanding of the end product, as they are the customer or their representative in the project. They are responsible for the added value of the product, the return on investment (ROI) and therefore the commercial success. They define clear objectives, the so-called product goal, and create entries in the product backlog. A key question for them is "Where is the project going and what should the product look like in the end?" They are also in constant contact with the customer to incorporate any changes to the vision as quickly as possible. The Product Owner's role also includes prioritising the different features of a product, making the product backlog visible to all team members and ensuring that everyone understands what is required. In addition, the Product Owner is responsible for declaring a Sprint complete and accepting the increments produced during the Sprint. The Product Owner's responsibilities are many and varied.
The Scrum Master also has a number of responsibilities. The Scrum Master is the person in the project who ensures that the team can work smoothly and efficiently. It is very important that everyone understands Scrum. They ensure that Scrum is implemented correctly and that the theory, rules, practices and values are understood and applied correctly. This includes motivating, facilitating and coaching the team as needed. They also remove any obstacles to the development process so that the team can focus on completing their tasks, the current Sprint or the overall product without distractions. They also ensure that the working relationship between the Product Owner and the team remains positive. In addition to tasks related to the team and its smooth running, the Scrum Master also supports the Product Owner. They can help to set the product goal and the product backlog, and to prioritise it.
Combining the two roles?
This brings us to the first question: Does it make sense to combine these two roles in one person? Most experts would say no. And why is that? When both roles are performed by the same person, an important element of collaboration is lost. Experts like Mike Cohn have reported that in most cases where the roles of Scrum Master and Product Owner are combined, the results are very disappointing. One reason is that the combination of these two roles gives a lot of power to one person. As shown above, both roles already include a variety of tasks that involve a lot of decision making power. Without separation, there is an unequal power relationship. But not only for this reason should the roles remain separate, but also because the number of tasks would simply be too great. Many tasks would fall by the wayside and the project could quickly become uncontrollable. In addition, the two roles require different personal qualities. Someone who is well suited for the role of Product Owner and can steer the project in the right direction might not necessarily be a good coach as a Scrum Master.
Some are also convinced that a certain tension between Product Owner and Scrum Master is necessary and that this tension can add value to the project. The Product Owner has the success of the project in mind and therefore always demands more ( in the context of the scope of the project) from the team. More features, more functionality, more implementations, and as fast as possible. The Scrum Master, on the other hand, has to protect the team from obstacles and distractions. They have to make sure that the processes run as smoothly as possible and that Scrum is applied optimally. If one person is supposed to represent these two interests, a conflict arises. Fulfilling both roles at the same time means that the person has to represent two interests that are not contradictory, but can sometimes get in each other's way.
Let's look at the basic Scrum framework, which includes only three roles: the Scrum Master, the Product Owner and the Developers. There is a simple but essential logic behind this structure: Each role is essential and contributes its unique function to the overall success. The idea of combining the roles of Scrum Master and Product Owner contradicts the core philosophy of Scrum and carries the risk of causing projects to fail - even with few people involved. Therefore, the decision to merge these roles in order to save resources should be carefully considered, as it is very questionable whether these savings really pay off.
Keywords: Project management, Scrum, Product Owner, Scrum Master