Many times in my career, I have seen one person sharing multiple roles. When I first entered the workforce in the Information Technology industry, I noticed a lot of positions that were combining multiple roles into one person. “Programmer/analyst” was a common one. Even now, I still see a lot of hybrid “Project Manager/Business Analyst” positions. In Scrum, I am seeing firsthand an alarming number of people who have both the ScrumMaster and Product Owner roles. And this is a definite “no-no”.
This article will provide four reasons why the ScrumMaster and Product Owner roles should not be performed by the same person.
The Product Owner is the voice of the customer or stakeholder. Their job is to understand the customer’s wants and needs, as well as the prioritization of those wants and needs, and represent the customer when communicating with the Development Team. The ScrumMaster, on the other hand, represents the Development Team.
According to a very interesting article from the Scrum Alliance, when a person is both the ScrumMaster and the Product Owner, “the same person is responsible for guarding the team and its process as is responsible for the direction and profitability of the product. While this has even more explicit potential for a conflict of interests, the outcome depends on which of those hats is the more dominant. For example, when a ScrumMaster assumes the role of Product Owner, the lack of someone pushing business priorities can result in technology-focused indulgences or a team pace that is too comfortable. In contrast, a Product Owner who assumes the role of ScrumMaster can go too far the other way seeing this as an opportunity to take direct control of their very own development team, foregoing the technological needs of the project and pushing for a very aggressive, and possibly unsustainable, pace. In both cases, being both Product Owner and ScrumMaster is likely to be a big draw on one person’s time, leading to possible sacrifices in either their stewardship of the team or up-to-date information on the product.” (https://www.scrumalliance.org/community/articles/2008/september/scrum-role-playing)
- Essentially, the ScrumMaster and Product Owner roles are opposing forces. It’s similar to why the US government has a “checks and balances” system to keep the three branches of government balanced and not giving too much power to one branch over the others. The ScrumMaster and Product Owner are intended to be separate roles to keep each role balanced and ensure their effectiveness. The Product Owner represents the customer, and the ScrumMaster represents the Development Team. These are conflicting interests.
- Each role requires full or near-full-time attention. If one person assumes both roles, something will need to be sacrificed, and the quality and effectiveness of that role being performed will suffer.
- If the ScrumMaster also tries to perform the role of Product Owner, they may not have access to the customers to gather valuable feedback. Without feedback, the team simply breaks an invalidated product down into smaller and smaller pieces delivering each incrementally.
- The ScrumMaster may not be an effective voice of the customer to represent their interests to the Development Team. A cohesive vision ensures high-quality work that satisfies the requirements and expectations of the customer.
From a cost perspective, it may make sense for a company to combine both the ScrumMaster and Product Owner roles into a single person, but having two separate individuals assume these roles will increase their effectiveness, help the Development Team to become more successful, and ultimately deliver a better quality product for the customer.