True or False: Product Owner and Scrum Master can be the same person.

Do you want to know if the Scrum Master and Product Owner can be the same person?

Today on Everyday Design, I'll tackle the question, "Can the Scrum Masterer also be the Product Owner?"

It's a common question I get a lot. Here's what this video will cover.

  • Compare the roles of Product Owner vs. Scrum Masters.
  • Explain the difficulty of playing both Scrum Master and Product Owner roles.
  • Explore alternative solutions to play both roles simultaneously.


Reflection Questions

  • What are your goals as you learn about the roles of Scrum Master and Product Owner?
  • Are you looking to grow your skills in a current role or land a new role?
  • What is your plan for learning the basics of Scrum?

If you are interested in learning Scrum or teaching it to your team, you'll want to check out Everyday Scrum. It's a guide for everyday people to learn Scrum and is written intentionally to be accessible to those practicing Scrum outside the software development space.

You may also find these infographics helpful as a summaries of the Scrum Master and Product Owner roles.

Samantha the Scrum Master
Samantha the Scrum Master
Owen the Product Owner
Owen the Product Owner

If you want to explore more Scrum related content, I have lot's of Agile and Scrum posts for you and I've highlighted a few of them below.

Scrum Basics

Scrum Roles

Scrum Books

What does it take to pass the PSM?

The Professional Scrum Master is a great first step to those learning to practice Scrum.

Our affordable self paced course will prepare you to pass the test with confidence.


Now the scrum master though... I feel like a little scrum master and product owner puppets here.

Hey, welcome to Everyday Design. Today we are talking about simultaneously playing the role of Scrum master and product owner. Okay, maybe you're a Scrum Master on a team, and you don't have a product owner, and they're like, Hey, can you do that too? Or maybe you're a product owner without a scrum master and kind of find yourself in the same situation.

Either way, the role of both Scrum master and product owner are critical to the success of the team. So when one role is missing, we start looking for solutions. Which leads to the question Can the same person be both the Scrum Master and the product owner? And today, I'm going to talk about that, why it's not a good idea, why what alternatives you have and how to navigate if you just get stuck and you can't get out of it.

All right. I get it, though. If that's if that's the situation you find yourself in. You do need. The team needs both roles, but it's just not it's not feasible. It's not. Well it's feasible for the short term, maybe, but not for the long term. And the reason it's not just overworking, because they're both too full time roles. So overworking, that's a real problem there.

But it's more the context switching between two different mindsets and two different approaches because the role of the product owner and Scrum Master are actually designed to to be different and to actually create tension with each other. And that's the hold, hold balance between one another, too, so they can focus on the team delivering the most value. Okay.

So what happens, though, is if you play that role, you end up in tension with yourself. And we'll talk more about that in a minute. But that's another something you want. Okay. Let's let's kind of let's lean into each of the roles a little bit so we see how they're different and why they don't work well to wear those hats.

At the same moment, a product owner, they're really focused on delivering as much value as possible. They're trying to get on time delivery of critical features of a product, meet significant milestones. Really, it is. It's all about delivering and maximizing that value. They know the Scrum team needs to work well to deliver the value. It's not that they don't care about the Scrum team, but they are more product focused and team mindful.

Now the Scrum Master though on the I feel like a little scrum master and a product owner puppets here, the scrum master on the other hand, they focus on the health and the effectiveness of the team. They check to see if the work that's being asked to be done matches what the team's capacity and velocity allow for. They remove obstacles and clarify requirements so the team can function well because they know an effective team delivers good value. Again, they're more team focused and product mindful. So product owner is product focused, team mindful, scrum master team focused, product mindful. Does that makes sense? So the Scrum Master protects the team's health by balancing the product owner's drive to complete the project with the team's overall effectiveness.

So see how they work together. They create balance, but that creates tension between them because they're both pulling on those two things in. And because of that, actually, the team as a whole stays aligned and moves towards the vision, which is awesome. But the other, it's not just your own capacity and your own like wellbeing is trying to hold that tension all inside.

The other big issue with playing both roles is that it decreases the agency of the team because the team, a scrum team, is designed to be a self-organizing team, meaning that they they decide how to get the work done because you see, again, remember the product owner, they're focused on developing the product and the scrum master is focused on the functioning of the team.

And so when the same person plays both of those, you have someone who's focused on the product and the team, both the people and the output, what happens, they become the boss. And again, that is a problem because Scrum is designed not to really have a boss, but to have a self-organized team that has the agency and the autonomy to go, okay, product owner, you told us where we need to go. Scrum Master, you're helping us do it, but we're going to decide how is the best way to get there. And so when, when one person holds both those roles, it's really easy for the development team to begin to look to that person for not just what to do, but how to do it. And in the end, this makes that team less effective, less agile, and this is most the most dangerous for teams who don't have a lot of experience being self organizing.

Maybe they've just begun implementing Scrum, and they're kind of used to having a boss who tells them what to do. And unfortunately, that's also the most common time to not have both roles is when you have a new team being established. Okay, so we've been real clear we don't want to play both of these roles. Okay. What do we do?

How do we avoid that? Well, to share a little bit of my experience, a couple of years ago, I was helping implement Scrum across a number of creative teams within the larger creative department of a larger global nonprofit. So you have these distributed teams in the middle of COVID. That was fun. And we're teaching everyone Scrum and helping them apply it and practice it.

During that, we had a lot of gaps as we were training up people. At one point I was a Scrum Master, at another point I was a product owner. Then I did play Scrum Master and product owner again, not great. At one point I was a Scrum Master on the production team or development team. I was a product owner on the development team at the same time, and I was a scrum master for multiple scrum teams simultaneously.

Okay, that was a lot of things. All that to say out of all of those combos, they're each doable to different degrees. And I've written an article about like, Hey, what do you do when you're enough people that's in the description? Check that out if that's where you're living. But again, the product owner, scrum master combo, not the one you want to do.

So if you but if you find yourself in this spot where, hey, we don't we don't have someone to play these roles, what other alternatives do we have? Okay. Well, some of those combos that I mentioned, you can bring someone up from your development team, say, hey, can you step in and play this Scrum Master role? I'll teach you. Or can you step up and play the product owner role? the scrum master

One might be probably easier, but it depends. It depends on the person because different people are going to thrive differently in those roles. Another option is if, especially if you're missing just the Scrum Master, it's looking, Hey, do we have another team with a especially an experienced grandmaster who can play be the scrum master for both teams? That's honestly the easiest combo for someone to do because they're doing the same kind of work.

They're doing it in two spaces and don't they don't have to actually learn how to do something different. They just have to learn some some different time management and communication skills to be able to handle that extra communication. Being a product owner for two teams really probably means you're a product owner for two products and that that's not going out.

All right. All right. So but what if what if you just can't get away from what have you watching this video because you've already been told you are now the product owner and scrum master. Good luck. Okay. So my first advice is avoid it, which we've already kind of covered. But again, if you can avoid it, talk to your boss.

I've written an article about why this doesn't work. It's done in the description. Share that with them. Help them see that this isn't a good idea. Okay. But still, if you can't do that, if you're having to practice it, be really clear about which hat you're wearing when you interact with the team. So when you're the product owner and you should say something like, Hey as the product owner, I think this is really important.

Or if you're looking at looking out for how the team functions or the capacity or the way they're practicing scrum. Hey as the Scrum Master. I want us to not forget this. And that's going to get kind of exhausting to qualify most of your statements, but it's really critical to know for the team to be able to understand and interpret what you're saying, because it helps you avoid my my third piece of advice, which is don't become the boss again as the scrum master and the product owner, you really need to help the team be autonomous, be self organizing, and it's just going to be so easy to become the boss.

So just be really cautious with that. And fourthly, I would encourage you to train a replacement, find someone who can do one of these two roles and begin training them. In the description. You'll actually find a link to a guide that I've written for just everyday people learning Scrum, and so I've try to make it really accessible. So if you have a member of your development team, do you think, hey, they could probably be the scrum master, they could be a product owner or even really it's great for your team to go through to just understand Scrum better.

They're going to all function better. But yeah, check it out. It's written for people who aren't just in the software development space. If you're in software development, it'll still be really helpful. But I tried to write it for a broader audience because most of the content out there is written just for software developers. So this is written for people who maybe you're doing creative design like I was helping those teams, or maybe you're in content creation or marketing or even I talk about how in my own life I have applied it to educating my kids or doing DIY projects around my house or my professional or personal development.

So you can apply Scrum to all sorts of things. All right, come back. Now, what if you find yourself in this spot? So don't so don't get stuck in both roles. You don't want to be in tension with yourself. That's no fun. You don't want to hinder the effectiveness of your team. So if you can avoid it, do that.

If you can't be really clear, don't be the boss. I know what it feels like. I feel your pain, but there is a way forward. So thanks for watching. I hope you found this video helpful. If you have questions, feel free to throw those in the comments we can talk about there and don't forget to like and subscribe.

Thanks. See you next time.

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Scrum master role

What is a scrum master?

The Scrum Master is a master of process and an empowerer of people as they focus on maximizing the impact of the development team. They support the team by removing obstacles and representing Scrum to the rest of the organization. 

Learn more about the roles and responsibilities of a scrum master. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

Why is a scrum master called a servant leader?

A servant leader puts others’ needs first. The Scrum Master provides the team with guidance and direction (where and why, but not what and how). This approach allows the team to work with a healthy level of autonomy and agency and ensures they have the mastery and purpose needed to do their work.

Explore what it means to be a scrum master. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

Why is a scrum master important?

They act as a mirror helping the team see where they are and how things are going. The scrum master protects the team’s health by balancing the product owner’s drive to complete the product with the team's long-term effectiveness.

Learn more about the role of a scrum master. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

Can scrum masters work remotely?

A scrum master can definitely be remote, but with a caveat. This situation works best when the whole team is distributed. The scrum master's effectiveness will decrease if the rest of the group is co-located and they are the only remote member. 

Explore what it means to be a scrum master. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

Can one person be the Scrum Master for multiple teams?

This combo is possible, depending on the experience of the teams and the frequency of obstacles you need to help remove. I’ve been the scrum master for two brand new scrum teams simultaneously. It was a bit more work at first because so much teaching was going on, though it eventually leveled out once the teams learned their new rhythm.

Learn more about what to do if you don’t have all the roles for a scrum team. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

Product owner

What is a product owner?

They serve as the inflection point between the development team and stakeholders. They set the vision for the product and prioritize all product-related work.

Learn more about the roles and responsibilities of a product owner. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

What does a product owner do each day?

They accomplish this goal through 5 habits:

  1. Stakeholder Relationships and Synthesis
  2. Backlog Refinement
  3. Road Mapping
  4. Sprint Vision and Goals
  5. Inspection

Learn more about what it looks like to be a product owner. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

Scrum roles

What are the roles in scrum?

There are three roles in Scrum:

  1. Scrum Master 
  2. Product Owner
  3. Development Team

Learn more about the scrum roles. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

What if I don’t have all the scrum roles on my team?

You really can’t run Scrum without a product owner or scrum master, so someone will likely have to wear multiple hats. Here are some recommended combos:

  • One Scrum Master for multiple teams
  • Scrum Master + Development Team member
  • Product Owner + Development Team member

A combo you want to avoid is being both the Product Owner and Scrum Master at the same time.

Learn more about what to do if you don’t have all the scrum team roles. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

Who are the stakeholders in scrum?

A scrum team has stakeholders on two sides.

  1. Organizational leaders.
  2. Customers or end-users.

Success depends on identifying and serving the goals and motivations of both groups of stakeholders. The product owner is responsible for harmonizing and prioritizing the needs of both.

Learn more about the different scrum roles. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

Is an agile coach a scrum role?

Often an agile coach serves as someone who can come in from the outside to help an organization evaluate their practice of scrum or implement it for the first time. 

An agile coach should also have competency around agile practices beyond just scrum.

Learn more about the roles in scrum or the difference between scrum and agile. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

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