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Differences between roles in Scrum

Goran Barunić, Mid Software Developer / Scrum master
16.11.2023.

While working as a Scrum master, I was repeatedly asked or heard questions like: “What are the responsibilities of a developer in Scrum?”, or: “What does the Product Owner do?”, or: ”What do you do as a Scrum master”. So, in this article I will try to demystify these three roles in Scrum.

Since there are bound to be some readers of this article who do not yet know Scrum or have never heard of it, we should first talk about what Scrum is and what it is all about.

What is Scrum?

Scrum is a popular framework for agile project management widely used in software development but can also be applied in other industries. It is a lightweight and flexible process that focuses on delivering high quality products incrementally.

SCRUM process

The Scrum framework consists of three roles: Product Owner, Scrum Master and Development Team.

  • The Product Owner is responsible for defining and prioritising the Product Backlog, a list of features and requirements for the product.
  • The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring that the team adheres to the Scrum process and removes any obstacles that might prevent the team from achieving its goals.
  • The Development Team is responsible for delivering a potentially deliverable product increment at the end of each sprint.

The Scrum framework also consists of four events: sprint, sprint planning, daily Scrum and sprint review.

  • Sprint is a time-limited period of 1-4 weeks during which the Development Team creates a potentially deliverable product increment.
  • Sprint planning is a meeting where the Development Team and the Product Owner work together to define the sprint goal and select items from the Product Backlog to work on during the sprint.
  • Daily Scrum is a short meeting that takes place every day when the development team synchronises their work and identifies any obstacles.
  • Sprint review is a meeting at the end of each sprint where the Development Team presents the product increment to the Product Owner and other stakeholders. Scrum emphasises frequent communication, collaboration and transparency between team members and stakeholders.

The framework is designed to be flexible and adaptable to changing requirements and priorities, making it well suited for projects with changing requirements.

Now that we know what Scrum is, we can take a closer look at the differences between roles in Scrum.

Scrum Master

SCRUM master

The Scrum Master has a key role in the Scrum framework and is responsible for ensuring that the Scrum process is understood, followed and continuously improved.

The Scrum Master is a servant leader who facilitates Scrum events and helps the team and organisation adopt Scrum and agile practices.

The Scrum Master's key responsibilities include:

  • Facilitating Scrum events: The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring that the team conducts effective sprint planning, daily scrum, sprint review and sprint retrospective meetings.
  • Removing impediments: The Scrum Master helps the team identify and remove any obstacles that prevent them from achieving their goals. The Scrum Master works to ensure that the team has the resources, support and environment it needs to be successful.
  • Coaching the team: The Scrum Master helps the team understand and adopt Scrum principles and practices, and coaches them on agile development practices such as test-driven development, continuous integration and pair programming.
  • Protecting the team: The Scrum Master shields the team from external distractions and interruptions, and helps them focus on their goals and commitments.
  • Facilitating collaboration: The Scrum Master helps the team to collaborate effectively with the Product Owner and stakeholders, and fosters a culture of transparency and trust.
  • Improving the process: The Scrum Master is responsible for the continuous improvement of the Scrum process and the team's performance. This includes facilitating retrospectives to identify areas for improvement and experimenting with new practises and techniques to optimise the productivity and quality of the team.

The Scrum Master plays a crucial role in the success of Scrum projects. The Master helps the team to work more effectively and efficiently, and to continuously improve the process and the results.

Product Owner

product owner scrum

Here are some of the most important tasks of the Product Owner:

  • Setting the product vision: The Product Owner is responsible for creating and communicating a clear and compelling product vision that aligns with business goals and customer needs. The product vision provides direction to the team and helps to ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals.
  • Creating and prioritising the Product Backlog: The Product Owner is responsible for creating and maintaining the Product Backlog. Product Backlog is a list of features and requirements that need to be developed to create the product. The Product Owner prioritises the Backlog based on customer needs, business value and technical feasibility.
  • Collaboration with stakeholders: The Product Owner works closely with stakeholders, including customers, users, business partners and the Development Team, to understand their needs and gather feedback on the product. The Product Owner incorporates this feedback into the Product Backlog and uses it to prioritise the team's work.
  • Making trade-offs: The Product Owner is responsible for making trade-offs between features, quality, time and cost to ensure that the team delivers the most valuable product increment at the end of each sprint.
  • Accepting or rejecting work: The Product Owner is the only person who can accept or reject work done by the team. The Product Owner ensures that each item in the Product Backlog meets the Definition of Done and is consistent with the product vision.
  • The Master provides guidance and instructions: The Product Owner provides guidance and direction to the development team, answers questions, and clarifies requirements as needed. The Product Owner works closely with the Scrum Master to ensure that the team is working efficiently and effectively.

The Product Owner plays a critical role in ensuring that the team is working on the most valuable features and delivering a high-quality product that meets customer and stakeholder requirements. The Product Owner is the voice of the customer and works closely with the development team to ensure that they deliver value with each product increment.

Developer

developer scrum

The role of the developer in Scrum is a key role that represents the development team responsible for building and delivering the product.

Here are some of the key responsibilities of a developer:

  • Working with the Product Owner: Developers work closely with the Product Owner to understand the requirements and user stories in the Product Backlog. They clarify any ambiguities in the requirements and provide feedback to ensure that the Backlog items are well defined and feasible.
  • Developing the product: Developers are responsible for designing, coding, testing and delivering the product increment. They work together as a self-organising and cross-functional team to develop high-quality and valuable software.
  • Estimating work: Developers estimate the effort required to complete each item in the Product Backlog, using techniques such as story points, hours, or t-shirt sizes. These estimates are used to prioritise and plan the work in each sprint.
  • Participating in Scrum events: Developers participate in all Scrum events, including sprint planning, daily Scrum, sprint review and sprint retrospective. They provide status updates, share their progress and collaborate with the rest of the team.
  • Ensuring quality: Developers are responsible for ensuring the quality of the product increment. They write automated tests, conduct code reviews and adhere to coding standards and best practices to ensure that the code is maintainable, scalable and secure.
  • Continuous improvement: Developers continuously improve their skills and knowledge and look for opportunities to learn and grow. They share their knowledge and experience with the rest of the team and mentor, and coach younger developers.

The role of developers is critical to the success of Scrum projects. Developers work together as a self-organising and cross-functional team to create high-quality and valuable software. They are responsible for the continuous improvement of their skills and knowledge and for ensuring the quality of product development.

Now that we have gone through each role individually, we can see differences between them.

Differences between roles in Scrum

Scrum Master: The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring that the Scrum framework is implemented correctly and that the team adheres to the agreed Scrum processes.

The Master is the facilitator for all Scrum events, including daily Scrum, sprint planning, sprint review and sprint retrospective. The Scrum Master removes any obstacles preventing the team from making progress towards the Sprint goal. The Master is also responsible for coaching the team on the Scrum framework and Agile principles and helping the team to continuously improve their processes and practices.

Product Owner: The Product Owner is responsible for creating and maintaining the Product Backlog. This is a prioritised list of requirements that the development team will work on in each sprint. The Product Owner is the key stakeholder and represents the company, the customers and the users, working with stakeholders to understand the product vision and goals and to ensure that the elements of the Product Backlog are valuable, achievable and aligned with business goals. The Product Owner also participates in Sprint Planning to help the team understand the requirements and priorities for the upcoming sprint and in the sprint review to provide feedback on the delivered product increment.

Developers: Developers are the members of the team responsible for delivering the product increment. They are self-organising and cross-functional, meaning they have all the skills needed to design, build, test and deliver the product. Developers work together to determine the best approach to achieving the sprint goal and break down the items in the Product Backlog into smaller, manageable tasks. They estimate the effort required for each task and track progress during the sprint. Developers are also responsible for ensuring that the product increment is of high quality and meets the Definition of Done.

Overall, the roles of Scrum Master, Product Owner and Developers are different but complementary. They work together as a team to achieve the goals of the sprint and deliver a high-quality product increment that meets the requirements of the stakeholders.

The differences between the SCRUM roles of Scrum Master, Developers and Product Owner in brief:

Scrum Master: Ensures that everyone adheres to the Scrum process, helps the team overcome obstacles and coaches the team on how to improve their work.

Product Owner: They represent the company, customers and users and are responsible for deciding which features the team should work on next.

Developers: They are the ones who actually build the product. They work together to decide how each feature should be built and make sure everything works properly.

Overall, these roles work together to make sure the team builds the right product, builds it well and adheres to the Scrum process.

Conclusion

In summary, Scrum's iterative approach to development fosters adaptability, ensuring projects stay on course with evolving requirements. Regular collaboration and transparent communication enhance team cohesion and problem-solving. The emphasis on continuous improvement helps with promoting innovation and boosts overall project efficiency. Ultimately, Scrum provides a dynamic framework that not only delivers successful outcomes but also promotes a collaborative and adaptive mindset within development teams.

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