Agile Scrum Roles – 3 Roles that Make or Break Scrum

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One of Scrum’s most important aspects is the roles assigned to the people who are working according to this Agile framework. This article will look at the different Agile Scrum roles in a Scrum team, as well as the competencies and responsibilities associated with them.

If you’re new to Agile and Scrum and want to understand what they are and why they’re important, you can find out about them in this article.

Three roles have become synonymous with Agile but, more specifically, Scrum practices.

The 3 Agile Scrum Roles

  • Scrum Master;
  • Product Owner;
  • Development Team;

First and foremost, it’s essential to stick to these roles and only these roles. Doing so prevents any misunderstandings, stops barriers, and silos from being created, and promotes cooperation and communication inside the Scrum team.

The 5 Essential Characteristics of a Scrum Team

There are five characteristics for Scrum teams that are vital if the group wants to be successful.

  • Self-Organized. All team members must manage their own efforts to complete the stories they have been assigned. In Agile Scrum, there is no Team Leader or Line Manager. Everybody must commit to taking responsibility for their own activities and contribute to the success of the team. If one fails, everybody fails.
  • Cross-functional. All team members must possess all required knowledge and skills to deliver a service or product that is well done and ready to use. A specialist can be called on when necessary, but only as a coach who shares their knowledge with the team to fill a specific skill gap.
  • Business Vision. The Product Owner represents the ‘voice of the customer’ and should communicate the customer’s needs to the Scrum Master and Development Team. Representing these needs is usually a full-time job.
  • No Line Manager. The Scrum Master functions as a coach to the Development Team and also works on removing any barriers the team faces.
  • Maximum of 9 Team Members. The team should cover all of the required skills to deliver the final product with only nine team members. This group size is ideal for collaborating to create the product and/or the service.

Product Owner Role

One thing is clear: every team MUST have a Product Owner to provide the business vision and requirements for the service and/or product. Imagine if a team only developed services and/or products based on technical requirements without considering the customer’s needs? In the beginning, it would probably work, but in the long term, this is unsustainable because the features will not meet the customer’s needs and desires. Who is going to pay the bill?

The Product Owner will build the bridge between the Business and the Technical Teams or, in other words, the Scrum Teams. There is one Product Owner for each product or service, and only one. She/he will represent the customer’s voice and help maximize the value of the project, product, or service. The role of the Product Owner does not necessarily require technical knowledge, but the Product Owner must be competent in several other areas, including:

  • Service Level Management

Management of deadlines and an understanding of best practice methods will help a Product Owner. The whole team is responsible for delivering the features while keeping to the deadline. But it is the Product Owner that will perform the negotiations with the customers.

  • Product or Service Planning

Management of the Product Backlog is a fundamental skill that must be developed for those aspiring to become a Product Owner. Of course, the Scrum Master and Development Team will attend and evaluate the Sprint Planning sessions, but the responsibility of maintaining the Product Backlog still belongs to the Product Owner.

  • Architecture Design and Application Design

This skill is not quite as important as the others on this list. Still, real-life experience has shown that when a business person possesses at least a basic level of technical knowledge, it helps in defining better requirements and goals.

  • Needs Identification

The Product Owner is responsible for understanding the requirements for the product and/or service and the translation of these needs to the Scrum Master and Development Team. Later these needs will become part of the Product Backlog and will be transformed into the User Stories. A good Product Owner needs to know how to identify business needs.

  • Project and Portfolio Management

In Scrum, there is no Project Manager, but the Product Owner must manage the Product Backlog. To manage the backlog, the Product Owner must understand how to organize and prioritize the features that will be turned into User Stories so that the Development Team can deliver them.

  • Relationship Management

In Scrum, there is also no Line Manager because Scrum teams are self-organized. Establishing and managing relationships in self-organizing teams is essential to ensure tasks are fairly distributed. Managing the relationship between the business and customers is equally important.

  • Business Change Management

Changes in the project are always welcome in Agile Scrum practices. But more than that, business needs can sometimes change rapidly, leading not only to changes in the required product and/or the service but sometimes also to changes to the business itself and its stakeholders. The Product Owner must be ready to manage such situations and implement the required changes.

The main responsibilities of the Product Owner are:

  • Develop the direction and strategy for the products and services, including the short and long-time goals;
  • Provide or access knowledge about the product or the service;
  • Understand and explain customer needs for the Development Team;
  • Gather, prioritize, and manage the product or service requirements;
  • Take over any responsibilities related to the product or service budget, including its profitability;
  • Determine the release date for the product or service features;
  • Work together with the development team daily to answer questions and make decisions;
  • Accept or reject completed features related to the Sprints;
  • Show the main realizations of the development team at the end of each Sprint;
  • Managing the Product Backlog.

Scrum Master Role

The Scrum Master plays a crucial role in the Scrum Team. He or she is responsible for managing the Scrum Process but not the Development Team itself. The Scrum Master is a servant leader, responsible for removing any barriers or impediments that appear during the project. Additionally, when required, the Scrum Master will also help other parts of the organization (outside of the Development Team) to understand Agile Scrum practices. Sometimes this can be very helpful, especially when an organization is in the process of adopting these practices.

Why doesn’t the Scrum Manager manage the Development Team? Scrum Teams must be self-organized to deliver what is required by the business. The Scrum Master is responsible for guiding the Development Team and coaching them but is not their Line Manager.

Sometimes organizations assume that experienced technical professionals can become great Scrum Masters. This assumption is neither true nor false. Becoming a good Scrum Master is about having the right set of skills, completely independent of their technical background. The list below highlights some of the skills that are important for a good Scrum Master:

  • Service Level Management

The Scrum Master needs to understand how to guide the Development Team to reach the goals set during Sprint Planning. Without this knowledge or prioritization, the Development Team may make a move in the wrong direction.

  • Architecture Design

The Development Team sometimes needs guidance about designing solutions that will fulfill the business and customer needs. It’s quite important that the Scrum Master understands some basic concepts related to aspects of architecture design to use that knowledge to design a complete solution.

  • Component Integration

This skill is closely related to Architecture Design, and the same explanation applies.

  • Testing

When working according to Scrum practices, quality and efficiency are crucial when delivering products or services. Thorough testing of features should take place before releasing them to the customer. The Scrum Master can guide the Development Team when deciding which test is suitable and how to test a specific feature.

  • Education and Training

The Scrum Master is responsible for coaching and guiding the Development Team regarding Agile Scrum practices. Additionally, as stated above, other parts of the organization can be trained by the Scrum Master. Being able to coach and train team members and other individuals in the organization about Scrum practices means that Scrum Masters operate on a higher level.

  • Personnel Development

Some individuals in the Development Team will require more attention from the Scrum Master because they are completely new to Agile Scrum practices. They must be coached and supported to take part in the Development Team in an appropriate way.

  • Project and Portfolio Management

The Scrum Master should have Project Management skills to facilitate the teams’ understanding of managing the necessary activities to complete each Sprint.

  • Risk Management

Countless decisions must be taken throughout a project, including how the Development Team should build a product or service feature. Usually, the Scrum Master needs to understand the risks of developing a feature in one way versus another. A good risk assessment will help define the appropriate way to build the feature when this occurs.

  • Process Improvement

Agile Scrum is about continuous improvement, including the process. During the reviews at the end of the delivery, the Scrum Master can guide the team to make changes that will improve the next development cycle.

The primary responsibilities of the Scrum Master are:

  • Act as a coach to help the team follow scrum values and practices;
  • Remove impediments and protect the team from external interference;
  • Promote good cooperation between the team and stakeholders;
  • Facilitate common sense within the team;
  • Protect the team from organization distractions;

Development Team Role

The Development Team should consist of 3 to 9 people. This group of people should fulfill all technical skill requirements needed to deliver the product or the service. They are guided, but not managed, by the Scrum Master. They must be self-organized, versatile, and responsible enough to complete all the required tasks.

Usually, when a new team starts to work together, it takes time until they have enough affinity to utilize their combined knowledge optimally. This kind of learning curve is completely normal, and the Scrum Master will assist them in this process on a daily basis. Changing team members often is not recommended, as this can lead to a productivity decrease due to changes in interpersonal relationships.

The Development Team member’s main responsibilities are:

  • To create and deliver the products or services;
  • Be self-organized and self-managed. The Teams must be able to determine their own workload and how they will get it done;
  • Be cross-functional. Development Teams cannot exist with a focus on one type of skill, but must combine individuals with multiple different skills;
  • To fully dedicate themselves to the product or service they are working on.
  • To work in the same physical space to encourage osmotic communication. Working in the same space is highly recommended but not mandatory.

For a more thorough understanding of Scrum’s artifacts and events, please take a look at our resources!