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​Who’s Who in Agile Projects?

Key Roles in Agile Project Teams: Product Owner, Scrum Team, and Scrum Master

If you are new to the agile framework for project execution and management, you may find yourself asking, “Who is who?” and “What are the responsibilities of each role?” When you and your team have a solid understanding of what each person will be held accountable for, you can work in a more streamlined fashion within the agile framework. What roles make up an agile team, and who should fill those roles? There are three main roles that we should be concerned with:

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

The Product Owner

The product owner is the most important role in any agile project. This is the person who is responsible for the return on investment generated by the project at hand. This person is responsible for the product vision – what the product is (and isn’t) and does (and doesn’t) do, why it is valuable, and what will determine if the project is successful. The product owner drives the direction of the project. They determine final requirements and consider/control stakeholder requests. The product owner is responsible for accepting or rejecting pieces of the project delivered at the end of each sprint. Finally, the product owner is the only person who has the authority to reprioritize the product backlog, setting priority from sprint to sprint to ensure the items that generate the most ROI will be completed first. Who should fill the role of the product owner? There are a few best practices that I’d like to share. First, there should only be one product owner for each product. Splitting this role between multiple people is not advised, because the product owner will lose their authority, especially if disagreements arise between the multiple owners. The product owner should be the person who owns the business value for the project, and has a vision for the product overall. This will ensure that expectations are met and the product provides value to the organization upon its release.

The Scrum Team

The scrum team should be the majority of the team in an agile project. The scrum team is made up of cross-functional representatives to round out a complete team. For example, in a software development project, the team may include a business analyst, UI/UX designer, a lead architect, developer, and quality assurance resource. The scrum team should be highly collaborative and self-organizing. While the product owner will direct the what of the project (what is the team working to accomplish? What should the product do?), the scrum team is responsible for determining how they will accomplish the project goals. The scrum team should negotiate commitments with the product owner, sprint by sprint, to commit to what they can fully deliver in a set timeframe. The agile framework recommends teams of about 7 team members. Teams any smaller likely don’t have the right roles represented. Larger teams generally indicate that team members may sit idle from sprint to sprint. Co-located teams also have higher rates of success. What is perhaps most important in building a scrum team is the ability for the team to continue to work together long-term. If team members will be bounced from one project to another, it can break the sense of team and the high performance of self-organizing groups.

The Scrum Master

The final role in an agile project is the scrum master. The scrum master is solely responsible for facilitating the scrum process. They are accountable for running each scrum ceremony from sprint to sprint. The scrum master keeps scrum artifacts visible and accessible to the appropriate parties, enforces time boxes, and adjust forecasts as needed. The scrum master does more than just facilitate. They are responsible for ensuring that the team can complete their best work and help to create an environment where the team can self-organize. A scrum master is focused on removing impediments that are blocking the team from making progress. They also shield the team from external distractions, to help keep the team focused on what they should be working on. While the scrum master does have a leadership role within the agile team, they should not have management authority over the team. The scrum master should work as a servant leader rather than an authoritative figure. The scrum master should work to serve the team to be better performing, rather than the team serving the scrum master because they are their boss. When the right individuals are appointed in to the appropriate positions within an agile team, you can build a team that will work well together for long term success across various projects. Giving the right roles to the right person for the job will create lasting accountability along with fantastic reputations for your agile team. Written by: Kim Nelson, Netrix LLC