Sharing Scrum Master and Product Owner Roles

If you’re familiar with the Scrum framework, you are probably aware of the roles within a Scrum team. In this article, we’ll take a look at what happens when two of these roles are shared by one person.

…And then there was one

In a typical Scrum team, you have a Product Owner, Developers and a Scrum Master. But sometimes, unforeseen personnel changes might mix up the ordinary state a bit.

In our example (which is totally not based on my current experience and will be written in first person for no apparent reason), the Product Owner has left for a more suitable position and I was selected as the temporary Product Owner. And why not! I’m the Scrum Master: I know the team, I’m familiar with the product and I have a general understanding of the Product Owner’s responsibilities. How hard can it be?

Double the trouble

Turns out, very. The main goals of both positions differ drastically. We can presume that the Product Owner wants to satisfy stakeholders with speedy deliveries of large value. But that might put quite a strain on the developers. And as the Scrum Master, your job is to assure that the team knows how much they can take into the sprint, and shouldn’t be pushed to take on more work than they can do. Keeping clear context is important. The team should know when you speak as an SM and when as a PO.

Other issues arise from the straightforward fact that both positions are time-demanding. With combined responsibilities of Scrum Master and Product Owner, you’ll eventually neglect something just to keep up with the pace. (Oh, how I envy Agile coaches that can juggle five teams remotely…teach me, masters!) In my opinion, the first thing that goes is the individual attention to your team members that you should give as a Scrum Master. To prevent this, I suggest asking one of your SM colleagues to do some of the regular 1-on-1 meetings for you. You might miss some of the team’s direct feedback that you are used to getting as the team’s Scrum Master, but a temporary stand-in might bring a different approach to these meetings and provide you with interesting feedback, too.

What’s your favorite role?

All in all, this situation has its pros and cons. Yes, you are able to pivot quite quickly regarding your team’s vision and strategy, and you have a chance to change and improve faster than within a standard team setup since you’re calling the shots. But, there’s no failsafe or redundancy check on what you’re doing, and possible missteps could negatively impact not only the product, but also the team itself.

It’s like running a sprint: you can move quickly for short distances, but don’t forget to stop and catch your breath once in a while.

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