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In the more traditional projects that I've worked on, the project manager (and, on larger projects, there might be associate/deputy/assistant project managers should one person be unavailable) is the person responsible for communicating with the customer, receiving project health and status updates, determining scheduling and budgeting, managing the process, ensuring the team has what they need to complete tasks, and so on.

In Scrum, however, these responsibilities are split between the Product Owner and the ScrumMaster. The Product Owner is the voice of the customer. They interact directly with the customer, create user stories, organize and prioritize the product backlog, and other user/customer facing issues. The ScrumMaster handles the process, overseeing meetings (including estimation and planning), removing impediments, and monitoring the overall health of the project, making adjustments as needed.

I've read in multiple sources, including Wikipedia, that the role of ScrumMaster and Product Owner should be held by two different people. I've not only read about, but worked on successful "traditional" style projects where the activities of both were handled by a single individual. In fact, it makes more sense for one to three people to be responsible for handling project (including human resources/staffing) and process level tasks, as they often go hand-in-hand. Process changes have an impact on scheduling, budgeting, quality, and other project-level goals, and project changes have an impact on process.

Why does Scrum call for isolating these activities into two roles? What advantages does this actually provide? Has anyone been on a successful Scrum project where the Product Owner and ScrumMaster were the same individual?

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Also, I swear this question was asked already, but I can't find it and I didn't Star it as a favorite. Lots of questions about role definitions here, but I'm not seeing the PO/SM one that I'm pretty sure I read. –  Thomas Owens Sep 9 '11 at 13:44
    
Are you thinking of this question? –  Anna Lear Sep 9 '11 at 13:53
    
@Anna That looks familiar, but it actually doesn't appear to be a duplicate. I guess this specific question might not have been asked before. –  Thomas Owens Sep 9 '11 at 13:56
    
How about this one? :) –  Anna Lear Sep 9 '11 at 13:57
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I recommend reading Succeeding with Agile where this is discussed in more detail. –  Ladislav Mrnka Sep 9 '11 at 16:56

5 Answers 5

The people in the Product Owner and Scrum Master roles may have conflicting desires, goals, requirements and constraints, more so than 2 random programmers. Humans may or may not be able to equally value conflicting objectives well, and may be more likely to make errors in judgement when faced with conflicting objectives. Two people with slightly different focuses or biases may be less likely to together make the same errors or the same degree of errors in judgement.

Two people may also allot more total man-hours to focusing on each differing aspect of the problem/project (e.g. the goals of the 2 different roles).

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Also, keep in mind most often than not, you are not working on 1 customer at a time. Product Owners might manage several customers and can concentrate on that part of the business, and ScrumMasters can concentrate on project development.

Like many have said, both roles have distinct interests, but a common goal and differents skillsets to aquire it.

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That might be true. Every place I've ever worked, the "project level" (the equivalent of POs and SMs) staff was devoted to a single project, so this is the only frame of reference that I have. The development team might be assigned to multiple projects, but typically even a developer is assigned to one project full-time and supporting roles on one or two others. –  Thomas Owens Sep 9 '11 at 15:09

If the same person represents the dev team and the users/customers, the only recourse you have in a dispute is to look at the contract. Although it may eventually come to this, you're better off if a representative from both sides with equal power can work out an agreement.

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If the PO is not from the customer's organization (which is, from my understanding, frequently the case), then you'll still have to look at the contract if there's a dispute between the developing organization (including the PO) and the customer. –  Thomas Owens Sep 9 '11 at 14:51
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That's true, but having a client advocate on staff may be able to handle a disagreement before it ever gets back to the customer. If they both disagree with the customer, that's another issue. –  JeffO Sep 9 '11 at 17:17

They can (and often are) combined and done by a single person (there is no rule against this (its scrum after all)).

BUT you you need to balance the difference responsibility carefully as the two roles have competing and agendas (and it takes a special person to be able to do both simultaneously). I have seen many try but few pull it off over a long period of time (its a stressful position).

  • To be the SM you do need more technical knowledge than the PO (as you will be helping organize the development team). It takes detailed knowledge of the product to be able to pull things from the product backlog into the spring backlog (sometimes you just can't pull the top 'n' items as this may be counterproductive).

  • The PO requires more understanding of the user end of the equation than them SM. This does not need to be as technical but does require knowledge of how the product is going to be used in the real world and the direction the customer wants to take the product.

If you can find a person that can do both roles then I see no reason to prevent this.

Problems may arise when the PO is being pulled by the customer in one direction that is causing significant strife to the developers (because they need to build some other infrastructure first). The SM job is not to follow the whims of the customer but to protect the developers from their whims. Pulling this off objectively is hard.

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+1 for pointing out the conflict of interest. –  Karl Bielefeldt Sep 9 '11 at 14:03
    
Yes, as I see it it is the conflict of interests that causes the problem. The product owner wants as much done as possible, the scrum master needs to manage the product owner's expectations. –  user23157 Sep 9 '11 at 14:08
    
Your description of SM is wrong. Your are describing something like team leader, not SM. –  Ladislav Mrnka Sep 9 '11 at 16:45
    
I strongly disagree with that. PO and SM are two really different jobs. borisgloger.com/2009/12/07/… –  user2567 Sep 9 '11 at 18:07
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Also be sure to check this post that talks specifically about this: blog.mountaingoatsoftware.com/…. If mixing the roles work for you, I promise you I'll send you a box of belgian chocolates. –  user2567 Sep 10 '11 at 16:11

I am no expert, but I think the Scrum Master should be the team advocate/facilitator. The voice of the customer should have the customer's interests at heart. The Scrum Master should be all about helping the team get what they need to have a successful sprint.

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