In a hurry? Checkout the video on this topic above, and read the blog below for more detail.
Let’s talk about Scrum Masters and Product Owners. Can they both be the same person? A very common question I hear is can a Scrum Master be a Product Owner and well the answer is a little bit nuanced but let me start here:
It’s About Focus
The first thing to look at is focus, one of the five Scrum Values. Can a Scrum Master stay focused on being a Scrum Master if they are also serving as the Product Owner?
Scrum Master Focus Challenges
First, consider that as a Scrum Master, your focus may already be split between serving your Scrum team as a whole, serving your Product Owner (who, in this hypothetical is you), and serving the organization as a whole. Your Scrum team may need your help removing an impediment, and you’ve got to decide whether to roll up your sleeves and deal with it head on, or to step back and let them solve it on their own.
Meanwhile , the your company has some policies in place that limit the agility of your Scrum team. You may decide it’s time to start driving change in those areas. Back to your team again, they may need you to flex your facilitation skills and help them get to a decision that they are struggling to arrive at. In this scenario, focus may already be a challenge.
Product Owner Focus Challenges
Now imagine the other side of this hypothetical role combination. You’re a Product Owner and you’re talking with a key stakeholder who doesn’t understand why you’ve ordered the Product Backlog the way that you have. In addition, you really need to spend some time refining the items on said Product Backlog to ensure the team has enough ready work for the upcoming sprints.
In the midst of all of that, a critical customer issue is reported, and you need to determine the relative importance of fixing that issue. Keeping the Sprint Goal intact, you decide that you may need to renegotiate the scope of the Sprint with the Developers.
Accountabilities of Each
As a Scrum Master, you are accountable to help build an effective team, and to establish Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. Your Scrum Team in general, your Product Owner, and your organization as a whole are all relying on your support to help them understand Scrum and apply it well. This means you need to employ a variety of skills, including teaching, coaching, mentoring, impediment removal, facilitation, and sometimes doing nothing and getting a donut. In other words, it’s a really big job.
As a Product Owner, on the other hand, you’ve got to focus on maximizing the value of your product. You have to understand what your customers are looking for, making sure we’re doing the right thing at the right time, and ignoring the things that we shouldn’t be doing right now. This could include going through analytics and seeing how users are behaving with your application, spending time listening to customer feedback, and discussing issues with Stakeholders. Product Owners are also going to spend a lot of time with the customers learning about their problems, and ideally learning about their problems better than they even understand them.
These two perspectives and points of focus – the Scrum Master focused on a successful team and effective use of Scrum, and the Product Owner focused on the customer and increasing value – are challenging to balance well. When one person tries to do both, the results can be unpredictable. Often, one perspective will win out and the other will suffer. In some cases, neither gets the attention it deserves.
So to the question, “Can a Scrum Master be a Product Owner?” Here’s the short answer: Scrum has no rule against this, but it may not be advisable in all cases.
Surprised? Take a look for yourself. Read through the Scrum guide there’s nothing in there that says you cannot be both a Scrum Master and a Product Owner on a Scrum team. The Scrum guide merely says that these accountabilities exist within a Scrum team. In small teams and startups you may have to wear a lot of hats. You may not have the luxury of a dedicated person per accountability on a Scrum team. And that’s perfectly fine!
Scrum was designed with flexibility in mind, so if you’re the lucky person who’s going to play both a Scrum Master and a Product Owner what I’d recommend is that you focus. Focus on the things that matter and if it turns out your focus is getting pulled in multiple directions come up with a new solution. This is a great topic to bring up at a retrospective. “Is Robb distracted as a Product Owner and a Scrum Master? What do you guys think?”