Let’s talk about Product Owners and Scrum Masters. 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:
What about focus?
The first thing I will look at is focus can a Scrum Master stay focused on being a Scrum Master if they have additional responsibilities can be a little challenging. For example, you’ve got some impediments to remove, you’re down on the factory floor you’re working with some stakeholders and then you realize oh a customer’s calling about an urgent request. This lack of focus can be distracting for pretty much any human being. So now imagine the other side of this. You’re a Product Owner and you’re dealing with a key stakeholder, and you realize your developers don’t know what they’re doing.
As a Scrum Master can you focus on more than one thing at a time? Well, I’m sure you can but think of all the things you have to do as a Scrum Master. The first thing you got to do is make sure your team understands Scrum. The second thing you must do is make sure the Product Owner and the stakeholders understand Scrum. And the third thing you got to do… you got to make sure the entire organization understands Scrum. If people don’t understand how to use it, I wouldn’t expect you to get great results from it. Another thing you must do is remove all those impediments that slow your team down and they are numerous. You could pretty much consider your job never ending. There are infinity impediments out there. It also takes a lot of time to teach to coach to advise and to really be there for your team and make sure that we’re getting the most out of this framework. It’s a big job.
As a Product Owner you got to focus on value. We have to focus on the actual customers. We’ve got to focus on making sure we’re doing the right thing at the right time and ignoring the things that we shouldn’t be doing right now. Some things a Product Owner will do include going through analytics and seeing how users are behaving with your application. 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. This can help you come up with new solutions to old problems before your customers are even thinking about it… I’d be pretty thrilled if you did that for me!!
Back to focus: you’ve got Scrum Masters focusing on impediments, focusing on teaching, focusing on coaching, and advising. And then you’ve got another person focused on value and the customers and making sure we’re doing the right thing at the right time. This is a huge job and now you’re gunna do two of them.
Here’s the short answer: Scrum has no rule against this. Are you shocked? 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?”