A quick guide to Scrum roles and responsibilities
January 22, 2021
It’s no secret that clear responsibilities are a big part of teamwork. Imagine a football game without clear roles: The quarterback running the wrong way, defense running after the ball… chaos! Whether you’re working on the field or as part of a development team, things just work better when everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing — and clear roles and responsibilities play a big part in this.
Scrum is a popular framework that helps teams function efficiently. It does this through predefined roles that provide structure while still allowing for flexibility. These roles consist of the product owner, the development team, and the scrum master. Let’s take a closer look at what each of these entails.
What is a scrum team?
Scrum sits within the Agile methodology. It’s a framework that you put in place to help teams deliver work effectively. It provides a basic structure for meetings, responsibilities, and artifacts — then teams can then add their own processes around that.
The scrum roles describe the minimum responsibilities of those who make up the scrum team, so it’s important to remember it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Depending on the project, there will be different job titles and structures within these teams. And, as the project develops and evolves, more skills might be brought in or taken out. In a nutshell, this is exactly what scrum is all about: creating a fundamental sense of structure underneath all these shifting skills and needs.
Three different scrum roles comprise the scrum team. Here’s what each of them does.
The product owner
The product owner is responsible for the project’s success. They define work responsibilities and prioritize jobs; they’re the face of the project, and they interact with everyone from the designers to stakeholders and even the customer. They also need to know what each person involved needs. This is why they have a tricky job: They have to balance each of these groups’ needs when prioritizing work.
Unlike product owners in more traditional projects, they’re very hands-on: they organize tasks and make sure everyone knows what’s going on and why. That doesn’t mean they manage the development team’s activities; instead, they ensure the team completes work that aligns with project objectives and they deliver it on time.
Agile teams are flexible and adaptable, and one change in priority could completely reshape the team. That’s why there should be just one product owner.
Typical responsibilities of a product owner
Managing the scrum backlog
Other people can add to the backlog, but it’s the product owner who manages those items. If someone wants to add something, they should go through the product owner first.
The product owner is the only person who communicates with the stakeholders — a broad group that could include everyone from customers through to upper management. They need to work closely with them to ensure the project meets their needs when the team finishes.
Continuous delivery is a big part of scrum, but it’s not always possible. It’s the product owner’s job to work out when the team should release items — ideally in a way that allows you to regularly factor in client feedback.
The scrum master
The scrum master is what’s known as a servant leader, someone kind of like a coach. They oversee the entire project, ensuring everyone has what they need and can work without any distractions, like people overstepping role boundaries or tech and tools that aren’t working as they should. If there are issues, it’s their job to fix them: They might order a replacement computer or have a chat with that colleague who keeps butting in.
They help the product owner understand and communicate value, plan work, and manage the backlog. They also serve the wider organization by helping them understand why scrum is important.
As well as looking after the team’s needs, the scrum master protects the team’s processes, including how they should be applied to work the best. They make sure everyone follows the framework correctly and provides guidance to help the team. In a nutshell: They’re accountable for processes, not workloads.
Typical responsibilities of a scrum master
Scrum has five values: courage, focus, commitment, respect, and openness. Together, these create the perfect environment for agile work to happen. Everyone is responsible for upholding these values, but it’s the scrum master who needs to make sure everyone understands why they’re important.
In a flexible and fast-paced environment, knowing what everyone else is doing is important. The scrum master’s job is to make sure processes are being followed, confluence pages are updated, and the team has collaboration tools that make it easier to share information.
Self-organization is a big part of scrum, and for newbies, this concept can be quite daunting. It’s the scrum master’s job to encourage team members to try new things and step outside traditional roles and responsibilities.
The scrum master doesn’t plan the workload, but they do ensure work is running smoothly. This means removing roadblocks, resolving issues, and ensuring opportunities for improvement. In the spirit of continual improvement, they also encourage the team to break work down into chunks, complete it, then review those outcomes to learn from them.
At the end of each sprint, the team holds a retrospective review to discuss ways to improve the next one. Holding retrospectives, or retros, regularly helps the team identify problems and iterate processes quickly.
The development team
The development team can contain all kinds of disciplines, including programmers, writers, testers, architects, designers, and more. Together, they are each responsible for their own work. The product owner establishes the priority; then, the development team works together to get it done. This usually involves taking high-priority items from the backlog and working on them one task at a time.
Development team responsibilities
Split the workload into sprints. It’s the development team’s job to complete every task in a sprint.
Good communication forms the cornerstone of a successful scrum team — and everyone is responsible for feeding into this. When it comes to the development team, daily standups are the place to share thoughts, talk about issues, or ask for help. While the scrum master usually facilitates these meetings, it’s the dev team’s job to essentially shape the meeting so the next sprint can run smoothly and effectively.
Good organization is vital for a happy scrum team. The product backlog sits at the center of everything: Standups and retrospectives are usually held around the backlog board, and the development team refers to it every day for guidance.
Whether you’re using sticky notes on a whiteboard or a collaboration tool like Nulab’s Backlog, the better ordered your backlog is, the easier and clearer it’ll be for everyone.