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Nov 23

Scrum Roles – the Full Breakdown

Three characters representing three Scrum roles: Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Developer.

Over the years, Scrum has become the prevalent Agile framework. Its application reaches far beyond the software development industry. While team members contribute to improving the product together, there are some notable distinctions within the Scrum roles.

If your organization is undergoing digital transformation, this article will help you understand the differences between each role. If not, it’s still a good idea to refresh your memory.

Before we delve into the Scrum roles separately, it’s vital to outline the main aspects of the Scrum Team as a whole. This will serve as building blocks for the details of specific roles.

Scrum Team

Three characters representing each of the Scrum roles: the Product Owner, the Scrum Master, and the Developers

Scrum Institute defines the team as “a collection of individuals working together to provide the requested and committed product increments.” The team is bound by the framework’s values, pillars, and the Product Goal.

Speaking of goals, the Scrum Team’s main aim is to provide customers with valuable improvements to the product regularly. The delivery is also what the entire team is accountable for.

The workload is divided into increments called Sprints. Depending on the organization, a Sprint can last between one and four weeks. Each iteration contains four events:

  • Sprint Planning,
  • Daily Standup,
  • Sprint Review,
  • Sprint Retrospective.

These Scrum Events help teams prioritize work, keep tabs on daily developments, communicate the results to the Stakeholders, and improve the process. All of that happens regularly, which is crucial for continuous improvement.

As for the size, the number of Scrum Team members shouldn’t exceed ten people. Ideally, there should be one Product Owner, one Scrum Master, and 3 to 8 Developers. A smaller roster could be ineffective in delivering complete functionalities within a Sprint. In contrast, larger teams might suffer communication, coordination, and productivity issues.

Now that you understand the Scrum Team better, it’s time to dive into each role in more detail.

Scrum Roles

There are only three roles in a Scrum Team: the Product Owner, the Scrum Master, and the Developers. However, they cover the areas necessary to deliver functionalities to customers in an iterative manner. Together, the Scrum roles support the link between the direction of the product, the work itself, and the process.

Product Owner

A Product Owner holding a tablet with a user story and changing the order of items in the Backlog

It’s the person accountable for maximizing the product’s value. As such, the Product Owner defines the vision for the product, which is what drives the Product Roadmap. One of the responsibilities of the PO is to incorporate customer needs into the organization’s objectives.

In Scrum, the Product Owner is also accountable for the Product Backlog – a prioritized list of items that need to be done in upcoming sprints. It’s on the PO to create, prioritize, update, and manage the backlog.

Furthermore, communication of the changes and ensuring the items are understandable is in the Product Owner’s purview. The PO remains accountable for the Product Backlog even if the management of its elements is delegated to someone else.

Simply put, the Product Owner sets the course of the Scrum Team’s work. That includes establishing priorities as well as keeping track of product increment deliveries.

Another important aspect is working with the Stakeholders. Understanding and incorporating their needs into the Product Backlog is part of the Product Owner’s job description. Internally, the role of the PO is to ensure that the team delivers value conveyed by the stakeholders.

Scrum Master

Scrum Master – the role accountable for implementing adhering to Scrum values and pillars.

For Scrum to work, someone must safeguard its proper application. That’s one of the accountabilities of the Scrum Master. As the name suggests, this role is proficient in all things Scrum. The SM’s job is to make sure that the pillars, values, and practices are applied.

This role is accountable for the effectiveness of the Scrum Team. According to the Scrum Guide: “They do this by enabling the Scrum Team to improve its practices, within the Scrum framework.

Aside from that, Scrum Masters act as Servant Leaders. It’s an approach wherein the leader’s main priority is supporting others. In the case of the Scrum Master, Servant Leadership occurs on three levels: the Product Owner, the Team, and the organization.

A table showing how the Scrum Master serves other Scrum Roles and the organization as a whole.

Developers

Last but not least, there are the Developers. It’s a group of people who “do the work” included in the Product Backlog. In other words, Developers are the ones who create value for the Stakeholders. Frequent delivery of valuable, customer-focused functionalities is their main objective.

Interestingly, this role used to be called the Development Team. However, the official Scrum Guide changed it in 2020. The current name might be confusing, though. Mostly because it covers various positions, such as programmers, designers, engineers, etc. The specifics depend on the industry and the product. In Scrum, the name refers to the people developing the increments. This common denomination stems from a key characteristic of this Scrum role – cross-functionality.

Simply put, the team must have all the skills and competencies covered to produce the desired product increments. Knowing that, lumping people with different skill sets together makes more sense.

On top of that, Developers in Scrum are self-organizing. Instead of having a manager issue commands and orders, the developers make decisions together. The framework empowers them to do so. After all, people “in the trenches” are more likely to know how to divide the work and solve problems.

Similarly to the previous Scrum roles, the Developers have their own areas of accountability. The Scrum Guide discerns four of them:

A list of areas Developers are accountable for in Scrum

Communication between Developers and Stakeholders is precious in Scrum. That way, the two sides of the product can discuss needs and share ideas. Therefore, it’s good practice to write User Stories throughout the product development process.

When it comes to estimating the effort required to produce a feature, Story Points have emerged as the most popular units. It’s the superior method to using time. Why? Because comparing effort is much more precise than using hours (or even days) to complete a task.

PPM tools make the Product Owner’s life easier

While the Scrum framework embraces changes, it makes keeping track of projects challenging. Fortunately, tools like BigPicture support the smooth management of Agile initiatives. Not all Scrum roles benefit from the tool equally, but the impact affects the whole team.

Product Owners are accountable for the Product Backlog. Thus, it’s in their best interest to monitor the progress of the Developers’ work. BigPicture allows them to do that effectively.

Let’s look at two areas where our PPM tool gives Product Owners the edge: day-to-day overview and outlining the future with Stakeholders.

Complete set of project data in one place

Product Owners who use BigPicture have a dedicated Board module at their disposal. It’s where they can quickly and easily see which Product Backlog Items the Developers work on. The board is divided into iterations, and organizing the items is effortless thanks to the use of drag and drop.

The module contains vital information about each item, such as:

  • Status,
  • Assignee,
  • Dependencies,
  • Story point allocation, and capacity.

As a result, the Product Owner knows precisely which tasks are ongoing, who handles them, and how they impact other project areas. In larger organizations, this view will streamline coordination between teams working in Scaled Agile Frameworks. Because all the project data is displayed in one place, getting insights is intuitive and takes a short amount of time.

Board module in BigPicture showing the backlog and dependencies of an Agile project.

View the tasks with dependencies and assignees in timeboxes to keep control of the current and upcoming work.

BigPicture is fully synchronized with Jira. It means Product Owners get up-to-date and accurate information on the Board module. Or any module, for that matter. Any time the Developers update their tasks in Jira, the changes go straight to our PPM tool. It happens immediately, so Product Owners operate on relevant data no matter what.

Stakeholder collaboration

Even though the Product Roadmap might go through changes, it’s always a good idea to look and plan ahead. This is especially important for stakeholders. It gives them confidence that the product is going in the right direction. And if anything needs adjusting, it won’t be a chaotic process.

With BigPicture, Product Owners can swiftly present the upcoming Sprints to the Stakeholders. The Gantt module contains a timeline with marked iterations, which helps place the right issues in the appropriate sprints.

What the Stakeholders will see is a group of neatly visualized stories. Therefore, they get a glimpse into the future on top of monitoring the present.

A timeboxed Gantt chart in BigPicture laying out the roadmap for future iterations

Use the Gantt module to present the completed and planned work on a timeline. Your Stakeholders will get a better understanding of the ongoing initiatives.

That’s everything you need to know about Scrum roles. Clearly, each one has a different set of accountabilities and contributes to product development in its own way. The roles are separate, but success happens when the entire team works together.

About The Author

Content Specialist at BigPicture. Passionate about new technologies, both in hardware and software form, as well as creating educational content that makes complex ideas more understandable.