The Scrum Team Roles and Accountabilities

by Scrum Alliance

Scrum defines three accountabilities or roles: scrum master, product owner, and developers. Together all three roles make up a scrum team. But how do all of these people work together to deliver customer-delighting products? According to Certified Scrum TrainerTM Mike Cohn, "the short answer is, everyone does everything... no one has a that's not my job attitude"

CST Roman Pichler says, "The product owner maximizes the value the product creates; the development team creates software that offers a great user experience and has the right quality; and the scrum master offers process and method coaching to the product owner, developers, and stakeholders. Additionally, scrum masters act as a change agent and facilitate organizational development."

Find out what else a few of our trainers and coaches had to say about who does what on a scrum team.

Geoff Watts, Mike Cohn, and Jesse Fewell Describe Scrum Team Roles & Accountabilities

Let's look more closely at each role.

Product Owner Role & Accountabilities

The product owner defines the what--as in what the product will look like and what features it should contain. The product owner is expected to incorporate stakeholder feedback to create the highest value product increments each and every sprint. Product owners maintain the product backlog and ensure that everyone knows the priorities.

Product owners perform the following activities:

  • Clearly express product backlog items;

  • Order the items in the product backlog to best achieve goals and missions;

  • Optimize the value of the work the development team performs;

  • Ensure that the product backlog is visible, transparent, and clear to all, and shows what the Scrum team will work on next; 

  • Ensure the development team understands items in the product backlog to the level needed.

Traits of Great Product Owners

Product owners vary in their specific mix of skills and qualifications, but most product owners work toward developing:

  • Empowered. Has decision-making authority for the product.

  • Business-savvy. Knows the business, the customer and the market.

  • Persuasive. Able to work well with the team and the stakeholders.

  • Knowledgeable. Knows the market and the product. Grasps production challenges.

  • ​Available: Is readily accessible to the team and to the stakeholders.

Product Owner Functions

  • Customer Voice: Represents the customer's wants and needs.

  • Communicator: Knows how to tailor a message to a wide variety of stakeholders

  • ​Decider. Sifts through competing priorities to choose the right product features and says no to the rest.

Related Article: 7 Skills You Need to Be a Great Product Owner

Developer Role & Accountabilities

The developers decide how to accomplish the work set forth by the product owner. Teams are structured and empowered to organize and manage their own work. The resulting synergy optimizes overall efficiency and effectiveness. Developers include anyone on the team that is contributing to the sprint goal. 

Development Team Characteristics

Great development teams have the following characteristics:

  • Self-organizing. No one tells the team members how to turn product backlog into Increments of potentially releasable functionality;

  • Cross-functional. Teams have all the skills necessary to create a product increment;

  • One-team mentality. Scrum assigns no titles to development team members, regardless of the work being performed by the person. There are also no sub-teams among the developers, regardless of domains that need to be addressed like testing, architecture, operations, or business analysis. ​Individual development team members may have specialized skills and areas of focus, but accountability belongs to the development team as a whole.

Development Team Size

The ideal size for a development team is between 3 and 9 people, not including the scrum master and product owner. Any smaller and the team couldn’t accomplish enough each sprint. Any larger and communication becomes complex and cumbersome.

Related Article: High-Performance Teams: Why the 'Who' Matters Less

Scrum Master Role & Accountabilities

The scrum master helps the scrum team perform at their highest level. They also protect the team from both internal and external distractions. Scrum Masters hold the scrum team accountable to their working agreements, scrum values, and to the scrum framework itself.

Related Article: A Day in the Life of a Scrum Master

Traits of Great Scrum Masters

Entire books have been written on what makes a great scrum master, but most experts generally agree on the following: 

Scrum Master Attributes

  • Humble. Credits the team, not themselves.

  • Respectful. Treat others as whole, creative, and purposeful beings with positive intent.

  • Empathetic. Listens to understand. Is comfortable with silence.

  • Persuasive. Works to remove impediments throughout the organization.

  • Connected. Knows who to talk to (or finds out) to solve problems and resolve issues.

Scrum Master Functions

  • Coach: Facilitates meetings, conversations, and improvements.

  • Protector: Runs interference so the team can remain focused.

  • Leader: Leads without authority and puts the team first. 

  • Advocate: Reinforces agile principles throughout the organization.

Ways Scrum Masters Serve Product Owners

The scrum master serves the product owner by:

  • Ensuring that the goals, scope, and product domain are understood by everyone on the scrum team as well as possible;

  • Finding techniques for effective product backlog management;

  • Helping the scrum team understand the need for clear and concise product backlog items;

  • Understanding product planning in an empirical environment;

  • Ensuring the product owner knows how to arrange the product backlog to maximize value;

  • Understanding and practicing agility; and,

  • Facilitating scrum events as requested or needed.

Ways Scrum Masters Serve the Developers

The scrum master serves the development team in several ways, including:

  • Coaching the development team in self-organization and cross-functionality;

  • Helping the development team to create high-value products;

  • Removing impediments to the development team’s progress;

  • Facilitating scrum events as requested or needed; and,

  • Coaching the development team in organizational environments in which scrum is not yet fully adopted and understood.

Ways Scrum Masters Serve the Organization

The scrum master serves the organization by:

  • Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;

  • Planning scrum implementations within the organization;

  • Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact scrum and empirical product development;

  • Causing change that increases productivity; and,

Working with other scrum masters to increase the effectiveness of the application of Scrum in the organization.

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