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Scrum Team Roles for the Best Agile Team

Scrum team roles and what the 3 roles are, as well as why those are the roles needed in Agile.
What are the scrum team roles and why those are roles are also needed in Agile. Adopting these roles for scrum development helps build a team.

What are the scrum team roles? Scrum breaks down the roles across the team into 3 distinct roles. These are the roles that work together on the scrum team to deliver on the goals of the company. If new to scrum and/or agile software, the info on these scrum team roles can help learn the roles. Agile software development is complex, but these roles help the process.

So let’s get into the scrum team roles

Product Owner

Product owners often have the following responsibilities:

  • Setting the vision for the product and the team
  • Managing the backlog, and keeping work prioritized
  • Communicating with stakeholders
  • Learning business needs and communicating these to the team
  • Ensuring the team builds to meet product needs

The product owner is responsible for what work the team is taking on. The product owner prioritizes work, by way of the product backlog. Keeping work in a prioritized order for the team. Boiling it down, the product owner sets the direction for the work that the team takes on. They need to ensure that the work for the team aligns with company objectives. And that the team understands the work, that will help meet those company objectives.

In the scrum roles, the product owner represents the user. They need to understand user needs and help to translate that into work for the team. Most importantly, prioritizing that work for the team, into a sequenced order to take on.

Essentially, product owners set product goals. They maintain an ordered product backlog. They also regularly work with the development team to review, update, and refine work. To help clarify and prepare for upcoming work. Agile teams require goals to work towards and require clear priorities. The product owner defines these items and updates the sprint backlog accordingly.

In the scrum roles, this is the role that most collects feedback from users, the customers, and others involved (like stakeholders or other business representatives). This feedback is used to learn and adapt. Continuing on with additional product work, to ultimately meet needs. Or, if evaluating feedback and needs are met, move on to other work. More on product owner skills here.

If you are interested in understanding the needs of the customer and delivering for the customer, the product owner role could be a great fit. Typically, this person needs to have business knowledge, be able to make decisions, and prioritize work for the team. Also, the role requires the ability to gain consensus and negotiate amongst different stakeholder groups. Those that might be competing to have work done or disagree on what work to do.

Scrum Master

The scrum master is a role meant to fill the other gaps and keep things running. They help promote a good process and help the team to help themselves. They also help ensure that good work is being done by the team. Essentially, the scrum master is a servant leader who helps the team do whatever the team needs help with so that the team can go do their work. Not to say the scrum master helps with the development work though.

Scrum masters in scrum team roles also hold scrum teams accountable for their working agreements. Typically the teams have standards and rules that they created to be followed. The scrum master helps to ensure the team does in fact follow those things.

The scrum master is a coach, that helps lead the team. They also can work as a filter or protector of the team, as to keep the team focused and on track. They work as a facilitator to help the team to do what they do best. Which is working on software projects and developing products.

If you are the person that enjoys helping the team to work together and collaborate. Or if you really believe in scrum and agile, then you may enjoy the scrum master role. It is a role that involves much people skills, like coaching and helping to facilitate work and process. If those are of interest, it may be a scrum team role to check out.

I find that scrum master roles can vary significantly from org to org, however the following are common responsibilities:

  • Facilitate daily stand up meetings (daily scrum)
  • Lead other types of ceremonies (meetings for the team). Like planning and retrospectives
  • Understand how the team is doing and work to keep a balanced and appropriate amount of work with the team
  • Work to get impediments out of the way of the team, to allow the team to work

Development team

Development team members will often have the following responsibilities:

  • Building and testing products
  • Participate in sprint planning and setting goals for the team
  • Help in sprint planning and goal setting
  • Using their experience to design and improve software products

The development team is the team members in the scrum roles. They are the ones doing the work of the team. They are tasked with delivering the work in the given sprints or iterations of the team. These are the members of the team that do the work to complete the prioritized work from the product owner. Often, these roles are development engineers and can include testers. Sometimes there are other team members, but largely it is the first 2.

It is up to the development team to determine how to create solutions for the prioritized work. Ideally, they work together to refine and create a solution, that meets the needs presented by the product owner. On great scrum teams, development team members excel at self-organizing around the work, working as a team to create solutions and continuous improvement.

Development team members should also contribute to the planning of the work. Helping to grow team understanding of the work, as that only helps to build better products. It is also tremendously helpful that team members work in an agile mindset, promoting good fundamentals for the team, as that helps the team to grow and excel.

For those that enjoy delivering software and products of value, especially those that deliver value for the customers, the development team member role could be the fit for you. Consider this scrum team role if those things are important to you. The team is the most important part of this whole process and framework, as they are the ones doing the heavy lifting.

Scrum team roles vs company job titles

It is important to understand that these scrum roles are descriptions of the work and responsibilities for that role on the scrum team. Descriptions of the work they do in Scrum for their agile team roles. These are not necessarily job titles. Some companies are using these as job titles, but as a job title, there can be additional responsibilities. This will vary from organization to organization, as the work and resources of organizations vary. Thus roles can vary.

I bring up as it’s important to remember that you may encounter job titles that match with these scrum roles. Largely the responsibilities should align, but they may not and is not necessarily an issue. That is because work varies. Only when responsibilities of the respective job title start to contradict with scrum or agile does it present an issue.

Agile development and project management can have different descriptions and names of the roles than what the particular organization gives its team roles. That is ok. Remember, the people on the team are there to do the work needed, regardless of what the organizational role may be. That is an Agile mindset that will help the team deliver more business value.

Why these scrum roles for the team – why no more and no less?

The PO organizes and prioritizes work, the scrum agile team members take on the work and meet goals as best they can. The scrum master helps ensure good process, good teamwork, helps to maintain standards and works in the way the team has decided that they should. Other roles could interfere with this natural balance of organizing/prioritizing work, executing work, facilitating the processes to execute the work.

Working in an Agile process, that is all that is needed. It is an effective balance of distributing what is needed to go and do software and product development work. The scrum process for Agile software development does not require many roles. The teams self organization helps to do the work and reduces need for many roles.

Share across scrum team roles

Good Scrum teams should share across the team roles though. What do I mean by this sharing? The ability to promote and use an overlap across team members in their job functions and responsibilities. So as to help reduce the silo of knowledge, skills, and the ability to execute on software and product development work. More about sharing across roles here.

This is the cross functional team and it is a stronger team.

Building out your scrum team

The scrum framework provides a rough idea on how to staff your team, the roles needed and some processes to follow. But how do you go about building the team?

The team needs to be built with team members that have skills for the work to be done. Modern software and product development can be massively complex. To help teams tackle this complex work, there needs to be team members that have the experience with the work to be done. Not everyone on the team has to have the same experience, and not everyone has to have the relevant experience. But some of it will be necessary. That, or, you must be prepared to go thru some trial and error, and learning pains, before getting to the end result needed.

Why these scrum team roles work in Agile

Agile is a mindset, process, and methodology built around enabling the team to problem-solve for themselves. Keeping the idea in mind that the best solutions come from a team, so enable to team to do the solution creation they are can do. And enabling processes that support that solution creation. Like good communication and collaboration. Make sure to create real software and products and get feedback on them. And other ideas.

If additional scrum team roles were defined, that could limit the team. IE, if more scrum roles were created, the roles could start to become specialized and start separating knowledge and skill. As well as starting to create barriers between good communication and collaboration. So don’t create more roles. Keep things simple and allow the team to self-organize, using the scrum team roles as is. The scrum roles are a guide and not a strict definition. By keeping open with lesser roles for the development team, the team is not locked in and hindered by the process.

Strict definitions of roles and responsibilities is somewhat of a carryover from Waterfall development practices. Waterfall methodologies required more defined roles, as everyone had a task and needed to execute that task. The work plan was well defined and laid out for the team, and the team just needed to go and execute it. Almost like an assembly line of work. As a development methodology, it is flawed though in that we can’t know all about the work and what all we will need to do upfront. Thus the plan is flawed. You need a skilled and adaptive team to organize around desired work, then go execute in an iterative development process.

This is a primary reason the Waterfall model was replaced with Agile processes!

Agile methods work well in the scrum framework because the values and principles of agile keep focus on small motivated teams. That organize around a goal and go execute on the work. Scrum provides meaning and definition around what the roles would be on that team. Use these ideas to create the best scrum team roles you can for your team.

Don’t forget the Agile principles! Use them to collaborate and build up your cross functional teams. The scrum team roles are part of this and make up the team. Use them to their full effect and remember to be Agile my friends!

Additional content and reading on scrum team roles

Or, another great read on the scrum roles can be found at the Scrum Alliance, here.