Scrum in Practice – Part 2: The Roles

In Scrum there are typically 3 clearly defined roles; the Product Owner, the Scrum Master, and the Scrum Team. In addition there may also be additional stakeholders (customers, vendors) and managers involved as well as collaboration between other Scrum teams and/or shared resources. It’s important that there is a clear distinction between people that are committed to the process and project and people that are just involved.

The three clearly defined roles in Scrum:

  1. the "Product Owner", who represents the stakeholders and the business
  2. the "Scrum Master", a facilitator and project manager, acts as an advocate for the Scrum process.
  3. the "Team", a cross-functional group of around 7 people

These three roles are always needed and should people in these roles should be committed to the Scrum process and the project.

Product Owner

In Scrum, a single individual needs to have have final authority with regards to prioritisation of the backlog, customer interests and user requirements questions. This authority and responsibility falls to the Product Owner. The Product Owner represents the voice of the customers/users and works to ensure that the Scrum Team is working on the "right items" from a business perspective.

The Product Owner is responsible for writing customer-centric backlog items also called stories. Each backlog item or story represents a feature or unit of work that is small enough to be completed by the team in a single sprint. While there are multiple inputs to the product backlog, it is the sole responsibility of the product owner to prioritise the product backlog.

Responsibilities of the Product Owner

  • Defines and adjusts the features of the product
  • Writes user stories and places them in the product backlog
  • Prioritises items in the Product Backlog according to customer/market value
  • Accepts or rejects work results
  • Decides on release date and content
  • The Product Owner cannot also be the Scrum Master, however the Product Owner may sometimes be a member of the Scrum Team

Challenges of being the Product Owner

  • Be willing to make hard choices during the sprint planning meeting.
  • Resist temptation to add more important work after a Sprint is already in progress.
  • Balance the interests of competing stakeholders.
  • Resist the temptation to "manage" the team, even if team members request intervention with issues that the team should sort out itself.

The Product Owner role needs to have a solid knowledge of the product both from business and user perspective. Typically this is the Product Manager or Product Development Manager however this varies from organisation to organisation and sometimes the Product Owner responsibility may fall to different people from project to project. This person acting as the Product Owner must be available to the team at any time, but especially during the sprint planning meeting and the sprint review meeting.

Scrum Master

The Scrum Master is a facilitator, a project manager and an advocate for the Scrum process. The Scrum Master is not the leader of the team, as the team is self-organising. The Scrum Master is responsible for making sure the Scrum team live by the values and practices of Scrum, enforcing the rules of the Scrum Process. The Scrum Master protects the team from external interferences and by making sure they do not over-commit themselves to what they can achieve during a sprint. The Scrum Master is also responsible for removing any impediments or obstacles faced by the team.

  • The Scrum Master is a member of the Scrum Team
  • The Scrum Master cannot be the Product Owner

Responsibilities of the Scrum Master

  • Removes impediments (obstacles) and makes sure that the team is fully functional and
  • Ensures that the Scrum process is followed
  • Updates burndown chart and maintains the Scrum board
  • Facilitates Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum and Retrospective meetings
  • Maintains the Sprint backlog
  • Supports the Product Owner; including communicating updates and impediments as well as assisting with backlog and release plan maintenance
  • Ensures that the team’s progress, status and success is highly visible to all stakeholders, including the team itself
  • Facilitate creativity and empowerment for the development team
  • Shields the team from external interferences

Cross-Functional Scrum Team

The Scrum team are the people who do the actual analysis, design, implementation and testing required to complete the features, stories or tasks in a given sprint. The Scrum team is self-organising, there is no command and control. Everyone in the Scrum team is equally responsible for determining the most suitable way to proceed.

  • Agrees on the sprint goal with the product
    owner and specifies in detail the work needed to accomplish this goal
  • Demonstrates the work results to the Product Owner
  • Scrum team has the authority to do whatever is needed to meet its commitments.
  • Self-organising; Organizes itself and its work
  • Cross-functional; team members have all the required skills and expertise to complete the tasks given to the team

Ideal Team Size for Scrum

The team should ideally consist of 7 plus or minus 2 people (5-9) with the necessary skills to complete the tasks. Larger teams should either organise in sub-groups or split into multiple Scrum Teams to ensure the team is still effective. Studies have shown that teams exceeding 9 are typically less effective than smaller teams. In smaller organisations the team may be smaller. Currently I’m in a team of three with myself as Scrum Master and Lead Designer as well as a Web Mechanic and a Lead Programmer and plans for on hiring two additional programmers.

A Scrum Team should be Cross-Functional

This basically means that the team should consist of people with the range of skill sets required for the tasks/projects they will be working on. In an ideal scenario the team should be able to function as a self-contained unit and complete all tasks committed to in a sprint without having to rely on external resources or people on a regular basis. If a story or feature requires content or media from other departments or stakeholders then this should be facilitated either by the Scrum Master or by the Product Owner so that the team does not have to chase down this from external sources.

Scrum Team Composition

Some thought should be put into team composition and structure to ensure that the range of skills are sufficient for the tasks at hand. For example a Web Development Scrum Team of 5-8 might consist of:

  • a system architect or lead programmer,
  • 2-3 programmers,
  • a database programmer,
  • a Web Designer and/or UI-Designer,
  • a front-end developer,
  • and a Tester

It is usually a good idea to start small and expand the team once you get a better idea of the split between the different types of tasks you’ll be working on and you’re able to identify any bottlenecks. You might realise that the tasks in the product backlog and the foreseeable future are design heavy and decide to expand the team with an extra designer, or that most of the work will be coding and hire more programmers. Perhaps the team is better served by hiring a dedicated tester to free up some time from all the members of the team.

Additional Roles in the Scrum Process

In addition to the three core roles in Scrum there are also several additional roles that may be involved and have a stake in the project. The other roles may vary from from organisation to organisation and even from sprint to sprint and are not strictly needed for the Scrum Process.

  1. "Stakeholders"
  2. "Managers"

The needs, desires, ideas and influences of these supplemental roles should be taken into account, but should not in any way be allowed to affect, distort or get in the way of the actual Scrum project.


Stakeholders are typically customers, vendors basically someone with a significant interest or stake in the project. These are the people that the project is being built for, or at least representatives of the wider user/customer base who will be using the software/application/website.


Managers or Executives are people who will set up the environment for the product development organisations. Managers typically have the deciding vote in whether or not additional full-time resources will be added to the team. Managers may also be involved when it comes to approving costs for additional equipment, training or additional external or internal resources. Managers also have the responsibility to ensure that business goals for the product are clearly communicated to the Product Owner.


The roles in Scrum fall into two distinct categories. People that are committed and people that are involved. The three core roles, Product Owner, Scrum Master and Scrum Team are all committed (or at least they should be). The committed people have their proverbial bacon on the line, whilst the people that are involved have an interest in the project but aren’t directly held accountable if the project fails. In my experience Scrum needs all core roles to be committed to the process in order to work effectively. A key component of Scrum is to strive to continuously improve. If you’re just starting out with Scum or if you’re establishing a new team it’s never going to be perfect from day one, but if everybody is committed to the process it will improve.

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