The agile methodology embraces that change is imminent. So there is no surprise that a scrum team is made to handle unexpected changes whilst achieving the high-level objectives and maintaining quality.
To do so, scrum teams are self-organizing teams of about 5-9 cross-functional members, filled with programmers, testers, UX designers, and so on. Having this structure allows a number of teams to scale in a company or even large projects that require lots of manpower. Within a sprint, members shouldn’t change to achieve the sprint goal. The team pulls off tasks (user stories) from a backlog and commits to complete a certain amount of tasks in a given sprint.
A scrum team also has some scrum-specific roles as well, like a scrum master and a product owner, neither of which push the teams to perform more work. Instead, these specific roles ensure the success of the scrum team. Since the functional team members vary from team to team, this article will focus on introducing the scrum-specific roles of scrum master and product owner and how they compare to project manager and product manager.
A scrum master is in charge of managing the scrum processes in the team. The scrum master makes sure that the team follows scrum values and practices. This means keeping the team and sprint on track to achieving the sprint goal. Scrum masters do this by facilitating and removing obstructions (like team conflict, etc.) that hinder the team from progressing, as well as protecting the team from external changes that occur. They also should be adept at all the scrum ceremonies and procedures, like running a daily standup meeting or providing guidance and best practices on story point estimation.
Common mistakes that should be avoided:
- Being too timid to enforce scrum rules such as brief standup meetings
- Being unable to facilitate meetings
- Being unable to remove obstructions
- Conducting scrum ceremonies without understanding the principles
- Putting too much emphasis on processes that overwhelm the team
- Controlling and dictating team members
- Working under different roles, like being the product owner as well
Scrum Master vs. Project Manager
You might confuse a scrum master as an agile project manager, and for good reason. Both of these roles focus on the process and workflow management, or “how” work is getting done. Both also facilitate meetings and make sure the team stays on track. However, in scrum, you don’t really need a project manager.
In terms of timeframe, milestones and reports, project managers come from a more traditional management position of top-down control. In contrast, a scrum master manages the processes from a team member position, enabling scrum teams to be self-organizing without top-down management. Thus a scrum master’s role is more developer centric, whereas a project manager is more general for any projects.
A product owner’s role is to understand what the product and customer requires. This means a product owner creates the scope of the product and schedules tasks. In scrum, they are the gatekeepers of the acceptance criteria used to accept user stories as ‘done’. They prioritize the user stories in the product backlog, as well as set priorities of the tasks within a sprint. Working with the scrum master that protects the development team from external forces of change, product owners can work closely with the development team to create accurate forecasts and roadmaps.
Common mistakes that should be avoided:
- Managing the process and status of the project
- Having multiple product owners that could provide contradicting priorities
- Having an unready product backlog for sprint planning i.e. stories are not broken down enough
- Being slow to clarify requirements and acceptance criteria for the scrum team
- Not attending the scrum ceremonies
Product Owner vs. Product Manager
Both the product owner and the product manager manage the “why”, “when”, and “what” of a product. They both do this via writing out the acceptance criteria and gathering feedback from customers to share with the team. Where they differ is in their scrum responsibilities.
Product owners gather requirements on epics, or large stories, and write out user stories from them. They also attend scrum meetings and should work closely with the scrum team, acting as the customer’s voice and clarifying requirements. They facilitate the backlog grooming meetings to breakdown and estimate user stories.
In contrast, product managers manage the longer-term roadmap and overall market, conducting competitive analysis on competing products. They manage stakeholders such as sales, marketing, customer success, and other business functions, often supporting these non-technical teams. In scrum, they should attend the sprint review meeting where demos take place.
Role of Management in Agile
Since teams are self-organized around sprints and product backlog, the nature of management needs to change in agile organizations. While a hierarchy can still exist in agile, reporting lines and responsibilities change. Traditional or development managers are those who manage individuals towards their career goals and make sure that they are aligned with the company. These managers should focus on hiring the right people for the team and provide context when there is a knowledge gap in the team. Management’s responsibility of shielding teams and individuals from external change is taken on by the scrum master.