Are Product Owner and Scrum Master the Same?

Ruth Hadari
Ruth Hadari
Agile Advocate, Engineering Ops Expert
Posted on
Apr 7, 2022
Updated on
Mar 16, 2023
Table of Content

Agile has taken over unique business processes, optimizing workflow and making collaborative work easier. As a result, the Scrum methodology has become a popular way to manage Agile projects and teams.

The rise of this approach called for the demand of Agile Product Owners and Scrum Masters to help with the process. These two scrum roles are beneficial for projects, but they have different responsibilities and duties.

Furthermore, you should check if the qualities you're looking for in a Scrum team member line up with the job title. For example, suppose you're looking for somebody with leadership skills. The Scrum master is a good choice, but the Product Owner is not. This is because the product owner is not a leader on the team; their role is to represent the stakeholders and customers.

This article will discuss the key responsibilities and duties of a Scrum master vs. a Product Owner. It will also compare and contrast the two roles to provide a better understanding of their functions.

What Is a Product Owner?

The Product Owner’s role is to make the product backlog available to the development team and ensure that the team is working on the most critical items in the backlog (also known as scrum artifact). They also ensure that the product meets the customer's needs and is feasible to develop.

A Product Owner's responsibilities revolve around:

  • Understanding the needs of the customer and translating them into features.
  • Collaborating with the team to create a product that satisfies the customer’s demands and is viable to produce.
  • Making sure that the new product is delivered on time and within budget.
  • Dealing with stakeholder expectations.
  • Advising the team on the optimal strategy for achieving the product vision.
  • Approving the product once it has been completed.

However, for a Product Owner to accomplish this task, they must act as a leader and evangelist for the product. They must be able to inspire the team to create something great and communicate effectively with all stakeholders.

What Is a Scrum Master?

The Scrum Master handles the team and oversees their productivity. They work with the team to ensure that they follow the Scrum process correctly and meet their goals. In addition, the Scrum Master is responsible for reporting on the team’s progress to the Product Owner.

The Scrum Master brings the vision of the project manager and project master to life. They work with the team to help them understand their roles and responsibilities as well as the Scrum process. They also work to remove any blockers so that the team can remain productive.

The Scrum master's responsibilities usually include:

  • Coaching the team and assisting them in comprehending the Scrum method.
  • Eliminating any impediments to the team's productivity.
  • Assisting in the planning and tracking of Sprints.
  • Ensuring that the team adheres to the Scrum methodology.

Product Owner vs. Scrum Master

Although the Product Owner and Scrum Master work closely together, the roles are not the same. This has been a debate for a long while now, despite both of them being indispensable roles in Agile project management.

The key to knowing the difference between the two is to distinguish the qualities that each role brings to the table. If not done properly, this can lead to serious problems in the team. For example, the Scrum Master might try to control the Product Owner’s work, or the Product Owner might attempt to manage the team instead of letting the Scrum Master do his job.

This can also cause the team to be split between the Scrum Master and the Product Owner, with each of them pulling the team in different directions. As a result, it is essential to understand the key qualities that each role brings to prevent any conflicts from arising.

For example, a product owner is always about stakeholder satisfaction. This means that they must maintain a product backlog, ensure the product backlog is groomed, ascertain the team understands the product vision and goals, ensure the team is productive, and remove any impediments to its progress.

Meanwhile, a Scrum Master focuses on servant leadership. This involves performance planning, coaching, self-organization, removing obstacles, managing disagreements, and serving the team. 

In addition, a scrum master acts more as a conflict resolver. They may frequently come upon disagreements between team members, but they should be able to help them come to a consensus and continue to move the project forward.

On the other hand, a Scrum Master’s primary concern is productivity. They need to be sure that the team is meeting the Sprint goals and that they are doing so efficiently. For instance, a Scrum Master may need to propose changes to how the team is working to be more productive. 

The last difference between the two roles is that a Product Owner is more concerned with the product. They must have a clear vision for the product and manage a product backlog that matches that ambition. In contrast, while a Scrum Master is still vital to the product, they are more concerned with the team and how they may be most effective.

Final Thoughts

The bottom line is that a Product Owner is more focused on the big picture and setting the vision for the product. They work with the team to come up with the best way to achieve this vision. A Scrum Master, on the other hand, is more hands-on. They make sure the team is productive and that they are following the processes and procedures put in place.

Choosing between the two is like choosing between a coach and a referee — you need both to have a successful team. The coach sets the direction, and the referee makes sure the game is played fairly. Make sure to take your time choosing the proper role, and don’t be afraid to switch if it’s not a good fit.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a Product Owner Be a Scrum Master?

Because a Product Owner shares similar responsibilities with a Scrum Master, some people believe it can be possible to consolidate the two roles into one person. However, the prevailing opinion is that it’s best for the Product Owner to be focused on business and customer needs while the Scrum Master focuses exclusively on the agile process.

This is because of the conflict of interest that can potentially arise if the same person is trying to juggle both Product Owner and Scrum Master responsibilities. For example, the Product Owner might be more inclined to push for features that are advantageous for the stakeholders even if they’re not what the team thinks is best. This type of decision-making can disrupt the Scrum process and negatively impact the team’s development process.

In addition, the two roles call for different skillsets, which may be rare for a single person to possess. The Product Owner needs to have a deep understanding of the business and what features will be most beneficial to the customers, while the Scrum Master must have an in-depth knowledge of Agile processes and how they can be best applied to help the team achieve its goals.

Which Is Better: Scrum Master or Product Owner?

This will depend on how you approach things in Agile development.

The Scrum Master handles the Scrum process and ensures that it is adhered to. They work with the team to ensure that everyone is on track and that the product is being developed in a way that meets the customer's needs. Though they are not directly responsible for the product, they may have a say in what goes into it. 

On the other hand, the Product Owner is responsible for the product. They are the ones who decide what goes into the product and what doesn't. In addition, they work with the customer to make sure that the product meets their needs.

In summary, the Product Owner is more of a strategist, while the Scrum Master is a tactician.

Does the Scrum Team Report to the Product Owner?

Yes. Transparency is an essential part of every team project, which is why it's critical for the Product Owner and the Scrum team to communicate openly and candidly with each other. The Scrum team should report to the Product Owner, who is responsible for creating and managing the product backlog. The team's job is to take the items from the product backlog and turn them into a working product.

For example, if there are changes that need to be made to the product, the Product Owner would communicate that to the Scrum team. The Scrum team would then take the necessary steps to make those changes and work them into their sprint planning. Afterward, they would update the Product Owner on their progress.

Who Should the Product Owner Report to?

The Product Owner should always report to the person with the most authority in the organization to ensure that they can make the best decisions for the product. In a matrix organization, this may be the product manager, who reports to a higher-level manager. Meanwhile, in a functional organization, this may be the CEO or another executive.

About the author

Ruth Hadari
Agile Advocate, Engineering Ops Expert

Highly experienced in leading multi-organizational teams, groups, in-shore as well as off-shore. The go-to person who is able to simplify the complex. An agile advocate, experienced in all common methodologies. Responsible for the entire software development lifecycle process from development, QA, DevOps, Automation to delivery including overall planning, direction, coordination, execution, implementation, control and completion. Drives execution, and communicates on status, risks, metrics, risk-mitigation and processes across R&D.

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