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How to Avoid Conflicts Between the Scrum Master and Product Owner

Image Source: PMSM.org

The Agile methodologies be it Scrum, XP or any other, have been proven to expedite project completion and team collaboration thereby promising an efficient, result-oriented project flow. Each role holds an impact on every stage of the project development life cycle, be it software or otherwise.

When it comes to a scrum team, each role defined, with a unique set of responsibilities, can significantly affect the project flow, starting from the initial stages of the software development life cycle to its final result. This is why it is critical that the team ensures maximum collaboration and conflict resolution.

In any scrum team, the product owner and scrum master are important entities of the entire project development process.  Although, these two roles overlap in some of the skills, the Product Owner typically has greater authority in the company.

Roles of the Product Owner and Scrum Master

According to Ng, The Product Owner is generally the key stakeholder and is answerable for the overall direction of the project. It is the Product Owner’s job to maintain product backlog and to ensure the entire scrum team is on the same page especially when it comes to the overall purpose for the product. The product owner also acts as a liaison between the upper management and other departments and the team.

On the other hand, the Scrum Master is mainly responsible for the alignment of the scrum team working procedures with the scrum framework. Scrum Masters are the coaches and facilitate efficient work flow e.g. through daily stand-up meetings that help keep the product owner’s vision in front of them. SMs also help in removing obstacles and working closely with the product owner in accordance with the project backlog.

According to Kamil Gumienny, Agile enthusiast, a Business Development Specialist at Setapp and an Agile Enthusiast, Here are some unique responsibilities of each role.

 Product Owner:

  • Gain information from key stakeholders, development team and market to create backlogs.
  • Organize and prioritize entities in backlogs as required.
  • Optimize the value of the work effort of the Development Team.
  • Ensure transparency and visibility of the Product Backlog to the entire team.

Scrum Master:

  • Remove obstacles that may affect the team performance.
  • Facilitate all Scrum events.
  • Propose techniques for effective Product Backlog management;
  • Understand and practise agility
  • Coach development team and ensure effectives of the development process.

Why and how should POs and SMs collaborate?

Adam Myhr is an Agile Practitioner, has worked as a Scrum Master and an IT Project Manager, and has more than 14 years of experience in IT. According to Myhr, the PO is beholden to the customer as well as the business with responsibility for maximizing value delivery.

On the other hand, the SM is beholden to the team to ensure the enacting of scrum through servant-leadership of the team. Without a Scrum Master, the Product Owner may overburden the team by requiring too much. Without a Product Owner, a Scrum Master may obstruct value delivery by shielding the team from more than they should.

For this reason, it is important that there is a strong collaboration between the product owner and scrum master for a successful team to emerge.

Martin Aziz is the Director in IT focusing on Agile and Delivery practices at LoyaltyOne. He recommends putting the following questions ahead to plan out better collaboration between both the roles:

  • Do we both understand and support the team’s mission and goals?
  • What are the product goals?
  • How can we best help the team achieve those goals?
  • Are there any conflicts between the team and product goals?
  • When our goals or methods are in conflict, how will we resolve them?
  • In what ways will I be supporting your success as an SM/PO?
  • How will we keep each other informed and engaged?
  • Should we have a peer/subordinate/other relationship?

Ng is of the opinion that despite their main roles, the PO and SM can help each other out in the following ways to improve collaboration:

  1. Backlog Grooming: The Scrum Master can work with the Product Owner to ensure that backlogs are for sprints is even more in line with reality and set the team up for success.
  2. Team Communication: The Product Owner can work closely with the Scrum Master to ensure that all important communication, whether it is regarding the project or the product vision are clear to the team.
  3. Team Morale: Throughout the project, the Product Owner and Scrum Master should work towards keeping the team’s morale and productivity at peak through open communication. They should also set priorities on actual requirements instead of arbitrary business goals.
  4. Ensure Cross-dependencies with other teams: The Product Owner and Scrum Master should make use of their close relationships with other teams, owners and Scrum Masters to improve the project flow and remove any obstacles.

How would you recommend better team management between a Product Owner and Scrum Master? Let us know in the comments below.

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