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Why do you need to have Scrum Roles and what exactly are they?

As you’ve probably figured out from reading the Intro article, Scrum is more about people and less about processes. That’s why it’s important to have roles and, at the same time, understand that they do not follow the traditional manager-employee pattern. Roles in Scrum are actually meant to bring members closer together in order to achieve a common goal.

It’s very important to let go of the traditional mentality and embrace the whole of Scrum if you truly want this methodology to work for your technology startup.

The Scrum Roles Are As Follows:

The Scrum Master (SM)scrum master

In Agile, the Scrum Master is more like a coach than a leader. It’s entirely true that he is responsible for the Scrum process, but he doesn’t manage the development team. The Scrum Master’s job is to support the Product Owner and coach the team by facilitating reviews and planning sessions. He has the task of removing any impediments that prevent the team from accomplishing its sprint goals. The best Scrum Masters are real team players, who receive as much satisfaction from facilitating others’ success as their own.

Who can be the SM?

Let the team decide! However, it’s good to be aware of the fact that traditional project managers don’t always make the best Scrum Masters, especially in cases when they’ve previously managed the same team members. Project Managers may look like the easiest option but there is a high risk that team members will still expect to receive direct instructions from them rather than trying to become self-organized.

The Challenge as seen by Thinslices

Given the fact that Scrum Masters are oftentimes perceived as transformation agents, it is very important for them not to lose hope and understand that change takes time and cannot be forced upon team members. Any type of transformation should be constantly promoted through collaboration and transition from the old way to the Scrum way should be made as smooth as possible. Although, Scrum Masters won’t see immediate results, they should keep on going and be patient.

The Scrum Team

the scrum team

It’s not just an executive organ. It includes professionals (developers, designers, testers) whose final commitment is to deliver a potentially releasable product at the end of each sprint. The team becomes a manager, deciding which requirements it can accomplish in one sprint and establishing how the Product Backlog must be turned into increments of potentially releasable functionality.


The Challenge as seen by Thinslices

The main challenge revolves around performing an accurate estimation of stories and tasks so that they don’t discover within the first few days of a sprint that they have more work to do than they had realized at the Sprint Planning meeting. Given the fact that Scrum does not award partial credit, even if 99% of a project is completed, the story does not get marked as “done”.

The Product Owner (PO)

the product owner

The PO is often seen as the one person responsible for a project’s success. He is in charge of capturing and clearly conveying the value proposition of the product to the development team, thus maximizing the result of their work. The PO is responsible for prioritizing the list of features and writing short descriptions of all the functionalities (he manages the product backlog).

Given the fact that Scrum is based on the principle of self-organisation, the Product Owner must respect the team’s ability to create its own plan of action. Hence the PO is forbidden to intervene and give the team extra work in the middle of the sprint.

Not a services provider?

If you are not a services provider, as we are, the Scrum Product Owner is oftentimes the CEO. He brings to the table a thorough understanding of the business and is heavily involved with the design and development of the fundamental technology underlying the company’s product. Furthermore, he is the one person possessing a deep understanding of the business goals as well as the market, and includes a customer-focused strategy to backlog management.

The risk with this approach resides in the fact that the PO may find it hard to respect Scrum principles and not intervene or add extra work for his team during a sprint. He must understand that, as CEO, he should be the first person embracing the new Agile approach and implement it within the organization. Otherwise, there are very little chances for it to be successful.

Who can be the PO if your company is a services provider?

  • Customer as PO

When this is the case, both the client as well as the team benefit from enhanced transparency and clarity. This is mainly due to the fact that the customer is the person who best knows his/ her product, thus being able to communicate clear requirements to the team while also staying up-to-date with the latter’s progress at all times. Given the fact that the customer is the one holding the entire understanding of the product, any middleman in between him and the Scrum team adds layers of interpretation which results in more ambiguity and ultimately lowers communication.

The Challenge as seen by Thinslices

Unfortunately, the risk resides in the fact that, many times, the client is unable to shed the mentality that he is an outside individual who appoints others to work for him. At the same time, in order for Scrum to really work, the client needs to be part of the team and is oftentimes required to also contribute to the project. That is why, in order to educate clients in the Scrum spirit, a mentality shift is required and it cannot be achieved overnight. The whole process requires patience and collaboration from both client and team.

  • Trained Customer Representative as PO

As opposed to the previous situation where the customer is the PO, in this case, the trained customer representative can actually be an integrated part of the team and has the possibility to work with the team for longer. Therefore, all the practices are streamlined through experience. Additionally, he has the necessary skills to transform requirements from needs to stories/ acceptance criteria/ etc.

The Challenge as seen by Thinslices

The biggest challenge revolves around the dangers of miscommunication. The PO may not fully understand the input from the team/ client and this can result in confusion and ultimately lead to product defects and extra costs.

  • BA appointed by the team as PO

One thing for sure: the client is not going to look out after the needs of your company. In most cases, the client wants everything faster and cheaper. Consequently, having a knowledgeable, trusted and business-savvy person from the services side in the role of PO seems like the perfect choice and has all the chances of being successful.

The Challenge as seen by Thinslices

Although BAs are definitely closer to the team than client representatives, they are, this time, too far away from the client. Given this situation, there is the risk of them failing to grasp the client’s requirements and his view of the final product. 

That’s about it on Scrum roles and their significance. Our next article will be dealing with Scrum ceremonies. Sprint Retrospective is not the same as Sprint Review. Stay tuned!



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