The successful development of a digital product relies upon the collaborative workings of an Agile development team.  This means that the team all need to understand the role they play in the process, and how each contributes to the product’s success.

With such a lot of professional input, it’s imperative that each role is clearly defined to avoid any miscommunication and to keep the project on track.

Two roles that are integral to the outcome of a project are those of Scrum Master and Product Owner. Although very distinct, these are two positions that are often confused. Although they do work very closely with one another, the Product Owner and Scrum Master perform unique tasks throughout the development process.

This post aims to break down the differences between the roles of Scrum Master and Product Owner and outline the role each plays during the product development process.

Scrum Master vs Product Owner. The role and responsibilities.

Here is a breakdown of the key differences between the two roles, and the parts they play in the development process.

Product Owner (PO).

It is the job of the PO to manage the product backlog. The product backlog refers to the tasks needed to be completed to ensure the project has the desired outcome. It is a crucial part of Agile product development.  They must make the backlog readily available to the Scrum Master, and ensure it accurately reflects the needs of the customer, the business, and other stakeholders.

It is the role of the PO to plan and prioritise work for the Scrum team. To do this, they must wear many hats. They need to have a complete understanding of the intended purpose of the product, and in so doing, will work to ensure the company gains the maximum value from the product.

The PO will work behind the scenes of the project to create a perfect product roadmap. To formulate this, they will complete tasks such as

  • interview customers,
  • review product feedback,
  • liase with internal and external stakeholders,
  • analyse market trends
  • work with upper management to approve a product vision.

Scrum Master (SM).

In contrast, the Scrum Master is the professional who leads the development team. Once the Product Owner and the Scrum Master have laid out the product roadmap, the Scrum Master will bring the product to life.  They are responsible for implementing the backlog tasks with the engineering and development teams.

No development project is without changes. When these changes to the backlog or roadmap occur, it’s the role of the Scrum Master to relay these to the development team or the relevant employees.

Scrum Master vs. Product Owner.  The skills required.

Here is a breakdown of the skills required to perform these roles.

Product Owner (PO).

  • Multi-faceted individuals with a myriad of skills.
  • Intuitive and empathetic, able to understand the needs of different stakeholders.
  • Analytical decision-makers, and are able to make judgement calls on the requirements of each stakeholder group, even when they conflict with each other. They must find a balance that will result in the most successful product possible.
  • Strong market knowledge.
  • Must be able to build and maintain solid professional relationships.
  • Able to work across departments.

Scrum Master (SM).

  • Solid knowledge of the Agile Methodology
  • Be able to communicate its principles and practices to the rest of the team.
  • Skilled mentor – be able to support less experienced team members and be able to explain why a task is relevant to the product’s vision.
  • Be highly organised. Able to manage multiple people at once and oversee multiple scrum teams.
  • Leaders and motivational goal setters.

Can the Scrum Master and the Product Owner ever be one and the same?

Industry theorists strongly believe that the Scrum Master and the Product Owner should always be separate roles.

Should the two roles collide, there may be significant negative repercussions for the business and the product.

Here are some arguments why the two roles should always be separate.

  • When a Scrum Master acts as a Product Owner, they will not have access to the same customer feedback. Without this information, it is difficult to create products that meet the needs of the customer.
  • When a Product Owner acts as a Scrum Master, they must take on responsibilities that negate their original ones.  The focus will be on task completion and not innovative design.

Scrum Master vs Product Owner. The salaries.

According to Glassdoor, there are no huge disparities between the average salary earned by Product Owners and Scrum Masters here in the UK.

It is advised that the average London salary for both a Product Owner and a Scrum Master is £59k per annum.

Of course, it’s worth remembering that this is an average. Depending upon the size of the company and of course considering regional variations, candidates may earn a figure that deviates from the average.

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Are you a Product Owner, or a Scrum Master looking for your next big opportunity? With such huge digital change afoot, we are always looking for talent to own and drive the digital journey of our clients.

If you are interested in hearing more about our Product Owner and Scrum Master opportunities, we’d love to talk to you. Drop us a line, send us your CV, or search through our tech jobs today!

About the author: I work hard to find the best opportunities for my candidates and the best talent for my clients. My honest and pragmatic approach helps me to build lasting relationships and deliver real value.  I have extensive experience helping organisations overcome their critical challenges in the digital environment, and have worked with everything from start-ups to major global brands.

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