Scrum 101: Roles and Responsibilities

What is Scrum?

Scrum is a practice in which people can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value.

Agile and Scrum are words thrown around loosely in the software development world. But, a lot of companies use multiple integrated methodologies to develop software. Scrum is a structured methodology and has a self-contained process improvement apparatus to help you evolve your software development. It has a defined structure with four roles containing unique responsibilities, four ceremonies, and four artifacts.

The Scrum Guide states that “The purpose of the Scrum framework for developing, delivering and sustaining complex products”. Products can be anything from a report to a module or automated process within an application that is being built. The Waterfall methodology spends significant time planning out the entire project. This methodology can be useful in smaller projects or off-the-shelf software that won’t be customized, but in large custom application builds the requirements can change before the planning is completed. Scrum allows for requirements and functionality to change, ensuring the needs of the customer are met.

Roles & Responsibilities

The Product Owner is the single wringable neck on the sprint team. Product owners usually only manage a single product and they act as the face of the customer. The Product owner is responsible for only delivering the items of the most value to the customer.  They represent the customer by prioritizing the product backlog, running the sprint planning ceremony, ensuring the Development Team has the necessary information to build the product and working with the Scrum Master to remove any roadblocks from the Development Team. They do not assign any work to the Development Team, only prioritize the most valuable work to be completed each sprint. The Product Owner must have the authority to say no to the customer! However, you can be tactful in your approach offering alternative solutions to meet the customer’s needs.

The Scrum Master is the “Servant Leader”. They are responsible for identifying and removing roadblocks for the Development Team. They are responsible for scheduling and leading all scrum ceremonies except for Sprint Planning. And while they are a facilitator for sprint planning, the Product Owner discusses the priorities with the Development Team. The Scrum Master is responsible for keeping the Development Team on track during all meetings, identifying meeting agenda and facilitate a good environment for the development team to do their work.

Development Team is a self-organizing, cross-functional, multi-skilled group of individuals. Typically, Development Teams consist of two to seven highly skilled people. They are responsible for identifying any missing skillsets within their group and adding or removing team members to ensure team cohesion. The development team selects the work they can complete during each sprint from the prioritized backlog. They ensure that all development tasks will complete the user story. The Team ensures that all stories are thoroughly explained by the Product Owner. They also ask questions that will help them better understand the stories.

Each role in Scrum plays a very important part in software development. The Product Owner provides value to the customer and focuses on the big picture. The Scrum Master is a servant leader with a focus on the application of the Scrum framework. The Scrum Master also takes feedback from the entire team to implement improvements in the process. The Development Team is self-organizing and selects the work they can complete during a single sprint, communicating progress to the Scrum Master and Product Owner daily. Scrum, like any framework, is a tool you can put in your toolbox. The trick for you to be effective is knowing when and what tool to pull out and use.

Better Together

Here we only scratch the surface of the three roles, but it’s enough to establish that each is unique to Scrum — these aren’t simply revised Waterfall roles. Further, each one complements the other; success can come only from embracing all three and allowing them to work together. As organizations move toward Scrum, it is vital that they support each of these roles, allowing time for expertise to develop and resisting comparisons between Scrum and Waterfall.