6 Ways a Product Owner Should Collaborate With Their Scrum Master

By: Kreisler Ng, cPrime Director of Client Services

In an efficient Agile environment using Scrum methodologies, the roles of Product Owner and Scrum Master are distinct and both vitally important. Although their skill sets and activities may overlap on occasion, it’s important for both individuals to fully understand their own roles, and to appreciate how they can make the most of their collaboration.

The Product Owner’s role

Product Owners are generally the key stakeholders in a project. As such, they are responsible for determining the overall direction the project will take, what features the product will contain, and what priority each feature will be given.

They are responsible for maintaining the product backlog and ensuring the entire scrum team understands the overall vision for the product. Although, it’s important for them to hold back from micromanaging the team and trying to determine exactly how much work will be attempted in each sprint.

The Product Owner also serves as a conduit carrying communications to and from the scrum team and acting as liaison with upper management and other departments that have a bearing on the project’s success.

The Scrum Master’s role

The Scrum Master’s main responsibility is to ensure that the scrum team works as well as possible within the scrum framework. They act as coach and protector, encouraging the team with daily standup meetings that help keep the Product Owner’s vision in front of them, removing impediments to their efficient work flow, and working closely with the Product Owner to keep the product backlog in shape for each sprint.

Where the Product Owner is responsible for the product being created using Scrum, the Scrum Master is the “process owner” who keeps the team on track procedurally. Working closely with the Product Owner, they help ensure that feature requests, time boxes, and expectations from team members are reasonable within the Scrum framework. Scrum Masters also bring insight back to a Product Owner following an unsuccessful sprint to help make the next sprint more successful.

How should the Product Owner and Scrum Master collaborate?

These two roles overlap in some of their skill sets, which means the individuals filling them should be able to collaborate well as peers. Although, the Product Owner typically has greater authority in the company.

The goal both of them share is creating a viable product through the use of Agile methodologies. To accomplish this, the Product Owner and Scrum Master should make every effort to collaborate closely in the following areas:

1. Backlog Grooming – While this is the Product Owner’s responsibility, the Scrum Master is in an excellent position to help the Product Owner groom the backlog. With the results of each sprint retrospective fresh in mind, the Scrum Master can work with the Product Owner to ensure the next sprint is even more in line with reality and set the team up for success.

2. Enhancing Team Communication – Working closely with the Scrum Master, who works directly with the team every day, the Product Owner can make sure all necessary communications regarding the project and the product vision are clear to the team, and can carry back any necessary messages to other departments, teams, or levels of the organization.

3. Improving Team Morale – By collaborating throughout a project, the Product Owner and Scrum Master can keep a team’s morale and productivity at the highest levels simply by keeping lines of communication open and setting priorities based on what is reasonable rather than on arbitrary business goals.

4. Ensuring Cross-dependencies With Other Teams – Both the Product Owner and Scrum Master likely have close relationships with other teams, other owners and Scrum Masters, as well as past team members that may work elsewhere in the organization. Leveraging those relationships can help both to improve the current project and smooth any bumps in the road.

5. Clarifying the Product Vision – While the Product Owner is responsible for establishing and communicating the strategic vision behind the product, the Scrum Master is responsible for bringing the team on board and making that vision a reality. It makes sense for both to be fully engaged in the vision and be able to clearly communicate it appropriately.

6. Facilitating Engaging Meetings – While each role is responsible for various meetings, in practice it can be much more effective for the team to see the Product Owner and Scrum Master switch up the norm in meeting facilitation for the sake of maintaining interest and engagement. Each individual will have their own strengths and personal style in facilitation and can use those differences to bring out the best in each meeting.

In the most effective team layouts, the Product Owner and Scrum Master are truly partners in a cohesive and mutually beneficial tag-team effort to get the best possible results from their team’s efforts.

If you’d like to see greater collaboration between your Product Owners and Scrum Masters, the help of a professional Agile coach may be exactly what you need.

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