Project Management

Scrum Roles

Scrum frameworks employ people in very particular roles with very distinct responsibilities. And although each person has a specifically defined duty and function, he or she must collaborate seamlessly with colleagues to complete tasks and achieve success. Individuals must clearly understand not only their own importance and obligation to team accomplishments but should also recognize how their actions synchronize with those of other members to enhance outputs, resolve issues, and overcome obstacles.

Scrum Roles: An Overview

To maintain a successful Scrum framework, the individuals involved in the framework must understand their roles and view their responsibilities and interactions differently than if they were involved in a traditional project. Scrum practitioners are expected to assume a greater degree of individual accountability, to share information, and to adjust to a team dynamic that emphasizes creativity and openness to change, rather than waiting for instructions from others or blindly following predetermined project plans and procedures.

Scrum projects need to be staffed with the right people—team members who have the required technical and interpersonal skills and can work with minimal supervision. They must be comfortable with change and be able to work with processes and practices that allow change to occur. They must understand a project’s boundaries and then work autonomously within those boundaries. They will make decisions in conjunction with other team members and collaborate with customers to shape products and adapt to inevitable changes. They’ll hold each other accountable for accomplishing the work that the team agreed to do, and they’ll hold themselves accountable to get results. They must consistently share information, to help the team overcome obstacles and meet their goals.

The Roles

Scrum team members are assigned very particular roles. These are not specific “jobs” filled by specialists but instead are responsibilities that must be performed if the project is to meet its needs. Each of these roles will be explained in greater detail in subsequent assignments but are summarized below for quick reference.

Product owner

The product owner owns the product backlog. He or she prioritizes the user stories in the backlog (adding detail when necessary) and works with the scrum team to plan the team’s sprints.

Scrum master

The scrum master guides the team through the Scrum process, helps the team self-organize, and removes obstacles to team success.

Scrum team

The scrum team is comprised of “specialized generalists”—individuals with special skills but who are willing to take on whatever tasks are necessary to meet sprint objectives.

Scrum coach

Scrum frameworks often include scrum coaches (who often act as advisors or mentors to Scrum practitioners) and usually include customers and stakeholders (who should be involved in requirements meetings and reviews).

Scrum works best in an open, collaborative environment with practitioners who communicate and interact in a way that puts project goals and objectives ahead of individual accolades or achievements. When such people join together, the results often astound stakeholders and customers as outcomes are generated more quickly, more appropriately, and more efficiently than ever expected.

The Product Owner

The Product Owner

The product owner sets the boundaries and direction for a project. He or she interacts with stakeholders, continuously working to understand their needs and to combine all of their requirements into a single voice that shapes the product into a coherent product vision. The product owner achieves this vision by creating and maintaining a product backlog and coordinating the ongoing external communication with customers or stakeholders. By focusing on the external elements of the project (the collection of customer requirements, funding for projects, organizational strategic vision, portfolio management), he or she allows the team to concentrate on delivering value to customers.

Product Owner Responsibilities

Some of the product owner’s primary responsibilities are described below.

Project Boundaries

The product owner sets the high-level boundaries for the project. She will help to determine what the team will deliver (but not how they will deliver it) and how many sprints will be incorporated into a release. She may also be called upon to decide which scrum masters, customers, stakeholders, and team members will be involved, to ensure that the product vision can be achieved and requirements can be met.

Product Backlog Development

As the owner of the product backlog, the product owner continually updates, refines, and prioritizes it on the customer’s behalf. In such capacity, she will need to have extensive knowledge of customer needs and the product itself because she may need to make tradeoffs among the backlog’s user stories to guarantee that prioritization will be effective.

 Sprint Planning

As the scrum team plans its sprints, the product owner will provide any input team members may need to help them select user stories, and answers any questions they may have. She may also assist in the actual selection of stories that provide the most value to customers and stakeholders.

Product Backlog Refinement

As a project progresses, the perceived value of user stories may change, so the product owner may be called upon to move a user story, especially if it is determined that the story might take a great deal of effort or multiple sprints to develop. (In some cases, he may actually lower the priority and include the story in a subsequent cycle.)

And as change requests are submitted from project stakeholders, the product owner will add these requests to the backlog, which may then force another round of prioritization.

Sprint Review

The product owner will play a large part in sprint reviews, as project outcomes are demonstrated and feedback is collected from customers and end users. The owner will then work with the team to determine what requirements would be best to work on in upcoming sprints and releases.

Sprint Cancellation

In some cases, a sprint may have to be canceled if the proposed deliverables are no longer needed. It is important to note that the product owner is the only person who can officially cancel a sprint.

In essence, the product owner is the scrum team’s link to the “outside world.” All communication regarding requests and changes are channeled through the product owner, which then allows the team to focus on its internal operations with minimal interruptions.

Read more The Scrum Cycle

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