Can Product Owner and Scrum Master be the same person?

Can Product Owner and Scrum Master be the same person?

Vivek Jayaraman
31st Mar, 2020

 Can the Product Owner and Scrum Master be the same person?

It is one of those questions that keeps coming up usually while discussing the roles on Scrum. Any question that is asked with “can” usually be answered with “YES”. So, yes, a Product Owner can also be a Scrum Master. There, I said it. But, shouldn’t there be a follow-up question? Oh, yes, there it comes. Is it efficient when these two roles are played by the same person? The answer now is, “NO”. When it comes to efficiency and role effectiveness, a person can play only one role at a time. Before getting deep into the challenges of role conflict, let us understand what the roles stand for in Scrum.

Who is a Scrum Master?

A Scrum Master is a change agent, coach, and facilitator. Scrum Masters are hired to help teams transform from what they are today to a better state with better outcomes. They facilitate decision-making by creating the visibility of the impacts by showcasing short-term and long-term implications to make a better decision. Scrum Master identifies and addresses systemic issues and team dysfunctions to help the teams focus on achieving their goals.


Read more about Scrum Master here.


Who is a Product Owner?

A Product Owner is someone responsible for business model design, user research, market research, and as well as product development. You could say that a Product Owner is a combination of a Product Manager and a Project Manager. In other words, you could say that a Product Owner is a combination of a Business Analyst and a Product Marketing Manager. 


Read more about the Product Owner here.


What are the challenges?

Each of the roles in Scrum is specifically tailored for serving different purposes. Their focus is also different. The Scrum Master’s focus is on the process, practices, people, and system. The Product Owner focuses entirely on the Product and business.

  • When a Product Owner is asked to play the role of a Scrum Master, the primary role will supersede the secondary role. The Product Owner’s role is to maximize the value of the product delivered by the development team. The natural instinct is to get so much work done by the development team rather than coaching them to get better.
  • If a Scrum Master is asked to play the role of a Product Owner, it isn’t going to be an easy one as the Product Owner role is as an owner/CEO of the product. There are a lot of many skills needed to become a Product Owner.
  • A person cannot maximize value and as well as help the team to become self-organized and high performing. Each role’s focus is different and trying to merge them will create more hindrance than a help.
  • Even on a temporary basis, one cannot become a proxy of another as it will create confusion. They will not be able to do justice to both roles.
  • The Product Owner has complete authority and the Scrum Master is a servant-leader without authority.
  • The Product Owner's role in itself is complex. Loads of activities will be delegated but owned by the Product Owner. Asking the person to also focus on the processes and practices along with it is too much to ask. 

If there are people crunch for playing the roles, find someone who can temporarily play the role until the Organization can find someone on a full-time basis. It is very important that these roles are kept separate without overlapping with their responsibilities.

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