Scrum Roles: The Anatomy of a Scrum Team

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Thanks to the evolution of modern business practices, agile, an iterative approach to planning and guiding the project process, is on the mind of nearly every manager. Agile has migrated from software development to touch just about every corner of the project management universe, and scrum is one of the most popular frameworks for implementing it.

Scrum works so well with agile because, according to Scrum.org, it allows team members to “address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value.”

So, if you want to take advantage of this framework you’ll probably be wondering, “What is a scrum, what is a scrum team and what are the roles that makes up that team?” Let’s begin by briefly defining scrum.

What Is Scrum?

According to Scrum.org, scrum is a simple framework that facilitates team collaboration on complex projects and products. Scrum was developed by co-creators Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland. They describe the framework as “lightweight, simple to understand and difficult to master.”

It’s important to understand that scrum is not a methodology; it is a framework for putting the methodology of agile into practice. Scrum replaces the programmed algorithmic approaches used in linear waterfall projects with empirical scientific methods that are heuristic. Scrum empowers people on the team by supporting self-organization when dealing with the unpredictability of a project.

Guiding Values for a Scrum Team

In 2016, the scrum values were added to the Scrum Guide. These team values include courage, focus, commitment, respect and openness. Let’s dig a little deeper into those values:

  • Courage, as in courage to do the right thing
  • Focus, as in focusing on sprints (short iterations)
  • Commitment, as in commitment to the goals of the scrum team
  • Respect, as in respect for each team member
  • Openness, as in openness about the challenges and performance of the work
Scrum Roles in a Scrum Team

Scrum Roles for Project Management

If you’re interested in using scrum, the Scrum Alliance says you need to understand how scrum roles differ from the traditional project management roles. There are only three major roles on a scrum team, and these roles don’t necessarily align with traditional project management.

The three scrum roles are as follows.

  • Product Owner: The person with the product vision
  • Scrum Master: The scrum expert who helps the team build the product according to the scrum framework
  • Development Team: The team members who execute the work

Of course, these are broad strokes and are merely the beginning of a real understanding of these roles and how they work together. They might appear like traditional waterfall project management roles, with the product owner being the sponsor, and so on, but that’s not really the case. Let’s examine each role more closely for a more complete understanding of the scrum roles.

The Product Owner

The product owner is the foundation for project success. This person is responsible for defining the work and then prioritizing those tasks. They are clear on the goals of the project, as well as those of the customer, market and organization. They communicate this to the scrum team and guide them through the project.

How is this different than the similar role in a traditional project management team? For one, the product owner remains actively involved throughout the life cycle of the project. Rather than merely defining all the work at the start with a scope statement, like a traditional project manager, the product owner will review and reprioritize with feedback as needs change.

Think of the product owner as the central part of the business value for scrum initiatives. They are constantly working towards aligning the work with project objectives. That doesn’t mean they control the work; they are not micromanagers. They are highly self-disciplined and will be assisted by the scrum master so that progress is maintained.

The Scrum Master

As the name implies, the scrum master is the expert in all things scrum and provides a guiding light to lead the project to success. In a sense, they are the protector of the team in that they will make sure that everyone on the project can focus without distractions. That includes distractions from an overreaching product owner, and organizational or internal distractions, too.

But the scum master also protects the scrum process. Since they’re experts in scrum and know how it should be applied, they are vigilant that the product owner and development team are working within the scrum framework. They are not merely scrum police, but scrum teachers who will coach team members on how to most effectively use the framework.

Though some might see this as a project manager by a different name, it is not. Project managers manage the work of the project team members, whereas a scrum master guides his team but lets them work autonomously. The scrum master is the only person who is truly accountable to the process. To maintain the scrum process, the scrum master leads a daily scrum meeting to ensure that everyone on the team is aware of one another’s tasks.

Related: A Beginner’s Guide to Scrum Ceremonies

The Development Team

The development team is the heart of the scrum team, as they’re the ones responsible for doing the actual project work. Each member of the team has a skill that, together with the other team members, combines to tackle all the needs of executing the project.

The team acts collectively and is in charge of figuring out how to achieve their goals. The product owner sets the priorities, and the work is guided by the scrum process and monitored by the scrum master. But all other responsibilities are laid at the feet of the development team.

That autonomy is what makes scrum unique. It is the very core of the process. What comes from this approach is strong team bonds and a positive working environment where people feel empowered on the job. While this is not entirely alien to traditional project management, waterfall teams, for example, are managed by a project manager, not self-managed.

What Makes a Good Scrum Team?

There are several things you want to look for when assembling your scrum team. First do all your team members share a similar working ideology? That’s crucial to them working well together. They need to take accountability as a team for the delivery of the product. And to do that they have to feel empowered to do so.

The team must be as autonomous as possible. They’re self-organizing and too much hierarchical pressure is going to be counterproductive. Therefore, the skill sets of the team members of a scrum team must be balanced, so they all work separately but together.

What’s the Average Scrum Team Size?

Scrum teams are small, usually with five to nine people, with seven being the ideal. There are no sub-teams. The people who make up the scrum team work full-time, ideally in the same office. If the work must be conducted over various locations, then each of those sites should have their own scrum team.

If you’re looking for a tool to support the autonomy of your scrum team, then ProjectManager.com is for you. Our cloud-based project management software is designed to foster collaboration and give team members the tools they need to take control of a project, while offering product owners a real-time dashboard to monitor and adjust as needed. Try it today with this free 30-day trial.

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