The important relationship of a Scrum Master and a Product Owner

05.07.2017 | 7 min read

Traditional management failed to address one fundamental productivity issue. For your team to perform admirably, you have to take care of two separate worlds: business objectives and human well-being. And it’s a crazy difficult thing to take care of just by one person. Only the true bond between Scrum Master and Product Owner can save the day.

Once upon a time, in The Waterfalls Land, lived a Product Owner and a Scrum Master. In the beginning, they did not know each other. They did not know what is yet to come either. If they had heard that they were meant to be together, they would not have believed it. Here is the story of their love and devotion.

Love Letters

Dear Scrum Master,

I wish you had been with me right from the start.

A year ago, I started a new project to change The Waterfalls Land. We called it The Ultimate Sword Sharpness. No more blunt swords! My spirit was just like Kevin Flynn’s when he started The Grid, or Willy Wonka’s in his Chocolate Factory. We kicked off small, but with big aspirations. We wanted to create a perfect system.

Soon, I realized that I couldn’t control anything anymore, nothing was perfect, and my team became exhausted in no time. We attempted to sharpen not only swords but also razors and knives. After several weeks, we couldn’t handle the demand.

I didn’t know what the value of our work was anymore despite the deep understanding of our business. I couldn’t understand what people needed. There were so many technical difficulties I had to deal with. I thought I had everything under control, but a day came when the team simply refused to work.

We had a wonderful idea and so many talented engineers to improve the sharpening of all these blades, and yet the work stopped completely.

I thought – whom do I need more if I have all these engineers? Now I have you.

With Love,
Your Product Owner

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Dear Product Owner,

I’m so glad that we found each other. A team, although a complicated machine of sorts, is not something that a single engineer would handle.

Even the bravest of knights need support, even if they say that empathy or emotions are for the weak, and communication is something that just happens by itself. Sometimes you might also need that someone, who puts all the parties in agreement and understanding, who looks at things from a distance and conquers obstacles before they appear. A wise wizard that listens and gives the courage to face the dragon, even though he will not be the one that faces it.

And here I am. Your Gandalf, your Merlin, your Obi-Wan Kenobi. Me and my enchanted treasure chest, full of unconditional compassion.

You see, The Ultimate Sword Sharpness needs your focus on what actually is the value and the purpose of that business. It can be The Ultimate Razor Sharpness in the end. If you’ve got that focus, I vow to help your team in every way possible.

I am the agent of alliance, partnership, and synergy. Only together we can move a mountain. And to do that, you need me, and I need you. Because you know where the pot of gold is. You lead the way.

Yours Truly,
Scrum Master

Dear Scrum Master,

I have to admit you reminded me about the most important component of our work – people.

It’s not that I’m blind to their needs. Sometimes it is easy to forget about them, though, to think that the business is all that matters, and business usually means resources and revenues. But in the end, it’s always people – be it users, clients, or engineers. You’re the guardian of humanity, and I’m thankful for it.

In the end, my work is explaining the business value and translating it from one group to another. But it’s so easy to fall into a trap where I forget about how much they mean to me.

I hope you know the Aesop’s Fable about the Belly and the Members:

One fine day it occurred to the Members of the Body that they were doing all the work and the Belly was having all the food. So they held a meeting, and after a long discussion, decided to strike work till the Belly consented to take its proper share of the work.

So for a day or two, the Hands refused to take the food, the Mouth refused to receive it, and the Teeth had no work to do. But after a day or two, the Members began to find that they themselves were not in a very active condition: the Hands could hardly move, and the Mouth was all parched and dry, while the Legs were unable to support the rest.

So thus they found that even the Belly in its dull quiet way was doing necessary work for the Body, and that all must work together or the Body will go to pieces.

Thinking about which one of us, or which one of the other team members is the head, is wrong from the start. We’re not the head. We’re all like organs that have to work together, or we die.

Thank you for keeping us alive.

Yours truly,
Product Owner

Dear Product Owner,

Thank you for sending that fable to me. I see it as an amulet that we have to have always with us, and that will defend us from becoming the double-headed monster. Especially given that the path to monstrousness is tempting, and seems just too easy. And it never has a happy ending. How many stories of fallen masters do we know? Sauron, Voldemort, Emperor Palpatine? Hard-handed ruling instead of teamwork, struggling for power in place of positive empowerment, or crime and punishment instead of common goals.

Yes, we are leaders, but we’re a part of the same organism. We cannot end up as two heads of the same dragon. We’re more like the brain and the heart – indispensable and complementary at the same time.

As long as we stay in harmony, we build a Fellowship of the Ring, and we can find the land of milk and honey. We keep everyone on the light side of the force. We form a team of Jedi Knights, not mindless orcs. We thrive.

With love,
Scrum Master

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The Scrum Master and the Product Owner defeated the double-headed monster, but their story does not end here. It is a never ending adventure that shows how difficult it is for one person to take care of everything on their own.

The reality of developing products from the ground up requires tons of attention from both the business and the human perspective. It is almost certain that many parties will be involved on many different levels. The Scrum Guide does not explain that exhaustively enough. It is difficult to master.

For software development teams, the separation between product ownership and teamwork empowerment brings unique values of clarity, transparency and efficiency. Being aware of how important both business and psychological perspectives are, we are in favor of running long-term, complex projects in a Product Owner & Scrum Master duo. What Jeff Sutherland said about team members is even more important for us:

We want to be that guy – the Super-Juggler.
We tell ourselves we can.
Unfortunately, we can’t.
And the more we think we can, the worse we actually are at it.

Jeff Sutherland, 2014, Scrum. The art of doing twice the work in half the time, Random House Business Books, New York.
*The title refers to Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”, kudos if you guessed 🙂

P.S. The illustrations in this blog post were created by our awesome designer Damian Denis. Thank you so much, you rock!

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