How does Scrum work? What is the role of the Scrum Master in the Agile methodology? What are the other Scrum roles and responsibilities in web development?
When it comes to Scrum roles and the responsibilities of Scrum team members, it is helpful to begin with an analogy. Think of the last time you tried to complete a challenging task "by the book." You probably found the process jarring and clunky, as most manuals tend to be littered with technical detail. Now flip the script and imagine that you had to do the same without any instructions at all. If the project were complex enough, you would likely find yourself out of your depth. For many Agile web development companies, the Scrum framework is the answer to this problem, as it sits comfortably between autonomy and alignment and enables software developers to make meaningful progress. This does not mean, of course, that it is always easy for companies to grasp it.
So for the sake of clarity, Scrum is an Agile framework designed primarily for complex projects that aims to organize and coordinate development work in the software development process. Most notably, Scrum uses short development cycles known as "sprints" that typically last between one and four weeks. The framework was created in the early 1990s by software developers Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber—two legends in the Agile community.
Scrum is often compared to another approach, so let’s put an end to the Scrum vs. Kanban confusion. While Scrum aims to provide the development team with a better culture, schedule, and structure, Kanban is above all a visual project management method that can be used to stay on top of tasks and cut down on unnecessary inefficiencies. Instead of sprints, Kanban makes use of the so-called Kanban board, which consists of columns for each project phase, and is at the center of the Kanban method. See Kanban and Scrum compared below:
Unlike in other project management methodologies, Scrum roles are both flexible and non-hierarchical, enabling greater collaboration and involvement between all relevant company departments. This makes them critical for streamlining project delivery.
As hinted above, the roles and positions within a company do not always correlate with Scrum roles, as these are likely to vary with every project depending on the requirements and individual skills.
Consequently, in contrast to traditional project management, Scrum does not have—or even require— a "team leader" or "product manager" position. Instead, Scrum team members are usually composed of the three basic roles below:
The guardian of the project vision, the Scrum Product Owner is responsible for representing the customer. They control the budget, dynamically prioritize the backlog (a list of implementable features), and coordinate the development team. The role of the product owner is undoubtedly the most complex role in Scrum, as it requires exceptional communication skills, excellent domain knowledge, business acumen, and a measure of accountability.
The Scrum Master, on the other hand, behaves essentially as a coach, as they ensure the team is following Scrum rules. They strive to remove impediments, facilitate required meetings, and keep product owners and development teams on track. Though the role is most similar to the traditional role of project managers, the Scrum Master has no actual authority over the team. Instead, they are essentially Scrum experts who help developers reach their individual goals. For this reason, they must be well-versed in Agile and Scrum, be natural leaders with a knack for teaching, and possess strong organizational skills.
Finally, the Scrum Development Team is the beating heart of Scrum, as they work hard to deliver a working product. Scrum development teams are both cross-functional and self-organizing, determining the best way to meet the product owner’s targets without any "help" or external intervention. This means they must be responsible, display great initiative, and of course, be technically gifted.
In addition to the three main roles spelled out above, we could also include the role of Stakeholders, who serve as counselors or observers and include anyone with a stake in the project; and of Sponsors, who would be anyone interested in the project who might also provide financial resources.
In summary, the Scrum Product Owner defines goals and priorities and acts like the interface between customers and developers; the Scrum Development Team works independently and acts according to the Product Owner’s targets; and the Scrum Master monitors it all and makes sure everything is running as it should.
Much like Agile itself, Scrum roles and responsibilities are put in place to prioritize people. Not only do they enable both in-house and dedicated development teams to strike the perfect balance between autonomy and alignment, but they are ideal for empowering Scrum team members to meet each company’s individual needs.
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