The Key Differences Between a Scrum Master & Product Owner

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Clint Fontanella
Clint Fontanella


Product development is a team sport and, if you want to create a successful product, your Scrum teams need to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.


This means that your employees need to understand the role they play in the development process and how they contribute to the product's overall success. There are a lot of jobs in Agile Scrum development and defining the responsibilities on each one removes miscommunication and keeps projects on track.→ Download Now: Free Product Marketing Kit [Free Templates]

Two roles that are often confused with one another are the Scrum Master and Product Owner. Although these two interact with each other, they perform unique tasks during the development process. As a result, the development team gains a clear picture of the product and an outline of the steps they need to take to bring it to life.

In the post, let's break down the Scrum Master and Product Owner positions including the key differences each one has during the product development process.

The product backlog is a crucial component of Agile product development. It contains all of the tasks needed to be completed during the project. The Product Owner must make this resource readily available to the Scrum Master and ensure it accurately reflects the needs of the customer, business, and any other relevant stakeholders.

To do this, Product Owners must perform multiple roles for the development team. They act as product designers, customer liaisons, and business strategists in order to gain a complete understanding of the product's purpose.

Once the Product Owner and Product Manager have perfected the product roadmap, it's up to the Scrum Master to bring the vision to life. If the roadmap or backlog changes along the way, the Scrum Master will notify the development team about the update.

Now that we've covered the basics of each role, let's dive into the key differences between these positions, including job description, career skills, responsibilities, and average salaries.

Scrum Master Job Description

Scrum Masters are responsible for implementing the Scrum approach with the development and engineering teams. This makes their job description fairly straightforward. Here's an example we pulled from Southern New Hampshire University.

"Southern New Hampshire University is currently seeking a Scrum Master. The Scrum Master will be a member of SNHU's Unify Solutions (CRM) Team and will be responsible for leading team processes and practices (e.g. Agile, Scrum, Kanban, etc.) associated with the delivery of solution incident, problem, request and enhancement capabilities. Additionally, the Scrum Master will be responsible for fulfilling other cross-departmental coordination roles, such as Release Coordinator and Change Coordinator."

Product Owner Job Description

Product Owners plan and prioritize work for the product's Scrum teams. But, to do this, they need to work behind the scenes with internal and external stakeholders to create a perfect product roadmap. This involves interviewing customers, reviewing product feedback, analyzing market trends, and working with upper management to approve a product vision.

Here's a job description we found for a Product Owner at EtQ.

"Do you have a passion for building great software solutions? Looking for a new challenge and an opportunity to further advance your skills and career in a great working environment? If you are a highly-motivated individual with the passion to build awesome user experiences and solution, you should apply! We are seeking a strong software Product Owner to deliver the best software solutions to our innovative and industry-leading products for our Quality Management customers."

Scrum Master Skills

Scum Masters must possess in-depth knowledge of the Agile Methodology and be capable of communicating its best practices to the rest of the team. This requires them to be excellent communicators and gifted mentors. If a team member doesn't understand why they're being asked to do something, the Scrum Master must justify the task and explain why it's relevant to the product's vision.

Additionally, Scrum Masters should be organized. They're managing multiple people at once, so they need to have a set process for overseeing each Scrum team. They also need leadership skills so they can set attainable goals for their employees. This will keep people motivated and prevent teams from taking shortcuts during the development process.

Product Owner Skills

Product Owners tend to be jacks of all trades. They're marketers, engineers, and support reps all wrapped up into one role. This means they need to possess a wide range of skills to succeed at their job.

For example, Product Owners need to be intuitive and understand the needs of different stakeholders. And, sometimes those needs conflict with one another. The Product Owner must make the right judgment calls when creating the product backlog and find a balance that appeases all of the company's stakeholders.

Product Owners must also be savvy about their industry. They need to understand how their market works and what motivates their customer base. This requires them to build trustworthy relationships with customers and work across departments to learn about the business as a whole. Their ability to create meaningful relationships will play a major role in the product's success.

Scrum Master Responsibilities

Below are some of the common responsibilities for the Scrum Master position.

  • Plan and execute the Agile Methodology with the Scrum development team.
  • Monitor the sprint's progress and remove roadblocks impeding the product's development.
  • Work with the Product Owner to make sure the product backlog is up to date.
  • Communicate changes in the product backlog to the development team.
  • Motivate the development team to complete tasks on time.
  • Report on the success of the sprint.

Product Owner Responsibilities

Here are some responsibilities for Product Owners.

  • Create and maintain the product backlog.
  • Work with the Product Manager to create a product vision and roadmap.
  • Collaborate with the Scrum Master to ensure the product's development aligns with its original vision.
  • Ensure the product backlog is updated and available to the entire development team.
  • Work across departments and prioritize tasks for the Scrum Master based on stakeholder needs.
  • Evaluate progress throughout the development process.

Scrum Master Average Salary

According to Glassdoor, Scrum Masters can make anywhere between $74K and $116K each year. In the United States, the average salary is $93,235.

Product Owner Average Salary

Glassdoor also reports that the average Product Owner can make between $84K and $139K each year. In the United States, the average salary is $114,130.

If you're running an SMB, you may not have filled these roles yet at your company. However, if you're planning to save money by combining these jobs into one, you might want to rethink your strategy.

We'll explain why this might not be the best idea in the section below.

Can the Product Owner Also be Scrum Master?

The short answer is no. The Scrum Master and Product Owner should always be separate roles, and there are few reasons why this is beneficial to your business.

First, when Scrum Masters act as Product Owners, they don't have the same access to customer feedback. Without this data, it's difficult to create products that fulfill your customers' needs and goals. You'll spend all this time creating products that your customers don't like or aren't what they expect.

The next problem is that when Product Owners act as Scrum Masters, they take on new responsibilities that devalue their original ones. The Product Owner is a full-time job, and if they're taking time to perform Scrum Master duties, they'll have to cut corners when creating the product backlog and managing the development process. There'll be less room for innovation and more focus on completing tasks before deadlines. Since the product owner has too much on their plate, the value of your product will begin to suffer.

For more product management tips, read how to become a product manager.

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