Difference Between Agile Product Owner & Scrum Master

Readers will learn about the distinct duties of agile product owners and scrum masters, as well as the degree requirements, median salaries, and job growth outlooks for these two professionals.

Comparing Agile Product Owners to Scrum Masters

Agile refers to a software development framework that involves dividing responsibilities and completing tasks in incremental and distinct chunks to promote self-organization and continuous self-improvement. Within the agile approach, Scrum is a method of project management that divides traditional project management tasks between a product owner, scrum master, and a development team.

The agile product owner is the visionary leader and major stakeholder or voice of the stakeholders for the product being developed. The scrum master guides the development team, lends expert opinions, and serves more as a project facilitator and coach.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2018)* Job Growth (2016-2026)**
Agile Product Owners Bachelor's Degree $80,938 12% (computer and information systems managers)
Scrum Masters Bachelor's Degree $83,511 24% (software developers)

Sources: *Payscale, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of Agile Product Owners vs. Scrum Masters

Agile project owners and scrum masters both work to develop software products within the agile framework. However, each shoulders unique project management duties.

Agile product owners carry the business responsibilities associated with software development. They must identify stakeholder and consumer needs and decide what the software will consist of, including technical requirements and detailed specifications. They then impart the product vision and goals to the scrum master and development team. They also approve final iterations and decide on project specifics like schedule and budget.

The scrum master works with the development team to tackle the requirements set forth by the product owner. In an agile framework, the development team also makes independent decisions regarding specific aspects of the project. The role of the scrum master is therefore to facilitate team relationships, help solve technical issues, clear obstacles, and coach excellence and team cohesion throughout the process.

Agile Product Owners

Agile product owners connect the software customer, business stakeholder, and development team by identifying needs and defining a product that meets them. They communicate what the product should consist of by creating a prioritized feature list, also known as a product backlog. They set deadlines and provide concrete direction while empowering the agile team with a high degree of autonomy; the team is allowed to choose how to tackle the benchmarks for completion, for example.

Though product owners may develop software for mass production and sale, they also could be the key end-user of the product if they are designing the program for in-house use. Agile product owners meet with development teams to clarify requirements and serve as product experts; they have the authority to make final decisions about the product.

Job responsibilities of an agile product owner include:

  • Creating product roadmaps and release plans
  • Managing product risk
  • Attending product management and stakeholder meetings
  • Representing client/customer interests

Scrum Masters

Scrum masters are agile experts who guide development teams and aim to deliver software iterations according to the product owner's vision and specifications. They perform basic project management tasks like tracking progress and reporting issues, but their role is moreso to facilitate the daily efforts of development teams by providing support and coaching. Agile development teams make many autonomous decisions, and the scrum master is the 'servant-leader' who helps keep the team functioning effectively and efficiently. The focus of the scrum master is maintaining the agile process itself; this is also their key responsibility.

Job responsibilities of a scrum master include:

  • Collaborating with the product owner to manage backlog
  • Preventing team burnout
  • Resolving team conflicts
  • Implementing effective team processes
  • Identifying ineffective processes
  • Eliminating distractions from work environment

Related Careers

Individuals interested in a position as an agile product owner could also look into a career as an IT manager, as both develop technical systems and programs. Additionally, those curious about a future as a scrum master could explore a career as a computer programmer, since both develop computer software and systems.

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