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How to decide whether you want to be a Scrum Master or a Product Owner?

As a certified Scrum Trainer, I generally get this question from my participants very often. Not only that, most of the people think that they must do both certifications related to Scrum Master and Product Owner. Well, certifications add value in terms of enhancing your knowledge and may add weight to your resume, you will have to decide what is required and what is not. I am trying to clear that thought in this article.

This question pops up in couple of ways:

  1. To the individuals who want to choose their career in Scrum roles
  2. In an organization where a Transformation is being initiated and existing people have to be mapped to the new Scrum roles

Let us discuss both options now. 

If you are an individual who wants to get into Scrum roles, first thing you need to do is to get a deeper understanding of these two roles: Scrum Master and Product Owner, understand their rights, responsibilities, characteristics, and challenges. This will create a fair understanding of these roles and helps you to make a decision.

Once you are clear with the roles, now you need to check which role is very close to your previous work experience, knowledge and your heart. Let us say, in your previous work experience, you were helping people, being in a people enabler roles or at least that is what you are passionate about. Then you can take up the Scrum Master role. Instead, if your previous work experience is more closer to the business, domain related understanding, and you are passionate about creative ideas, experimenting new ideas to turn into workable solutions then you are more inclined towards the Product Owner role.

Accordingly you can choose corresponding certification: CSM (Certified Scrum Master) for Scrum Masters) and CSPO (Certified Scrum Product Owner) for Product Owners. I also recommend for those people who want to become Scrum Masters, to do CSPO also in addition to CSM because as a Scrum Master there are some services you extend to Product Owners. So understanding Product Management concepts by attending CSPO will help you to execute those services very well. If you decide to become a Product Owner then doing just CSPO will be sufficient, because your focus is on PRODUCT and not on PROCESS. So learning just enough Scrum process framework will be sufficient and anyway you will get support from Scrum Master in your team.

In an organization where a transformation is being initiated – Usually organizations think that they need to map old roles to the new roles. It is not true, you cannot compare apples with oranges. If you try to map people from old roles into new roles it will become old wine and new bottle and the purpose does not succeed. Reason being, old habits die hard. 

So in order to make your transformation a successful one, first, let everyone in the organization explain the “purpose” of the transformation. It will create a fair understanding within the delivery teams and supporting teams. Once you have created the clarity, come up with a Vision and Roadmap for the Transformation. As part of the Transformation, clearly define the Roles and Responsibilities to the Scrum Roles and have people choose them according to their previous experience and what they are interested in. This will create commitment towards succeeding in the new roles. They may not succeed for the first time but that’s okay, they are learning the new role and going through the transition. Provide required support and create a safe to fail environment by trusting them. Periodic inspection and adaptation will make things better. There may be cases where some people may want to shift due to various reasons. Then help them to take up new roles and support them to settle them in those roles. Also, taking a few people from external into the new roles will be useful and makes the transformation expedited. Bottom line is, you cannot improve without change. So it is very important to help people understand the need for change and support them through the transition.



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