From Scrum Master to Product Owner: A Journey

From Scrum Master to Product Owner: A Journey

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Many of us have transitioned from either a sofware engineer role or a QA engineer role to a Scrum Master. This is a natural path for those who want to become a servant leader, working with the teams/stakeholders, coaching people and leveraging agile/Scrum across the organization. Furthermore, it requires a different mindset with more focus on soft skills.

It’s also common to see software engineers and QA engineers turning to a product owner role.

Therefore, how difficult is it to be a product owner when you are a Scrum Master? Well, there are a lot of challenges, due to the fact that these two roles have different perspectives and skill sets.

Scrum Master: Abandoned and Chosen

Once upon a time, a company I worked for as a Scrum Master decided to get rid of all Scrum Masters for various reasons—the most critical being budget.

Consequently, the role of the Scrum Master merged with the engineering manager, and the engineering manager took over the Scrum Master’s responsibilities. As usual, some of the engineering managers weren’t prepared to assume this new role because either they were toxic to the teams or hadn’t been trained enough in Scrum.

At the same time, all Scrum Masters were laid off by the company due to major cuts on the budget, my boss asked me if I would like to become a product owner once the team I was acting as a Scrum Master for didn’t have a full-time product owner.

I was already doing part of the product owner duties: working with the stakeholders to gather the requirements, writing and prioritizing the user stories, digging into the product and envisioning its growth, working close with the teams, and being the voice of the customer.

The team’s product owner was so busy with another priorities that she didn’t have enough time to focus on that particular team. I took the initiative and action on behalf of her.

A desire to deliver a delightful product to my customers was always on my mind. With a lot of excitement and anxiety, I finally accepted the challenge of officially taking on the role of the product owner.

New Journey: Ups and Downs

Several Scrum Masters like me have faced many challenges with their product owners and sometimes they become the impediments for the team. As a Scrum Master, we should address and remove them.

As the first time as a product owner, I didn’t want to be the impediment and cause of the difficulties for the team. As a product owner, I wanted to create the user stories using the INVEST model, write good acceptance criteria, groom the user stories with the team, prioritize the backlog, be available to the team, define a goal for every sprint, and so on.

I was doing my part, however how about the Scrum Master (in fact, the engineering manager) for the team and product? Well, she became the impediment, because she was not doing her part.

I was frustrated due to the fact Scrum was not being implemented as it should be and the whole benefits were being lost. The team was still looking to me, waiting for me to remove this impediment, but I wasn’t supposed to take action anymore, only concentrating on the product.

On the other hand, I was the Scrum Master before, so I still had the ability to coach the new Scrum Master, no excuses. However, the engineering manager didn’t want to follow coaching and I was reprimanded when I was told I was on the product side and couldn’t influence the engineering process anymore.

This is the hardest part of converting from a Scrum Master to a product owner role: your brain has to do a mind-shifting and move away from the old habits and responsibilities.

For several months, I continued facilitating the sprint planning and review, because the Scrum Master didn’t want to do that or didn’t know how to do it, but the product had to be delivered anyway.

Resilience and Working Hard for the Team and the Customer: Reward

It might take time, but you can adapt yourself to the new norm from Scrum Master to product owner. In the beginning, the path seems long: our focus is different, more on the business side, staying closer to our customers, and understanding their pain points.

If you’re faced with this challenge, don’t give up, make all your efforts to switch gears and mindset, and the reward will come.

What did I learn? Make the team feel part of the product, and they can help you to drive the results and goals of the company. The team will support you in the process for a while if you are open, transparent and trust them.

Be present in every retrospective and ask how you can improve in a very honest conversation.

Be humble and listen. Change your attitude, demonstrate that you’re working hard not only for the success of the product, but for their success as well.

As a new product owner, learn every piece of the business rules, talk to the stakeholders, create effective roadmaps and be the “CEO of the product.”

Last, but not least, go to conferences, training, read books about product management, be involved in the agile community. It’s now time to focus your knowledge and strengths in the product ownership.

New Hope: Continuing the Journey

New challenges appear every day and this is a good sign because the world keeps evolving and each challenge is an opportunity to grow in your career and as an individual.

Improve the method of creating the user stories, leverage the product, streamline the process of delivering the features continuously, go outside of the building and listen to your customers, experiment new things and finally delight your stakeholders with innovative products.

The path and the migration from a Scrum Master to a product owner can be complicated; however, it’s rewarding and valuable for several reasons: business model understanding, value proposition creation, industry standards and terminologies in practice, customers and partners relationship, channels and segments applied, generating revenue by different methods, applying innovation and open new markets, and the list goes on.

Are you also transitioning to a product owner role and need some help? Feel free to leave your comments or questions and I’ll be glad to help you out.


Paulo Rebelo helps companies to improve using agile and lean principles and methods like Scrum, XP and Kanban. He currently works at Blackhawk Network in the U.S.

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