Software development

Team leader or product owner? Find the differences!

Is the role of the Team Leader always essential when working in a group? Discover how a Scrum Team works and what the role of the Product Owner is.

In this new blog post, we will analyze the key figures for the development of digital projects according to the Agile methodology, and in particular within the Scrum framework used by Hermes. This brief analysis will be useful to avoid confusion among the various team roles and to understand how each figure contributes to the advancement of projects. According to official definitions, these are the key roles of a “Scrum Team”:

  1. Developer
  2. Scrum Masters
  3. Product Owner

Team Leader? No, thank you!

Why is the Team Leader excluded from Scrum teams? Many may find it surprising not to see a Team Leader among the listed roles. However, in the realm of Scrum, this absence is intentional, as the framework avoids a hierarchical team structure

A cornerstone of Scrum’s philosophy and its advantages is the emphasis on fostering active collaboration and participation from every team member. Decisions and responsibilities are collaboratively distributed within a self-organized, cross-functional team setup.

This implies that every Scrum Team possesses all the essential skills required to achieve a software increment without relying on external individuals, such as a Team Leader. 

An added benefit is the ability to tap into the full potential of each team member. However, this model thrives only when everyone adheres to a consistent methodology and operates based on shared principles.

Let’s begin with the official definitions of the Scrum methodology to understand the roles and responsibilities of each member. Firstly, let’s explore the five core values that every member of a Scrum Team should embody:

  • Commitment (dedication to the cause)
  • Focus (absolute concentration on objectives)
  • Openness (to dialogue, discussion and exchange)
  • Respect (the horizontal structure does not have a single boss in charge)
  • Courage (the practical expression of pro-activity)

Now let’s see in detail the role of the various team members.

The developers

Developers, typically organized in teams of 3 to 9 members, constitute the operational core of the team. They ensure product quality and collaborate closely with the Product Owner to determine the objectives of the sprints (i.e., “what” to accomplish). Additionally, they are actively involved in decision-making regarding the intricacies of work execution (i.e., “how” to achieve it).

The Product Owner

This role is responsible for maximizing the return on investment (ROI) for the investors (stakeholders), pinpointing the desired features of the product and defining the priority order of the Product Backlog.

In their evaluations, the Product Owner must consider not only overarching strategies and goals but also the wishes, expectations, and directives of clients.

In rare instances, the sponsor and Product Owner might be the same individual, but we believe it’s always best to keep these roles distinct. This ensures the Product Owner can effectively mediate between the development team and the specific requests of the stakeholders.

In this context, the Product Owner becomes a central figure in the project. Meanwhile, the traditional Team Leader would essentially be “redundant” in the Agile world, and especially in a Scrum environment, since this framework doesn’t accommodate the presence of a single decision-maker who can call all the shots.

And the Scrum Master? Why is this role so important?

The last, but equally important role, is that of the Scrum Master, who interacts with the development team and the Product Owner to carry out specific tasks.

His primary responsibility is to foster the team’s progress through strict adherence to the Scrum development methodology. According to the official definition, the Scrum Master “should not direct or oversee the work of the technicians but facilitate the resolution of any impediments to effective progress.”

We can thus define the Scrum Master as:

  • A “facilitator“, someone who helps all roles collaborate cohesively.
  • A “coach“, who educates both the development team and the Product Owner to adhere to the values, practices, and rules of the Scrum framework.
  • A “protector” of the team, removing impediments that could be distracting and serving as the external point of contact for the team’s work.

When we talk about “impediments,” we refer to any distractions, issues (even personal ones), or hindrances that might affect the project. This is why the Scrum Master is also called a “Servant Leader” because he is a leader in service to the team (and not above it, as a Team Leader would be).

However, in everyday practice, some projects, especially those managed by smaller teams, may not have a designated Scrum Master. Instead, they may opt to assign the role to the most experienced developer within the development team. At this point, the role takes on a different name, and we find ourselves facing what we might call a “Technical Leader” or a “Senior Tech Developer.”

Unfortunately, it’s essential to clarify right away that even if this internal solution might seem effective, like every strategic decision, it has its pros and cons. Choosing to delegate the Scrum Master role to a team member can lead to cost savings (since effectively, there will be one less role in the team). However, on the flip side, foregoing this key position can hamper and slow down the individual and team’s work, consequently jeopardizing the entire project, increasing the risk of errors.

When a team is complete, and the Scrum Master focuses on his duties, everyone can perform their role without distractions, making it much harder to lose the project’s direction.We’ve seen how in the Agile world, “traditional” roles are entirely redefined: the absence of a Team Leader is instrumental in implementing the very principles of the Agile and Scrum model, allowing for tangible operational advantages and optimal, effective development.

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