Is the combination of the Product Owner and Scrum Master (or Kanban Lead) a better combination for leadership on a team? I am leaning toward POs being part of the leadership as well as the Scrum Master. I believe a great PO with great leadership skill can immensely lead the dev team in rough times.

I don't agree that only Scrum Master should be the Servant Leader on the team. I think the combination of Scrum Master and Product Owner works much better.


5 Answers 5



You are the victim of legacy command-and-control thinking. The roles you describe have responsibilities, but they are not "leaders" of the team in the traditional sense either alone or in combination.

Scrum Teams Have Roles, Not Leaders

According to the official Scrum Guide:

The Scrum Team consists of a Product Owner, the Development Team, and a Scrum Master. Scrum Teams are self-organizing and cross-functional. Self-organizing teams choose how best to accomplish their work, rather than being directed by others outside the team.

A self-organizing team isn't directed by traditional leaders from outside or inside the team. Instead, each role on the team plays a vital part in delivering value to the customer. You can read the entire section of the Scrum Guide for a description of each role, but in short:

  • The Scrum Master is a process referee responsible for helping the team understand and make the most of the framework.
  • The Product Owner is a value referee responsible for communicating and prioritizing features.
  • "Development Teams are structured and empowered by the organization to organize and manage their own work."

If you like sports metaphors, it's like zone defense: each member of the team has a region of responsibility, and must collaborate, trust, and rely on the rest of the team to be effective. No one is "in charge" of the team, although effective teams will certainly have team members who display leadership qualities.

Structure your teams to be cross-functional, make sure they are empowered, and ensure that everyone understands their role within the team. Encourage collaboration and a sense of shared purpose, rather than fostering a culture of leaders and followers. That is the embodiment of the principles behind the Agile Manifesto.

  • I like this answer very much, and would add a little something to it. Along with being a process referree, the Scrum Master is absolutely a servant leader. The Product Owner leads the team to understand the value their delivering through the product vision and backlog. Each Developer has an opportuntiy to lead each other to continuously improve the codebase, documentation, team practices, tools, etc. Leadership is demonstrated in many ways on a healthy Scrum Team without appointing any one or two people as "leaders." Commented Jan 29, 2016 at 14:51
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    I am sorry, many things in this comment are good, but it starts with this sentence: "You are the victim of legacy command-and-control thinking". It is very hard to accept sentences like this. To make your advice as useful as possible it's useful to make questions, general statements, or me-messages. "You are the victim..." closes every further discussion.
    – Anton
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 14:50
  • @CodeGnome / +CodeGnome I don't think that I am a victim. I saw this happening and it was a great experience. Scrum is suggesting it not to be. However, I disagree strongly. I am thinking outside the Scrum box. I am not talking about responsibilities at all. I am talking about a leader within the team than can ignite the team, one that can help them try new things, one that can challenge them (ideally with having no authority in classical sence)
    – sheidaei
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 16:55

In Scrum, every individual on the Scrum Team, including the PO, SM, and Development Team members have some leadership/management responsibility.

  • The Product Owner owns the Product Backlog. Priority, details about each item, product vision, etc. This person has overarching responsibility for making sure that the product has value. Their leadership is based on value.
  • The ScrumMaster is the servant leader of the team and is primarily responsible for ensuring that work is done efficiently and in line with Scrum. They are a leader in terms of Scrum concepts, ensuring that work is being completed efficiently, and making sure that the team is focused and hard at work. They are a servant in that they remove impediments and act as a buffer for the team. Their leadership is based on efficiency.
  • The Development Team is a self-managing group. They make the best technical decisions they can to ensure that they are building the best product that represents the requirements of the Product Owner. It's their job to make sure that all PBIs that have been committed to a Sprint get done. They "pull" tasks, instead of having them assigned, and agree on how best to do work. Thus, their leadership is based on technical proficiency and product completion.

The beauty of Scrum is that leadership is distributed throughout all parts of the team, ensuring that every single person, ideally, has ownership of what is being built and can lead in the area in which they are most proficient. The PO, a business representative and Voice of the Customer, is allowed to lead the business decisions. The SM is a process-oriented individual and is allowed to lead the team in process and coach them through Scrum. The Dev Team is allowed to do what they do best and lead in the technology and completion department.

I hope this answers your question!


Maybe we should first understand What is Servant-Leadership?

In his works, Greenleaf discusses the need for a better approach to leadership, one that puts serving others—including employees, customers, and community—as the number one priority. Servantleadership emphasizes increased service to others, a holistic approach to work, promoting a sense of community, and the sharing of power in decision making.

Who is a servant-leader? Greenleaf said that the servant-leader is one who is a servant first. In The Servant as Leader he wrote, “It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant—first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test is: Do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”

from: Servant leadership

  • +Amo / @Amo Are you suggesting that PO + SM can be servant leaders?
    – sheidaei
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 16:47

I disagree with most of these answers. Teams need leadership no matter what style of leadership it is. It could be servant-leadership or something else, but there needs to be leadership. And good teams have strong leadership. If there is no one at the front of the table motivating, encouraging, and in general driving the team then the team will eventually stagnate. It is human nature to look to a leader in any group effort.

So with that in mind, I would say that, YES, the PO and the SM can partner to lead a team, if they are both strong and have leadership qualities. I was in this position in my last job. Both myself and the "Business Owner" (as we called PO's there) had a very strong grasp of the business needs and the team's strengths and so we co-led that team.

Also, a PO can have a very strong grasp of business needs and have a clear vision for his/her product and not have any leadership qualities whatsoever. The same is true with SM's. An SM can be the best process coach in the world and not be able to lead. Agile dogmatists can spout team-composition theory all they want, but the reality is that the leader of the team will emerge organically, and it will be the person who is best fit to lead that team, regardless of their scrum role and responsibilities.

  • Sorry, I have to disagree with organic emergence of leaders being "the most fit to lead a team"; often it is the person with the loudest voice, the most persuasive (regardless of provided value), previously-most-executive, most political, etc. And all of this is overlaid by the true culture of the org itself, regardless of what internal practices or values they put forth as important. Commented Jan 29, 2016 at 20:22
  • That is an interesting and solid point. Sometimes the loudest emerges instead of the most qualified. I think that is rare though. In my (however many years) in the business world, I have seen this happen maybe once, and even then it wasn't long before he was not taken seriously. Still, you do have a good point. Thanks for the comment.
    – zeeple
    Commented Jan 29, 2016 at 20:32

The team has no fixed leader. The team is a group with no single leader. Self organized. Self motivated. Self sufficient. Self lead.

If the team needs a leader, it's not yet a team in a SCRUM sense.

That said, good leadership skills, good social skills and being an upbeat and positive person can be an asset in any SCRUM role.

  • +nvoigt / @nvoigt "If the team needs a leader, it's not yet a team in a SCRUM sense." Are you suggesting that Scrum doesn't embrace leadership?
    – sheidaei
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 16:46
  • @sheidaei I meant exactly what I said: if a team needs a leader, it's not yet ready for SCRUM. Group dynamics are fragile and temporary leaders can emerge at any time and for any duration. But if every member is just passively waiting to be lead by somebody else, it won't work. And it will not be SCRUM if you put a strong leader in such a team. Because it's not a team then, it's a hierarchy.
    – nvoigt
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 16:54
  • I think we are on the same page, I am referring you to the quick note from Mike Cohn, one of the founders of Scrum on leadership. "There is more to leading a self-organizing team than buying pizza and getting out of the way. Leaders influence teams in subtle and indirect ways." mountaingoatsoftware.com/blog/…
    – sheidaei
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 16:59
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    @sheidaei The tactics described in that link are not what I would call "leadership". It's cloak and dagger scheming behind the teams back. I'd despise a Scrum Master who did as suggested there. If a leader emerges I'm all in favor of empowering all other team members to rise to his level, so it gets more of a team again. "Stirring the pot", scheming and planning behind the teams back and hoping the leader will somehow fall is for 17th century noble courts, it's nothing I'd want in my office. Good leadership does not have to be hidden and subtle. Good leadership can stand in full light.
    – nvoigt
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 17:10

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