• Onboarded with small startup ~15 people (40% Tech, 40% Sales, 20% Operations).
  • Everyone on team is onboard to start formalizing Scrum processes
  • CEO drives vision of product, CTO executes on product, Operations formalizes Scrum process


  1. How do you handle the relationship and responsibilities of Product Owner and Scrum Master when the CEO drives the vision of the product, the CTO is only worried about creating/executing on sprints, and the Ops team is tasked with collecting and formalizing requirements (obtained from sales & customer success teams) while officiating the Scrum process?

NOTE: The CEO specifically wants the Ops team to carry the majority of the responsibility for running the Scrum process (the CTO is in agreement). The CEO primarily wants to check in and help with User Story inputs (as the CEO is typically working with clients on partnerships and often receives feature requests).

  • 3
    Scrum is not an acronym. It's not SCRUM. It is Scrum. Named after the event in rugby. Apr 13, 2017 at 16:26
  • 1
    @venture2099 - regardless, this doesn't change the subject of the question. If possible please provide valuable input
    – jonplaca
    Apr 13, 2017 at 16:29
  • 1
    Hi Jon. Welcome to PM SE. I never said it changed anything; I am simply telling you how to write about the framework you want advice with. It starts with the basics. Comments are designed to shape / improve / probe the question accordingly which is why I have made a comment. Your question will be answered in due course. Apr 13, 2017 at 16:33
  • Guys, could we please chat about the above comments in chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/56479/pmse-lounge ? Thanks!
    – Tiago Cardoso
    Apr 13, 2017 at 18:02

3 Answers 3


Not entirely sure from your question, but I'm assuming you are both the Scrum Master (SM) and the Product Owner (PM)?

If so, that's your first problem. Those two roles often have contrasting priorities and thus should not be the same person.

The Scrum Master is the servant/leader of the Scrum Team. They ensure everyone understands and follows the Scrum process, and the also protect the Development Team from outside influences (client, CEO, bad working conditions, etc.)

The Product Owner owns the product. (Groundbreaking, yes?) Any and all client requests go through the PO before reaching the Development Team. The PO has the final say about prioritization and rejection of requirements.

These two roles should not be shared by the same person, as the PO needs to prioritize the product (we need more features!) while the SM needs to prioritize the Dev Team (we need to slow down, we've got too much technical debt!).

Now that that's established, you (or, more broadly, your company) needs to decide which two individuals are best suited for each of those roles. And then they need to be empowered to be allowed to perform those roles. If the CEO is going to override the PO's priorities, then the CEO needs to be the PO, and take on all the responsibilities entailed therein. Responsibility and authority go hand-in-hand.

  • What part of The Scrum Guide leads you to "contrasting priorities" between the Product Owner (PO) and Scrum Master (SM) role? They have complementary purposes. There should not be a single person attempting to fulfill both roles due to the loss of value in of the roles' purposes. If the PO is saying, "we need more features!" then the agile philosophy is missing and product value is lost: classical project management. If the SM is prioritizing the Development Team, then one should be wary of reducing self-organization. Minor note "servant-leader" not "servant/leader". Apr 18, 2017 at 11:51

I'd advise two things.

1- Creation of a Day-To-Day Product Owner that is not the CEO

2- Creation of a Product Owner Team

Dedicated Product Owner: Can a small company CEO be the product owner? Yes they can. Luke Hohmann of Conteneo is a great example. However Conteneo is not a brand new startup, it's a small 10+ year old company.

Even with a 15 person company, a startup CEO is not going to have enough time to be a full-time product owner. If he/she does then they are not giving enough attention to the other things that a CEO does.

The CEO needs someone to drive product vision, or at the very least translate his vision and be the day to day connection to the team. The CEO becomes the "Chief Product Owner".

Product Owner Team: No product owner can do everything. The idea of a single, wringable neck is not only unsustainable, it's not in the spirit of agile where we collaborate towards a goal.

So once you have a dedicated product owner you surround them with a team to help drive the vision. A technical expert, a customer expert, representation from the teams building and in your case, the CEO. They meet to bring things from vision down to Epic level where it gets handed off to the team (with the PO working with the team, of course).

  • Please explain why you suggest a "Product Owner Team", especially for a 15 person company. Why do you feel that one person cannot fulfill the role? The Scrum Guide: "The Product Owner may do the above work, or have the Development Team do it. However, the Product Owner remains accountable." The phrase "one wringable neck" comes from outside of the Scrum framework and does contradict the team spirit of the agile philosophy. Apr 17, 2017 at 17:24
  • @AlanLarimerPSM I've been a product manager before. I've worked in large and small organizations helping product owners. The reality is, that while one person can "own" prioritization and working with the team, there are so many variables that if they try and manage the intake in a vacuum you end up with a stilted view of the product. As they say "It takes a village to raise a child" so does it take a team to define a product. Apr 17, 2017 at 17:45
  • Certainly, working in a vacuum is a mistake. "The Product Owner may represent the desires of a committee in the Product Backlog" covers the notion of a PO group. Refer to lean thinking as well. Too often the customer is not involved in creating and maintaining the Product Backlog, sadly. Curious as to what all the Product Owner was taking on in these experiences that you mention that kept them from their purpose. Seen them also try to take on marketing and sales activities, which reduces Focus and results in decreased efficiency in achieving the role's purpose. Apr 17, 2017 at 21:28


  • Your CEO should probably not be your PO
  • Your PO and SM should probably not be the same person
  • Your PO and SM will partner closely to
    • make product decisions into empirical science
    • create a clear, ordered, and available Product Backlog
  • Your SM will need to be fully engaged in each Scrum event (at least)
  • Your SM will need to be able to account to CTO for progress


I'd like to highlight a couple prescient points made by Sarov and Joel Bancroft-Connors in their answers first:

  • One person should (most probably) not share the PO and Scrum Master roles
  • The PO should be able to interact with the Development Team daily.

PO Availability

I agree that your CEO sounds too busy to be an effective PO and that your PO and SM roles should (probably) not be shared.

Product Science Duo

The PO and SM will probably work closely. The SM will help the PO obtain and understand market feedback received from the releasable software developed by the Dev Team produces every Sprint. This should be #1 priority, especially for a start up.

Backlog Builders

The PO and SM will probably work closely and frequently (at least at first) to construct a clear, available and ordered Product Backlog. This may take some doing and maybe even some fancy techniques like User Story Mapping, Impact Mapping, and a backlog management tool (other than Excel) before it's mature. Your mileage may vary.

Scrum Witness

Your Scrum Master may need to account to the CTO for the practice of Scrum as your Scrum team develops. This includes being fully present in all Scrum events and probably taking copious notes. Note: you don't have to participate in the Daily Scrum, but being present is probably necessary until the Development Team learns how to conduct it well. The point of this effort is to be able to anticipate problems, react correctly to difficulties, and coach the Scrum team effectively based on real knowledge of their current maturity in Scrum practice.

It's dangerous to go alone

There is all this and more in store for this dynamic duo. If you are indeed filling both PO and SM roll, buckle up because you're in for a ride.

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