The Scrum guide says:

The Scrum Team consists of one Scrum Master, one Product Owner, and Developers. Within a Scrum Team, there are no sub-teams or hierarchies.

Agile coaches want a team to be cross-functional, for example, that software developers be willing to write automated tests and do manual testing when needed. If so, is Product Owner also supposed to do development and testing? If not, then obviously there is a hierarchy in a Scrum team - a Product Owner shouldn't do other specialists' work while developers should do. It becomes difficult to persuade developers do testing.

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    After reading various comments you've left for the answers below, I've come to the conclusion that this is an X/Y problem where you have I-shaped Developers who don't want to collaborate with testers or do test-first development. That makes this more of a "whataboutism" than a legitimate issue with the framework, which is pretty clear about who is responsible for what within the Scrum Team. Agile frameworks work poorly without high-functioning, self-motivated people who don't misuse differences in accountabilities as an excuse to create work silos.
    – Todd A. Jacobs
    Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 2:30
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    In the interests of completeness, while I still consider it an anti-pattern, the 2020 Scrum Guide does allow for the Product Owner and Scrum Master to participate as Developers: "If the Product Owner or Scrum Master are actively working on items in the Sprint Backlog, they participate as Developers." However, your question isn't about whether they can but whether they should, so I refer you back to my point that they are different roles with different accountabilities.
    – Todd A. Jacobs
    Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 16:45

5 Answers 5


I can't see any inherent reasons why the Product Owner can't also be a Developer. The Scrum Guide even supports this, saying that in cases where the "the Product Owner or Scrum Master are actively working on items in the Sprint Backlog, they participate as Developers", referring to participation in the Daily Scrum.

The concern that I'd have is if there's enough time for a person to fulfill both roles while working at a sustainable pace. Work such as developing the Product Goal, communicating with stakeholders to understand their needs and desires, creating Product Backlog Items, communicating changes to the Product Backlog to the Developers, helping the Developers understand the Product Backlog Items sufficiently to carry out refinement, ordering the Product Backlog, making sure that all of the stakeholders understand the current state of the Product Backlog, answering questions or concerns from the Developers regarding work-in-progress. There's a lot of other product management functions, too, in order to achieve the goal of maximizing the value of the work done by the Scrum Team. It doesn't seem like it's a suitable part-time job.

Even though the Product Owner has a specific set of skills, that doesn't imply a hierarchy in the Scrum Team. Neither the Scrum Master nor any of the Developers should report to the Product Owner. The Product Owner should not be able to tell the Scrum Master or any of the Developers what to work on or how to go about their work. They are simply bringing a special set of skills and experience to the team in order to contribute to the goal of creating, releasing, and maintaining a product.

  • If so, then developers also can say that they are too busy and don't have time for doing QA work.
    – Daniel
    Commented Nov 6, 2021 at 19:08
  • @Daniel That doesn't seem to have anything to do with the PO. If the team think they don't have sufficient time to QA work then they can take that into account during sprint planning and maybe they should take on fewer stories at a time.
    – nvogel
    Commented Nov 6, 2021 at 21:27
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    @Daniel Developers are "committed to creating any aspect of a usable Increment each Sprint". QA work should be part of ensuring that the Increment is usable. Developers are also responsible for "instilling quality by adhering to a Definition of Done". There's room for discussion around specialists (including QA specialists), cross-functional teams and cross-training, and how to best balance breadth and depth of skills within a group of Developers. But the Developers are, one way or another, responsible for the quality of the product they are working on and any required QA work.
    – Thomas Owens
    Commented Nov 7, 2021 at 0:39

The team can decide among themselves what contribution each person is able to make. Often the PO takes a hand in things where they are able, but the typical PO tends to be a business manager or SME and may not have the skills or the time to contribute to the extent that others on the team do. That said, I have known POs who contribute technical work. Scrum doesn't require that everyone on the team has the same skills, only that the team as a whole has the necessary set of skills.



There is no hierarchy. This is a misundrestanding of the Scrum Guide, which I explain in more detail below. However, you should note that the Product Owner is a distinct role from that of a Developer. The Product Owner role does not share the same accountabilities as the Developers, other than that of collaborating with the other roles defined within the framework to ensure the overall success of the Scrum Team and the project.

Analysis and Recommendations

[Is the] Product Owner also supposed to do development and testing? If not, then obviously there is a hierarchy in a Scrum team[.]

This is fundamentally incorrect ab initio. The mistake appears to be that you're conflating the fact that the 2020 Scrum Guide explicitly states:

Within a Scrum Team, there are no sub-teams or hierarchies. It is a cohesive unit of professionals focused on one objective at a time, the Product Goal...Scrum Teams are cross-functional, meaning the members have all the skills necessary to create value each Sprint.

Somehow, you are coming away from that statement to the conclusion that all members of the Scrum Team are fungible. This is said nowhere in the Guide, and isn't even considered a reasonable practice. People are not widgets, and they can't be swapped for one another as if they were all identical.

There are three distinct roles defined for the Scrum Team within the Scrum Guide: the Scrum Master, the Product Owner, and the Developers. The role of Developer has a different set of accountabilities than that of the Product Owner, so while the Product Owner and Developers must collaborate, there is absolutely nothing in the Scrum Guide or the field of practice to suggest that the cross-functionality of the team requires that non-Developer roles (or even individual Developers) must be interchangeable in terms of skill sets, experience, or process responsibilities.

That said, the best Product Owners usually have enough technical skill to collaborate successfully with the Developers to ensure that the team as a whole is able to define, plan, craft, and deliver Product Increments successfully. While a Product Owner is properly focused on what the project should deliver, and the Developers are focused on how to deliver it, if they can't successfully communicate with one another it is ultimately the Scrum Master's job to facilitate better communication or to help the team resolve this foundational problem.

  • Scrum coaches would like developers and QA-engineers to be T-shaped and help each other do each other's work (otherwise the Scrum way of doing work just have very poor efficiency). But PO should not be T-shaped. This raises a question why should the developers be willing to spent their time on becoming T-shaped?
    – Daniel
    Commented Nov 7, 2021 at 11:10
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    @Daniel No one said a Product Owner shouldn't be T-shaped. However, they are not Developers and have different accountabilities. All Developers share the same core accountabilities; the PO and Scrum Master have different ones. You have one team that succeeds or fails together, three different roles, and three sets of accountabilities that relate but don't overlap. You should be encouraging collaboration, not homogeneity. I genuinely think you're over-complicating this, or that this is an X/Y problem of some sort with your team or your process.
    – Todd A. Jacobs
    Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 2:15

There are many items to touch on your question;

  1. Hierarchy and specialization are different terminologies.
  2. The product owner role does not outrank the developer role.
  3. I did not understand why POs become developers or developers become testers sometimes; this does not make sense.
  4. POs can work on technical tasks like grooming an API backlog item to define the API's inputs/outputs (signature) and approve the issue before the sprint review.

It violates the core principles of scrum for a product owner to act as a developer. This is because it reduces accountability and focus.

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    Welcome to pmse. This answer would be better if it went into more detail; e.g. how/why does this reduce accountability and focus?
    – Sarov
    Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 18:25

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