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I've understood the Scrum Team to be one cohesive team consisting of three responsibility domains:

  1. Development team
  2. Product Owner
  3. Scrum Master

Collectively, we all seek to refine/define and accomplish the sprint goal each iteration, however the team decides that needs to be, which, as a self-organizing team, could have those responsibility domains occasionally intersect (i.e. Scrum Master on PTO, someone coached and comfortable accepting that responsibility for a brief period could stand in).

A scenario recently occurred:

We recently implemented the ceremonies of SAFe. During PI Planning, we have a Scrum of Scrums where we meet every couple hours to discuss impediments and dependencies with other Scrum Masters who are working with the teams. This creates problems when multiple Scrum Masters are spread across multiple teams. The Product Owner for one of the teams offered to be the stand-in Scrum Master only for the Scrum of Scrum meetings. The Director stated that the Product Owner is not part of the Scrum team, that the Scrum team is directed by the PO, and that the stand-in should be someone from the team. In my experience this is antithetical to Scrum, and a cursory search also suggests this is incorrect.

Is the Product Owner part of the Scrum Team, such that a self-organizing could that decides the PO would be the best fit for the Scrum Master for a short period of time?

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    "This creates problems when multiple Scrum Masters are spread across multiple teams." Why? What exactly is the problem? Shouldn't a Scrum Master be able to speak for two teams?
    – nvoigt
    May 16, 2023 at 6:34
  • "that the Scrum team is directed by the PO" Is that the case in your organization? If the PO says "I want this done next sprint", is there a way for the team to argue it would be better not to, or is that an order one cannot refuse?
    – nvoigt
    May 16, 2023 at 6:37
  • @nvoigt, Ideally yes. The problem is that the Scrum Masters have also been charged with driving the screen share, keeping the momentum going etc.. This is impossible spread across two teams. Also, the team could possibly argue that something is needed asap, but the team doesn't have the option to argue against delivering a business objective that was approved by the Change Review Board. May 17, 2023 at 18:11
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    What's the "Director"? That's not a SAFe role that I've ever heard of. May 23, 2023 at 14:45
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    The Product Owner is part of the SAFe Agile Team. Note that such teams are no longer called a "Scrum Team" in the latest version of SAFe because it's not actual Scrum per the official Scrum Guide. You should bring this topic up with your Release Train Engineer right away since clearly not everyone understands their role in your SAFe implementation.
    – Todd A. Jacobs
    Aug 3, 2023 at 23:17

3 Answers 3

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TL;DR

In Scrum, the Product Owner is explicitly defined as a member of the Scrum Team. In SAFe, they are still part of the Scrum Team, but the person who needs to facilitate the issue you're dealing with is the Release Train Engineer (RTE).

Analysis and Recommendations

SAFe is arguably not really "agile", although it takes on some of the attributes of various agile systems such as Scrum and Kanban at various levels. That's the problem you're implicitly facing: SAFe is really hierarchical, despite its apparent roots in agility. However, there are roles and events for addressing this within SAFe, so you should leverage those to find a solution within the Agile Release Train (ART).

In formal Scrum proper, the Product Owner is definitely a member of the Scrum Team:

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

Note the second sentence. You have someone in your organization trying to impose a hierarchy within a Scrum-like team where the Product Owner is in charge of the other two roles of the Scrum Team, and (perhaps more importantly) telling the Scrum Team who should represent their interests at a Scrum-of-Scrums rather than encouraging the team to be self-managing.

The correct person to address this problem is the SAFe Release Train Engineer. That's the role defined as the facilitator for the Agile Release Train, and is the person who should be coaching teams and participants in how to leverage the framework and its rules properly.

If you are unfortunate enough to work in a place that has adopted SAFe but also has chosen to implement it poorly, the best things you can do are:

  1. Address the problem within your team so you collectively agree that there is a problem and what the team's preferred solution is.
  2. Have someone within your team address the problem with the RTE during PI Planning so the problem can be addressed before it gets out of hand.
  3. Bring the problem up within the PI Planning Retrospective on day two of PI Planning. While that's too late to fix it within the current PI Planning event, it will at least shine a spotlight on it so it can be addressed by the whole ART.

The goal of any agile framework is to identify and resolve problems as soon as possible. Therefore, if you can't resolve impediments at the team level, you need to leverage your framework's roles and events to do so at the earliest possible opportunity rather than later in the process. An effective RTE will understand this, and should be willing and able to assist you and your team in empowering themselves and clearing impediments within the ART.

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According to the official Scrum guide the PO is part of the Scrum team.

The fundamental unit of Scrum is a small team of people, a Scrum Team. The Scrum Team consists of one Scrum Master, one Product Owner, and Developers. 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.

https://scrumguides.org/scrum-guide.html#scrum-team

If the team decides (for the right reasons) that someone else should act as Scrum Master for a (short) while this seems like their autonomous choice. Having someone from another team be SM for a while could be a great perspective and get you out of your Happy Bubble.

In your example I would question the intention behind the suggestion of the Director, maybe the PO of the other team is unfocused and jumping in left-and-right all the time. Maybe the Director feels the team should be able to cover for themselves by now. What expectations are managed here? What level of delegation is acceptable to the Director?

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In short, Yes.

SAFe guidance described the team unit as "Agile Team" which is essentially the same as how Scrum Teams are typically composed - Scrum Teams - Scrum.org

Agile Team is a cross-functional group of typically ten or fewer individuals with all the skills necessary to define, build, test, and deliver value to their customer.

As part of the Agile Team SAFe Agile Teams, it includes two "specialty roles", one of which is the Product Owner role and Scrum Master/Team Coach

The Product Owner contributes to the Vision and roadmap and works with the team to define Stories and prioritize the team’s work. By working with the customer and the teams, they define a backlog that addresses customer needs and also helps maintain the technical integrity of the product.

hope that helps clarify.

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