I would like to pose the question, "Why not merge roles in Scrum?" I'll begin not by talking about Scrum specifically, but by taking a different approach and using an example.
The world of colors
We recognize three primary colors: red, blue, and yellow. Secondary colors are green, orange, and purple. And, of course, there are countless color combinations.
To complete the color family we need two more colors, black and white. Now here's a funny thing: Black is not really a color; it's the absence of color. White is the sum of all colors.
Thinking of colors in terms of Scrum, let's create few situations.
- Red = product owner
- Blue = ScrumMaster
- Yellow = development team
If we merge red and blue, we'll get purple. But if we're aiming for white, we can't just keep mixing red and blue. Nor can we throw in just a hint of yellow, and maybe even some green or orange. We'll most likely end up with some muddy shade of gray.
Now, to get out of this confusion we have a good way and a right way.
Good: Well, we're in gray instead of black, which is good because it means we aren't suffering from a total absence of people in the right roles. Maybe we can keep trying to create balance in the team and reach white over time.
Right: We can't go any further in this gray state. We need to figure out exactly who our product owner, ScrumMaster, and development team are and then use each of them at 100 percent capacity, each in their own role, rather than having each person dip into several roles.
The reason I state that these are "good" versus "right" ways is because most of the time, teams prefer to live with impediments and confusion — and can even get pretty far that way — because that seems to be less of a hassle than figuring out a true solution. Taking the right way means we have to make tough choices. But the benefits of doing this are enormous.
It's important to understand that a piece of work can be done better by one whole person than by two half persons. Merging roles can lead us into strange situations. But Scrum guidelines clearly state that there are three roles: product owner, ScrumMaster, and development team. Scrum also demands 100 percent commitment from each of these roles. So if we merge roles, then it's simple: We aren't using Scrum. We should always mix our primary colors at 100 percent, rather than using uneven amounts of a variety of colors, to aim for white. We should not live with gray.