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Accountability, Responsibility and Roles

The Scrum framework describes Scrum Master, Product Owner and Developers as “accountabilities” and not “roles.” This puts emphasis on the fact that Scrum Teams are results-oriented, with clear accountabilities among team members, rather than an organizational construct.

Product Owner, Scrum Master and Developer do not have to be “roles.”

The word “role” often refers to a particular job or job title. In the 2020 release of the Scrum Guide, the term “role” was replaced with “accountabilities” to emphasize an ownership mindset necessary to execute Scrum well. The Scrum framework provides guidance on how to use Scrum effectively, it has nothing to do with organizational constructs like job titles.

Scrum practitioners distinguish between “accountability” and “responsibility.”

This can be confusing at first since colloquial English use doesn’t have a strong distinction between these words and some spoken languages do not have these separate concepts. However, Scrum uses definitions typically used in business communication:

  • Responsibility - the obligation to perform a task. Responsibility is often about accomplishing the work and creating its output. 
  • Accountability - taking ownership of the results, or outcome, of the work. The willingness to bear the consequences and be answerable for the choices made. 

Responsibility to do something may be delegated, but accountability for the result generally cannot. For example, the Product Owner is accountable for effective Product Backlog management, however they may delegate responsibility for doing some of this work to others.

When everyone is clear on what they are accountable for, the team functions well.
In Scrum there are four high-level areas of accountability:

  • Creating a valuable, useful Increment: the entire Scrum Team
  • Maximizing the value of the product: Product Owner
  • Creating the product:  Developers 
  • The effectiveness of the Scrum Team: Scrum Master

Common questions about accountabilities:

  • Is it wrong to use the word “role” when referring to the Scrum Master, Product Owner or Developers? 
    No, it’s ok to use “role” in casual conversation, just as long as we recognize that this is language shorthand and that they are actually sets of accountabilities.
  • What is an example of the difference between job title and Scrum accountability?
    Sometimes the person on the Scrum team that is accountable to the team for maximizing the value of the product (Product Owner) has job titles such as Product Manager or Business Analyst. They may also have the job title of “Product Owner,” Scrum doesn’t disallow this.
  • If these aren’t roles, can someone have the accountabilities of both a Product Owner and a Developer, for example?
    The answer to this depends on the particular circumstance. The Scrum framework doesn’t prohibit this, however the skills and expertise needed to successfully execute more than one of these sets of accountabilities are difficult to embody in one person. We suggest against this if possible.

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The Scrum Team is a small unit of professionals focused on attaining the Product Goal. Scrum Teams consist of a Product Owner, Scrum Master and Developers. Each has a clear set of accountabilities. Learn more about the Scrum Team, accountabilities, responsibilities and why these aren’t called “roles.”