Scrum Roles External to the Team

Scrum TeamsThere are three common roles for users on the Scrum Team: ScrumMaster, Product Owner and Team Member. This blog post will break down the roles of people who influence and interact with the Scrum Team, but are NOT Team Members.

There are three roles for people surrounding the Scrum Team: Business Owner (BO), Stakeholder (SH), and Subject Matter Expert (SME). The following discussions are simplifications of these roles, but provide a solid basis for understanding them.

Business Owner

The role of Business Owner is used in order to discuss the Scrum Team’s relationship with its Organization.  The Business Owner refers to the person (or people) the Product Owner is (directly) accountable to for the Team’s Work Results, and who often provides resources and assistance to the Team.

Both the ScrumMaster and the Product Owner have a relationship with the Business Owner.  The ScrumMaster works with the Business Owner in order to help manage organizational impediments and constraints so that the Team can be more productive.  The Product Owner works with the Business Owner in order to:

  • Determine the priority of up-coming work in the Backlog;
  • Consolidate the disparate needs of the Stakeholders;
  • Modify the Release Plan as necessary and
  • Get resources for the Team.

The Business Owner is often thought of as the main (or lead) Stakeholder for the Team. In large Organizations there is often a hierarchy of Product Owners and, in that case, the Business Owner is usually the Product Owner’s Product Owner.


Stakeholders are the reason a Scrum Team develops a Product in the first place; it is the Stakeholders that have the needs, wants, and desires that the Team is trying to satisfy with the work it is doing.  Stakeholders are vital to the Team’s success, as they review the Team’s Product and provide ongoing feedback. There are many people that are interested in the Product, but not all of them are Stakeholders – some are merely interested bystanders.

The classic definition of Stakeholders is that they are people with ‘legitimate interests’ in the project.  I have a tough time defining ‘legitimate,’ so I have a more pragmatic definition.  I say that Stakeholders are people who should not be ignored; they are people who can have a negative impact on the Team if they are not attended to.

I usually use the word Stakeholder (capital “S”) to mean stakeholders that are external to the Team; it is true that Team Members are also stakeholders, but they are usually not the ones I am discussing or worried about.

Subject Matter Expert (SME)

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) are people, external to the Team, with special knowledge or skills that the Team needs in order to do its work. They are a special sort of Stakeholder, and many Stakeholders are also SMEs. Each Scrum Team is supposed to have all the skills it needs within its Team Members, but this is often impossible – so the Team must work with external SMEs.

SMEs can have knowledge in technical or business areas. They can be experts on the Stakeholder needs (they could even be the Stakeholders with the needs), or they could have technical skills such as architecture, database, or user interface expertise. Whatever… all I know is that the Team needs their knowledge, but they’re not on the Team.

SMEs work with Team Members to provide missing expertise, but since they are not on the Team, SMEs can be neither responsible nor accountable to the Product Owner for the work they do – they don’t work for the Product Owner. This fact creates some interesting problems when working with SMEs, and this issue is discussed in greater detail in chapter 2.5 of Exploring Scrum: The Fundamentals which you can purchase on Amazon.