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Scrum Master vs Product Owner: Who Makes More Money and Why?

The Role of the Product Owner

The PO is the person who represents the voice of the customer and the stakeholders. The PO is responsible for defining and prioritizing the product backlog, which is the list of features and requirements that the team needs to work on. The PO also collaborates with the developers and the SM to ensure that the product vision and goals are clear and aligned. The PO is the one who decides what to build and when to release it, based on the feedback and value delivered to the customers.
The PO role is often seen as more of a business role than a technical one, although some technical knowledge and skills are beneficial. The PO needs to have a deep understanding of the customer needs, the market trends, the competitive landscape, and the business strategy. The PO also needs to have strong communication, negotiation, and leadership skills, as they have to manage the expectations and interests of various stakeholders, such as the customers, the developers, the SM, the senior management, and the investors.

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The Role of the Scrum Master

The SM is the person who facilitates the scrum process and ensures that the team follows the scrum values and principles. The SM is responsible for organizing and leading the scrum events, such as the sprint planning, the daily scrum, the sprint review, and the sprint retrospective. The SM also coaches and mentors the team on how to improve their collaboration, performance, and quality. The SM is the one who removes the impediments and protects the team from external distractions and interferences.
The SM role is often seen as more of a servant-leader role than a managerial one, although some project management and coordination skills are helpful. The SM needs to have a deep understanding of the scrum framework, the agile mindset, and the team dynamics. The SM also needs to have strong facilitation, coaching, and problem-solving skills, as they have to empower the team to self-organize, deliver value, and continuously improve.

The Salary Comparison

According to various sources, such as Glassdoor, Indeed, and Payscale, the average salary for a PO in the US is around $95,000 per year, while the average salary for a SM is around $85,000 per year. This means that, on average, a PO makes about $10,000 more than a SM per year. However, this is not a fixed or universal rule, as the salary levels for each role vary widely from company to company, and from location to location. There are many factors that affect the salary levels, such as the company size, the industry sector, the geographical area, the experience level, the education level, and the certification level.
For example, a PO working for a large and well-established company in the tech industry in San Francisco may earn much more than a PO working for a small and new company in the manufacturing industry in Detroit. Similarly, a SM with 10 years of experience, a master’s degree, and a professional certification may earn much more than a SM with 2 years of experience, a bachelor’s degree, and no certification. Therefore, it is important to consider the context and the market when comparing the salary levels of the PO and the SM.

The Salary Influencers

As mentioned above, there are many factors that influence the salary levels of the PO and the SM. Some of these factors are more or less fixed, such as the company size, the industry sector, and the geographical area. These factors are usually determined by the supply and demand of the market, and are not easy to change or negotiate. However, some of these factors are more or less flexible, such as the experience level, the education level, and the certification level. These factors are usually determined by the skills and competencies of the individual, and are easier to change or negotiate. Therefore, it is important to focus on these factors when trying to increase the salary level of the PO or the SM.
For the PO, some of the skills and competencies that can increase the salary level are:
Product management skills: The ability to define and communicate the product vision, strategy, and roadmap, and to manage the product lifecycle and the product backlog.
Business analysis skills: The ability to elicit and analyze the customer needs, the market trends, the competitive landscape, and the business value.
Stakeholder management skills: The ability to collaborate and negotiate with various stakeholders, such as the customers, the developers, the SM, the senior management, and the investors.
Technical skills: The ability to understand and communicate the technical aspects and implications of the product, such as the architecture, the design, the functionality, and the quality.
Certifications: The possession of recognized and reputable certifications, such as the Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO), the Professional Scrum Product Owner (PSPO), or the SAFe Product Owner/Product Manager (POPM).
For the SM, some of the skills and competencies that can increase the salary level are:
Scrum mastery skills: The ability to facilitate and lead the scrum process and events, and to ensure that the team follows the scrum values and principles.
Agile coaching skills: The ability to coach and mentor the team on how to improve their collaboration, performance, and quality, and to foster a culture of continuous improvement.
Impediment removal skills: The ability to identify and remove the impediments and obstacles that hinder the team’s progress and productivity, and to protect the team from external distractions and interferences.
Project management skills: The ability to coordinate and monitor the project activities, such as the scope, the schedule, the budget, the risks, and the issues.
Certifications: The possession of recognized and reputable certifications, such as the Certified Scrum Master (CSM), the Professional Scrum Master (PSM), or the SAFe Scrum Master (SSM).

The Career Paths

Another aspect to consider when comparing the salary levels of the PO and the SM is the career paths and prospects for each role. Both roles have the potential to grow and advance in their careers, but they may follow different paths and directions. Generally speaking, the PO role is more aligned with the product side of the organization, while the SM role is more aligned with the process side of the organization. Therefore, the PO role may lead to more strategic and visionary positions, while the SM role may lead to more operational and tactical positions.
For the PO, some of the possible career paths are:
Senior Product Owner: A PO who has more experience and responsibility, and who may oversee multiple products or teams.
Product Manager: A PO who has more authority and influence, and who may define and execute the product strategy and roadmap for the entire organization or business unit.
Product Director: A PO who has more leadership and management, and who may supervise and mentor other POs or product managers.
Chief Product Officer: A PO who has more vision and innovation, and who may shape and drive the product culture and direction for the entire organization or industry.
For the SM, some of the possible career paths are:
Senior Scrum Master: A SM who has more experience and responsibility, and who may facilitate and coach multiple teams or projects.
Agile Coach: A SM who has more authority and influence, and who may define and implement the agile transformation and adoption for the entire organization or business unit.
Change Manager: A SM who has more leadership and management, and who may oversee and guide the change initiatives and programs for the entire organization or industry.
Project Manager: A SM who has more coordination and control, and who may plan and execute the project activities and deliverables for the entire organization or business unit.

The Conclusion

In conclusion, the salary levels of the PO and the SM are not fixed or universal, but vary widely from company to company, and from location to location. There are many factors that affect the salary levels, such as the company size, the industry sector, the geographical area, the experience level, the education level, and the certification level. On average, a PO makes more than a SM, but this is not always the case, and there are exceptions and outliers. Both roles have the potential to increase their salary levels by improving their skills and competencies, and by pursuing different career paths and prospects. Ultimately, the best role for each individual depends on their personal preferences, strengths, and goals.
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