Should The POTUS Be More Like A ScrumMaster Or a Product Owner?

By: Resalin Gurka | Nov 04, 2016 |  Article,  Product Owner,  ScrumMaster

Neil Armstrong on the moon -- getting to the moon is like a sprint, is the POTUS a Scrummaster or Product Owner

Did you guys know it was election season?

Don’t worry, we’re not here to discuss the five candidates on the presidential ballot. We’re here to discuss and debate the following question…

If the United States was a development team, would POTUS be a ScrumMaster or Product Owner?

Shared ScrumMaster And Product Owner Characteristics

ScrumMasters and Product Owners have very different responsibilities. Therefore the roles call for different skills. However, there are shared personality traits like being trustworthy and a people person shared by both roles. ScrumMasters can’t advocate for a group if the group can’t trust the ScrumMaster enough to confide in them; Product Owners need to be trusted by the team because they shield them from unnecessary work.

ScrumMasters and Product Owners need the ability to work with many different kinds of people in all different types of situations as do Presidents. This is different from being an extrovert where a person is energized by events and other people (Thomas Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson, and Abraham Lincoln were all thought to be introverts). These “people skills” are grounded in the ability to listen and respect colleagues and counterparts.

POTUS As A ScrumMaster

ScrumMasters need sharp facilitation skills to make Scrum events and other meetings run smoothly and hit intended goals. Circuitous meetings don’t benefit anyone, certainly not the American people. While Presidents attend their fair share of meetings, they’re not expected to watch the clock and keep everyone on target.

Of all the hard skills and personality traits a President shares with a ScrumMaster, conflict resolution is the most necessary. ScrumMasters remove roadblocks so team members can focus on their work. Sometimes these impediments are conflicts, a clash of ideas between people. ScrumMasters and Presidents should be masters at confronting conflicts and then use mediation skills to bring about a peaceful resolution.

POTUS As A Product Owner

In 1957, the Soviet Union shocked the world when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space, besting the US by a few weeks. It was an embarrassment, particularly in light of other Cold War events, i.e. Bay of Pigs. Project Apollo was an opportunity for the United States to gain an advantage in the space race and symbolize America’s dominance.

President JFK set a deadline for the moon landing when he gave his speech on May 25, 1961. The first man should land on the moon by the end of the decade (and before the Soviet Union). Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on lunar surface July 20, 1969, beating the calendar year and the cosmonauts. The project was successful and the US once again led the world in aeronautics. To complete, Project Apollo cost the federal government $25.4B, a little over the original $20B estimate.

In Scrum, Project Apollo was a nine-year Sprint. Product backlog items included securing funding, training astronauts, and building a rocket that would get them there safely.

We elect Presidents because of the vision they have for America. The POTUS, like a Product Owner, has a vision for his or her product. In this case, products are programs that solve challenges facing our society. While JFK had the first man on the moon, President Franklin Roosevelt’s vision was a “New Deal” for America, a program designed to solve America’s poverty crisis of the Great Depression.

Because of the President’s role in creating and owning the execution the vision for America, the POTUS is most like a Product Owner.

A Partnership

President is to Product Owner as ____________ is to ScrumMaster.

The White House Chief of Staff is the Assistant to the President. Created by FDR in 1939, the role exists to support and facilitate the President’s agenda. They help to select the executive staff and they know how to motivate each team member. Sound familiar? The Chief of Staff is most like the ScrumMaster.

By writing this post, I am not suggesting that the President should get his CSPO or his Chief of Staff get a CSM (though I know a good provider ;). However, I do believe that there are a lot of benefits of Agile, including bringing team members together to complete projects on time and on budget. The roles we see in Agile are present in other high-performing teams, even if they have different titles like POTUS.


For more on Agile roles and our approach to building lasting business agility, you can check out our Transformation Services page.

2 Responses to “Should The POTUS Be More Like A ScrumMaster Or a Product Owner?”

  1. Interesting analogy… great exercise in comparative modeling.

    Now I’d like to correct some missed opportunities to enrich the analogy. The 9 year Apollo program was not a sprint, it would never be compared to a sprint. NASA shipped many products before landing Apollo 11 on the moon. Digging a bit into my poor recall of history I remember before NASA even envisioned the Apollo program that started with the Pioneer program, then a program called Ranger (to try to photograph the Moon), then project Mercury (single astronaut, or human test subject, limited piloting ability), and finally the Apollo Program (3 Astronauts in the capsule). In any product development program these all would be recognized as independent programs or projects. Then if we look at just the Apollo Program even the vehicles were sequentially numbered (kinda like version numbers – only simpler). You might call the independent releases – and the Lean boys and girls would certainly recognize the MVP aspect of learning that came from the failure of Apollo 1 (burned on launch pad). Everyone that studies the program knows that each launch was a huge learning experiment all staged to the culmination event of landing on the Moon and returning the men to earth. None of that even closely resembles ONE Sprint! But yes, they were in a race.

    And JFK could be my PO any day…

    • Resalin Rago

      Great deep dive. Totally agree that a 9-year project would never be called a sprint and I also like how you pointed out the similarity between releases and the vehicles and also the MVP aspect. While it wasn’t an “Agile” project, they definitely embodied the spirit.

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