The Product Owner and Scrum Master Brain Transplant! Mwuhahahaha!!!

Imagine you are a Mad Agile Scientist and have a diabolical experiment to conduct - what would happen if you exchanged the brains of a Product Owner and Scrum Master? Mwuhahahaha!!! How would the body of a Product Owner with the brain of a Scrum Master act? And vice versa?

Perhaps the Scrum Master would now treat the team like a backlog? This Scrum Master would be focused on value and maintaining a coaching backlog of team and person improvements. This Scrum Master is refining the team, crafting a group that delivers value.

And perhaps the Product Owner might treat the backlog like a team? Rather than backlog refining, they coach the backlog. They would be focused on nurturing, protecting, and empowering the backlog. The backlog might transform from an irritation into a labor of love.

Although this experiment sounds terrible, this change of perspective might be what you need to reanimate your dead team or backlog.

Join the fun and come learn what horrifying results await!


Outline/Structure of the Talk

2' - Mad Agile Scientist introduction

18 ' - Treat the backlog like a SM

  • Backlog coaching instead of backlog refining
  • Nurture
  • Protect
  • Remove impediments
  • Experiment
  • Conflict resolution
  • Happy

18 ' - Treat the team like a PO

  • Team refining instead of team coaching
  • Backlog of individual and team improvements
  • Create and prioritize stories
  • Determine value and AC
  • Have a global DoD
  • Demonstrate
  • Improvement feedback loop

2' - Conclusion

Remainder of total timebox (45') - Q&A, approx 5'


  • The Product Owner can immediately apply soft skills to humanize their backlog
  • The Scrum Master can immediately apply the concept of growing people and teams via a backlog

Presentation History:

Presentation history of this session:

  • XP 2018 Porto
  • Lean Agile Systems Thinking Melbourne 2018
  • Agile2018 San Diego
  • Regional Scrum Gathering Sydney 2018 - upcoming
  • Agile Tauranga - upcoming
  • Regional Scrum Gathering Durban 2018 - upcoming
  • Regional Scrum Gathering Nepal 2018 - upcoming

Alex's conference and presentation history:

  • Agile Open Northwest 2012 - Session Leader
  • Übermind ÜnConference 2012 - Session Leader
  • MobileUXCamp Seattle 2012 - Session Leader
  • Seattle Kaizen Camp 2012 - Session Leader
  • MAQCon 2012 - Cofounder
  • MobileUXCamp Seattle 2013 - Session Leader
  • Seattle Kaizen Camp 2013 - Session Leader
  • MobileUXCamp Seattle 2014 - Session Leader
  • Seattle Kaizen Camp 2014 - Session Leader
  • Construx Software Executive Summit 2014 - Facilitator
  • Shell Developers Summit 2015 - Keynote Speaker
  • Scrum Coaching Retreat Seattle 2015 - Volunteer Team
  • Un:Conference Canberra 2016 - Session Leader
  • Agile2016 - Volunteer Team
  • UX Australia 2016 - Speaker, Reviewer
  • Agile Coach Camp Sydney 2016 - Session Leader
  • Agile Tour Sydney 2016 - Facilitator
  • StartCon 2016 - Pitch Competitor
  • Global Scrum Gathering San Diego 2017 - Reviewer
  • Global Scrum Gathering Singapore 2017 - Speaker (Rating = 4.5/5)
  • Agile Coach Camp Sydney 2017 - Session Leader
  • Scrum Gathering India 2017 - Speaker, Facilitator, Coaches' Clinic
  • Lean Agile Systems Thinking Canberra 2017 - Organizer, Speaker (Rating = 5/5)
  • Lean Agile Systems Thinking Melbourne 2017 - Speaker (Rating = 5/5), Facilitator (Rating = 4.4/5)
  • Lean Agile Systems Thinking Sydney 2017 - Speaker
  • Scrum Gathering Melbourne 2017 - Speaker (Rating = 2nd highest session at conference), Coaches' Clinic
  • AgileNZ 2017 - Speaker
  • Scrum Gathering South Africa 2017 - Speaker
  • Business and Enterprise Agility Conference India 2017 - Speaker
  • Business Agility Conference NYC 2018 - Facilitator
  • 1st Conference Melbourne 2018 - Facilitator
  • Lean Agile Systems Thinking Sydney 2018 - Speaker
  • Agile Impact Jakarta 2018 - Speaker, Workshop Facilitator
  • Business Agility Conference Sydney 2018 - Reviewer, Facilitator of Facilitators, Organizer
  • Global Scrum Gathering Austin 2019 - Reviewer
  • XP 2019 Montreal - Industry and Practice Co-Chair

Speaking References:


Learning Outcome

  • Product Owners will learn that they should love their backlogs. This shift in attitude and how they view their work can transform their tedious backlog maintenance into a labor of love. For example, a PO may change the meeting title from "Backlog Refining" to "Backlog Coaching".
  • Scrum Masters will learn that it's OK to push the team to grow. This change in perspective will empower the Scrum Master to focus on value and encouraging the best they can get from their team. For example, a Scrum Master may deploy backlogs targeted to improving skills of team members.
  • All attendees will be introduced to the concept that traditional role paradigms can be shifted.

Target Audience

Scrum Masters, Product Owners, Agile Coaches

Prerequisites for Attendees


schedule Submitted 1 year ago

Public Feedback

comment Suggest improvements to the Speaker
  • Tathagat Varma
    By Tathagat Varma  ~  1 year ago
    reply Reply

    Alex, the fun part of your proposal sounds interesting...are you doing it like a role-play session?

    However from a methdology-agnostic agility (which is what we really strive for here at Agile India), I am trying to understand if it would be better to focus on tasks or jobs to be done, rather than assigning them to a role? For example, in my view, the "ideal" Scrum team is a team without a product owner (does the idea of a "single wringable neck" still appeal in 2018?) or a scrum master (when the team is truly self-organizing, why do you need a scrum master?). Maybe this will never be the "Day 1" picture but a "Day 300" picture of a hyperperforming Scrum team, and at that stage, it doesn't even matter if they follow Scrum or whatever! My point here: it is good to develop empathy inside the team for various roles and associated responsibilities, but why stop at fixed roles and why not build fluidity in the team, which is a true agile team mindset?

    • Alex Sloley
      By Alex Sloley  ~  10 months ago
      reply Reply

      Thanks for the feedback!

      No, no role-playing. I do enjoy role-playing, but it’s mostly me talking and trying to be funny :-)

      Yes, I totally agree with you! What my session is really about is on slide #35 – everyone on the team can learn from each other. The session is really about exactly what you are saying. And if you extended that logic to its ultimate conclusion, yes, there is a team, and no SM or PO, and they are a hyper-performing unit. The stuff I talk about is just one step in the beginning to hopefully that destination…


  • Arijit Sarbagna
    By Arijit Sarbagna  ~  1 year ago
    reply Reply

    Hi Alex,

    Thanks for the proposal.

    I do think that this is a light-hearted way to explain (by means of role-reversal) how PO & SM should work in an ideal situation. But don't you think this is part-n-parcel of any typical Scrum training (perhaps keeping the fun part aside). How do we wish to make it stand out in terms of its uniqueness? 

    You have kept it for Intermediate level audience. The expectation will be bit high here, more to understand how a SM or PO could deliver beyond the classical role definition. How do we wish to achieve that? 

    Thanks & regards

    Arijit Sarbagna

    • Alex Sloley
      By Alex Sloley  ~  1 year ago
      reply Reply

      Hey Arijit!

      Thanks for comments...

      I agree that people who go to a foundation level SM session should come away with that message. And I do try to make my sessions funny and enjoyable tongue-out

      I think the message that stands out here is - when we talk about t (or pi shaped or whatever) people on teams, that this concept also applies to the PO and SM! I think secondary learnings of the session are 1 - a PO should learn to love their backlog and 2 - a scrum master needs to be strategic about helping their team get better.

      i generally keep most of sessions at beginner level, so i have no problem updating this to beginner. i think attendees who know what a PO and SM are will understand the concepts more readily so thats why i assigned it intermediate. shall i update that parameter do you think?


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