Who is Accountable for Creating a Valuable Increment Each Sprint?

Natalia Plewniok
March 18, 2024

In exploring Agile ways of working, one encounters the essential concept of the “valuable increment” within the Scrum framework. This cornerstone element signifies the sprint's tangible outcome, reflecting the Scrum Team's collaborative efforts with three accountabilities: the Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Developers. Understanding who holds the accountability for delivering this increment is vital for ensuring the success of a project and enhancing the team's ability to meet the evolving needs of stakeholders. This article aims to demystify the roles and accountabilities within a Scrum context, offering insights into the collaborative dynamics that underpin the creation of valuable increments in each sprint. Through this exploration, you will better appreciate the Agile principles and practices that facilitate effective product and service development.

Product Owner

The Product Owner plays a pivotal role within the Scrum Team, tasked with defining the product's vision and ensuring that this vision is realised through the work of the Developers. This role demands a deep understanding of the market and the customer's needs and a strategic approach to Product Backlog management. The Product Owner's key accountabilities include:

  • Defining product value and managing the Product Backlog;
  • Prioritising backlog items (or technically ordering them) to maximise the delivered value;
  • Collaborating closely with the Scrum Master and Developers to ensure a shared understanding of the backlog's priorities and requirements;
  • Refining and adjusting the Product Backlog, considering feedback from stakeholders and the progress of the Scrum Team;
  • Ensuring transparency and clarity in the Product Backlog so the Developers can effectively plan and execute sprints.
The essence of the Product Owner's role is not just managing tasks or items; it's about steering the project towards delivering maximum value to the customer. This requires a keen insight into customer needs and market trends and the ability to make tough decisions on prioritisation to ensure that every sprint contributes meaningfully to the project's overarching goal. Through Product Owner training, individuals can further refine these skills, enhancing their ability to guide their teams towards success.


The Developers (formerly referred to as the Development Team) within a Scrum Team embody the creative and technical engine that drives the product's development. Their role encompasses transforming the vision and priorities outlined in the Product Backlog into tangible increments of functionality within each sprint. This transformation process involves a meticulous blend of design, coding, testing, and integration activities to build a Scrum product increment that aligns with the selected backlog items for the sprint.

Key to the Developers' responsibilities is not just creating these increments but also ensuring their quality. Through practices like continuous integration and rigorous testing, they maintain the integrity and usability of the product, ensuring that each Scrum increment is not just completed but also of a standard that could be released to customers if desired. This focus on quality is critical in fostering trust and ensuring that each increment in Scrum adds value, potentially reducing time to market and increasing customer satisfaction.

At the core of the Developers' accountability is delivering a potentially releasable increment at the end of each sprint. This means that the product increment in Scrum must be in a state where it could be delivered to the customer, embodying all the features and fixes planned for that sprint and meeting the predefined quality criteria. This accountability is pivotal as it reflects the Agile commitment to iterative progress, where value is continuously delivered through regular, incremental advancements in the product's features and functionality.

The collaborative effort of the Developers, guided by the strategic direction of the Product Owner and facilitated by the Scrum Master, is what propels the project forward. Each role within the Scrum framework has distinct accountabilities, but their synergy ensures the successful delivery of valuable product increments, sprint after sprint. This dynamic interplay underlines the essence of Agile ways of working, where flexibility, collaboration, and a continuous focus on quality and customer value are paramount.

Scrum Master

The Scrum Master is a key facilitator within the Scrum framework, acting as a bridge between the theoretical underpinnings of Agile ways of working and their practical application within the team's processes. This role is instrumental in ensuring that the Scrum Team adheres to Scrum practices, optimising their efficiency and effectiveness in achieving project goals.

One of the primary responsibilities of the Scrum Master is to facilitate Scrum events. This includes ensuring that all necessary Scrum events occur, are productive, and are kept within their timeframes. These events, such as Sprint Planning, Daily Scrums, Sprint Reviews, and Sprint Retrospectives, are critical for maintaining the rhythm and momentum of the Agile process, providing structured opportunities for planning, coordination, review, and adaptation.

Additionally, the Scrum Master is crucial in removing impediments that might hinder the team's progress. These impediments can range from logistical challenges, such as issues with tools or infrastructure, to interpersonal conflicts or organisational barriers. By addressing these challenges, the Scrum Master fosters an environment where the Developers can focus on their work without unnecessary distractions, thus enhancing their effectiveness.

The accountability of the Scrum Master extends beyond the immediate team to include supporting the Product Owner, the Developers, and the broader organisation in adopting Scrum. This involves coaching and mentoring on Scrum principles and practices, helping everyone understand their roles and responsibilities within the framework, and ensuring that the organisation creates an enabling environment for Agile projects to thrive. This may include working with other parts of the organisation to understand and remove broader systemic impediments to Agile adoption.

In essence, the Scrum Master is a servant-leader whose success is judged by the success of the Scrum Team and the effectiveness with which they deliver valuable product increments. Through their efforts in facilitating Scrum events, removing impediments, and promoting an understanding of Scrum across the team and organisation, the Scrum Master plays a pivotal role in successfully adopting Agile methods. Scrum Master training can significantly enhance these skills, equipping individuals with the knowledge and techniques to effectively support their teams and foster a productive, Agile working environment.

Collaboration and Shared Accountability

Within the Scrum framework, the emphasis on collaboration and shared accountability is paramount for the success of a project. Here are the key points highlighting the importance of these aspects:

  • Emphasising the collaborative nature of the Scrum Team – the synergy between the Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Developers is crucial for navigating challenges and achieving project objectives;
  • Recognising that accountability is shared among team members – while each role has specific accountabilities, the delivery of a valuable product increment in Scrum is a collective responsibility;
  • Underlining the role of communication in fostering understanding and alignment within the team – effective communication ensures that all team members are on the same page regarding goals, progress, and impediments;
  • Highlighting the importance of transparency in achieving shared goals – openness about work progress, challenges, and successes builds trust and facilitates effective collaboration;
  • Stressing that the collaborative success of the team is reflective of the Agile principle of individuals and interactions over processes and tools – focusing on people and their working relationships enhances team dynamics and project outcomes;
  • Acknowledging the dynamic interplay between roles within the Scrum framework – understanding and respecting each other’s responsibilities and contributions leads to more cohesive and efficient team performance.

These points underscore the essence of Agile methods, which encourage collaboration, communication, and shared accountability and are seen as essential components of successful product and service development.

The Scrum Team

Overcoming Challenges in Accountability

In Agile methods and Scrum framework, overcoming challenges related to accountability and ownership is essential to ensuring team success and project advancement. Scrum Teams often need help with common hurdles such as unclear accountabilities, overlapping responsibilities, and a lack of ownership that can impede progress and diminish the quality of the Scrum increment.

Ensuring clear accountability within the Scrum Team involves delineating and communicating the specific roles and responsibilities of the Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Developers. This clarity allows each team member to understand their unique contribution to the project and fosters a sense of ownership over their tasks and outcomes. Moreover, establishing clear accountability helps create a structured environment where decision-making processes are streamlined, and each member feels empowered to take the necessary actions to move the project forward.

Strategies for enhancing accountability and ownership within Scrum Teams include regular and transparent communication, establishing measurable and achievable goals, and cultivating a feedback-rich environment. By encouraging open dialogue and providing feedback, teams can address issues promptly, adapt to changes more efficiently, and foster a culture of continuous improvement. Additionally, using tools and practices such as Product Backlog Refinement (sometimes called backlog grooming), Sprint Planning, and retrospectives ensures that all team members are aligned with the project's objectives and aware of their responsibilities.

The importance of a supportive culture and leadership in fostering accountability cannot be overstated. Leadership plays a crucial role in modelling the values and behaviours underlying accountability, such as integrity, commitment, and responsibility. On the other hand, a supportive culture values collaboration, encourages risk-taking and views failures as opportunities for learning and growth. In such an environment, team members feel valued and supported, which, in turn, enhances their willingness to take ownership of their work and be accountable for their actions.

In summary, overcoming accountability challenges within Scrum Teams requires a multifaceted approach that includes clear communication of roles and responsibilities, strategic implementation of Agile practices, and the development of a supportive culture and leadership. These elements create a conducive environment for Scrum Teams to thrive, ensuring each member feels a sense of ownership and accountability towards delivering a valuable product increment in Scrum.

Practical Tips for Enhancing Accountability

Enhancing accountability within a Scrum Team involves a strategic approach to setting clear goals, fostering effective feedback loops, and cultivating a culture of commitment and mutual support. Let's delve into practical measures that can facilitate these objectives, leading to improved team performance and project outcomes.

Defining clear goals and expectations at the outset of each sprint is fundamental. This clarity is achieved through meticulous Sprint Planning, where the Product Owner and Developers collaborate to select backlog items that will be addressed. During this planning phase, it's crucial to articulate what needs to be accomplished and why these goals are essential. This understanding ensures that all team members are aligned with the sprint's objectives and are fully aware of what success looks like. Clear goals serve as a beacon, guiding the team's efforts and enabling them to measure their progress effectively.

Feedback loops, mainly through Sprint Reviews and Sprint Retrospectives, enhance team accountability. These Scrum events provide structured opportunities for the team to reflect on their work, discuss challenges, and celebrate achievements. Sprint Reviews allow the team to showcase their work to stakeholders, obtaining direct feedback on the product increment. Conversely, retrospectives offer a more reflective lens, focusing on the team's processes, interactions, and overall performance during the sprint. These feedback loops are critical for continuous improvement, enabling the team to identify areas for enhancement and commit to actionable steps in subsequent sprints.

Encouraging a culture of commitment and mutual support is the bedrock of a high-performing Scrum Team. Such a culture is characterised by team members who are genuinely invested in the project's success and are willing to support one another to achieve collective goals. This requires fostering an environment where open communication, respect, and trust prevail. Team members should feel confident expressing concerns, offering help, and depending on one another. Celebrating successes, recognising individual contributions, and addressing challenges collectively reinforce this mutual support culture.

In practice, these measures require diligent effort and commitment from all team members, including the Scrum Master, who is pivotal in facilitating these processes and nurturing the desired team dynamics. Scrum Teams can significantly enhance accountability by setting clear goals, leveraging feedback loops, and fostering a supportive culture, leading to more effective collaboration and superior project outcomes.


In summary, accountability within a Scrum Team is a multifaceted concept that requires a clear definition of roles, responsibilities, and shared goals. The collaborative effort of the Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Developers is essential for navigating the complexities of product development and ensuring the delivery of valuable increments. Establishing clear goals and expectations and effective feedback loops through sprint reviews and retrospectives is crucial in fostering a culture of accountability and continuous improvement.

Each role within the Scrum framework brings a unique set of accountabilities that, when effectively aligned, drive the project towards success. The Product Owner defines the vision, the Developers bring this vision to life, and the Scrum Master facilitates the process, ensuring adherence to Agile practices and addressing any impediments.

As we reflect on these dynamics, we must recognise the value of continuous reflection and adaptation. Teams should regularly evaluate their processes, seeking opportunities to enhance efficiency, collaboration, and overall performance. By embracing a mindset of constant improvement and fostering an environment of mutual support and commitment, Scrum Teams can achieve remarkable outcomes, delivering products that meet and exceed stakeholder expectations.

This journey towards enhanced accountability and performance is ongoing and demands attention, effort, and a willingness to adapt. As you move forward, embrace the challenges as opportunities for growth and remain committed to the principles of Agile and Scrum, ensuring the delivery of value with each increment in Scrum.

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