The Anatomy of an Impediment

The impediment. As a Scrum Master, you know you are supposed to remove it but how do we even know your team has one?

The standard practice is for the Scrum Master to spring into action after a team member has raised an impediment at a daily stand up. A list of impediments is usually kept near the task wall and the Scrum Master will do what they can to facilitate the removal of each impediment.

There is a case to be made for this approach of waiting for the team to announce something is blocking them before it becomes an actual impediment. Otherwise, someone (typically a Scrum Master) may presume there is an impediment when one isn’t really there. The danger of this would be when someone doesn’t speak up or when deep-seeded dysfunctions have become the status quo and never mentioned.

There is a balance we can strike. I believe the Scrum Master is in a unique position of neutrality and can observe things others can’t see or are afraid to mention…if they know what to look for.

The dictionary states an impediment is “a hindrance or obstruction in doing something.” From an Agile perspective, the “doing something” is the ability to build and deliver valuable product within an ecosystem of flow and agility and the “hindrance or obstruction” would be:

Anything causing team tension to rise. Many professional athletes would tell you they perform at their best when they can release tension, clear the mind, and be present. The same holds true for our teams. Knowing when tension shifts beyond a “healthy tension” will require a strong sense of knowing the heartbeat of the team and when it is starting to redline. I would consider feature requests with a pre-determined, non-negotiable delivery date s a hindrance falling into this category. Many teams would never raise this as impediment and just “do what their told.”

Anything impacting positive team engagement. Impediment often emerges when necessary perspectives or roles are missing from the team. This impediment will often reveal itself during team sizing (or estimating) exercises. Other symptoms could include people split across many projects or when remote members or other departments don’t feel a part of the Agile ecosystem. Team engagement impediments are often left unspoken and tolerated.

Anything restricting the frequent delivery of customer value. Unavailable technical environments or a lack of continuous integration and deployment platforms could be impediments here. Poor craftsmanship and rework also fall into this category.  The inability of the product owner (or other stakeholders) to make timely decisions is an impediment as well.

Anything constraining flow and pull in the system. Unneeded phase gates, leadership approvals, or defensive processes are impediments and keep the organization from a state of flow.

Anything impacting a healthy team vibe. This could be just one bad team member. Debate and different opinions are healthy but extreme confrontation or hostility should not be excused. A team unable to self-heal and strengthen from mistakes and stressors is also an impediment to creating an ecosystem of agility.

Every impediment has a story and a deep-rooted origin in something broken within your ecosystem. The current state of your organizational culture is revealed through your impediment list. When an organization first moves to Agile, your impediment list may be quite long as the bad (and good) in your company are amplified.

But impediments are more than just a list. Research, explore, and listen to what each impediment is saying. More often than not, they are telling you to take action with vigor and bravery.

YOUR TURN: Are they any impediments missed here? How techniques do you use to discovery and remove impediments? Feel to add your comments below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.