Impediments can slow down or even halt the progress of an otherwise well-functioning Scrum team. Let's take a look at the most common challenges that crop up on teams and what steps you can take to resolve them.
- If the impediment backlog lives in the mysterious black book of the ScrumMaster, you have a problem.
- If your impediment backlog does not change you have a problem.
- If your impediment backlog is empty, you have a problem.
- If you have an impediment backlog with a growing number of active impediments, you have a problem.
- If the ScrumMaster resolves all impediments himself you have a problem.
1. Make the impediments visible
Write the impediments on a flipchart or index cards and attach them to a wall in the team room near the taskboard. Make sure that everybody can see the impediments, especially the team during the Daily Scrum. Some of the impediments are really hard to solve. Hiding these will make it very easy to ignore the impediments while making them visible creates pressure to resolve the impediments.
Putting impediments near the taskboard creates a nice opportunity for you as the ScrumMaster to give information during the Daily Scrum, like “I resolved impediment X. What do you think is now the impediment with the highest priority? I will pick that one.” That way, it becomes very clear if the ScrumMaster neglects to continuously remove impediments.
2. Search for impediments
There is no such thing as a team without impediments -- every team could perform faster. If you as the ScrumMaster aren't aware of impediments you are not doing your job. Inexperienced Scrum teams may not mention impediments by themselves so you must actively search for them. For example:
- Whenever there is no movement on the taskboard during the Daily Scrum, it is likely that there is an impediment.
- If there are more tasks “in progress” on the taskboard than developers on the team, it is likely that there is an impediment.
Ask the team about these things and you will discover the impediment. Question the team about what things that would help them ccomplish their tasks faster. Remind team members that these are also impediments to achieving the highest possible performance.
3. Limit the number of impediments
There are several strategies you can use to limit impediments. One is to limit the time, another is to limit the number of impediments.
To limit time, use a strict rule, like: “An impediment may only exist for a maximum of 24 hours.” After that time itmust either be resolved or trashed. A trashed impediment may only come back in the next Sprint but not the current one.
To limit the number, set a maximum limit of open impediments (e.g. 4). When writing impediments on index cards and attaching them to the wall you could limit the space for the cards so it's simply not possible to attach more impediments to the wall. When you have reached the maximum of open impediments and a new impediment is discovered, you'll have to decide if the new impediment is more important than the existing ones. If this is the case, remove an existing card and put the new one in its place.
Of course, new impediments typically occur much faster than you can remove them. That results in an ever growing list of open impediments and after a short period of time you have a very long list of impediments. That blocks focus, makes prioritization hard, and creates a bad mood. Don’t manage impediments, resolve them! Don’t be afraid to miss important impediments: they will be raised again later.
4. Differentiate between local and global impediments
Differentiate between impediments that slow down the team and those that block progress on stories. The first category of impediments could be called global impediments and the second category could be called local impediments (or blockers). Use tip number three to address global impediments. For local impediments, attach red sticky notes to the stories on the taskboard. Don't be afraid to use as many sticky notes as you need.
Be aware, however, that tip number three has a pitfall: There may be impediments that block stories. Trashing these impediments would cause problems since the blocks won’t vanish. Tip number three covers global impediments but the local ones, so put as many local impediments on the taskboard as you discover.
5. Help the team to resolve impediments
As the ScrumMaster, don’t resolve all impediments by yourself. Work together with the team to determine which impediments it may resolve itself and what support it needs. Over time, the team should become capable of removing more and more impediments on its own. Don't simply delegate all impediments to the team, however. Many of them will be too hard for the team to resolve on its own.
Author's note: I’d like to thank Markus Gärtner and Roman Pichler for their valuable feedback for this article.