Five Tips for Impediment Resolution with Scrum

29 September 2011

Stefan Roock
it-agile GmbH

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.

Problems:

  1. If the impediment backlog lives in the mysterious black book of the ScrumMaster, you have a problem.
  2. If your impediment backlog does not change you have a problem.
  3. If your impediment backlog is empty, you have a problem.
  4. If you have an impediment backlog with a growing number of active impediments, you have a problem.
  5. 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.


Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.



Article Rating

Current rating: 5 (1 ratings)

Comments

Sarah Held, CSM,CSPO, 10/5/2011 11:36:38 AM
Helpful article and great reminder to keep those impediments visible. Thank you!
Arul Prasad, CSM, 10/7/2011 2:05:27 AM
Very nice!, and it is a very good thought and this tips will useful for me and for my team to remove the impediments, going to adapt in the scrum team.
Iván Salvador Cervantes Alonso, CSM, 10/7/2011 10:42:11 AM
I will start with some of this. Great article
Arun Gunari, CSPO, 10/7/2011 6:07:42 PM
I like the idea of displaying the impediments visually. I am not too certain about how to use local vs global impediments. It almost seems like global impediments(the ones which slows down progress) if not resolved in time will become local impediments (blockers for stories).
Chia Wei Cheng, CSM, 10/7/2011 8:56:32 PM
Nice article.

"If there are more tasks ΓÇ£in progressΓÇ¥ on the taskboard than developers on the team, it is likely that there is an impediment."

Isn't it limiting "work in progress" an element of Kanban?
Sharan Karekatte, CSM, 10/14/2011 3:54:05 PM
Good article!! IMHO, I wouldn't want to limit the number of impediments. Rather list them all and prioritize them. At my workplace, we list all impediments on a white board, and discuss them as post-scrum topics. The team members take ownership for some and the ScrumMaster takes some. We revisit the impediments during each Daily Scrum and remove the ones that have been resolved.
Sean Cooper, CSM,CSPO, 10/19/2011 5:41:49 PM
We have an Impediments Team here and we operate a Kanban style system/ board for removal of systematic impediments that cannot be removed by the individual, the Scrum Team or the ScrumMaster alone.

The Impediments Team is made up of members from each Scrum Team, and senior members from IT, Marketing, Development and even the CEO. We have 2 stand ups a week and bi-weekly grooming/ sequencing of the b/log. This affords maximum transparency of the impediments that slow us down as an organization.
Viet Bang Mai, CSM, 10/31/2011 11:32:14 PM
I like the ideas of making the impediments visible & searching for impediments. Those helps team work well when applying Scrum. The more we search for impediments and make them visible, the more we gain success of Sprints.
Stefan Roock, CST,CSP,CSM,CSD,CSPO,REP, 11/1/2011 11:50:38 AM
@Arun Gunari: "It almost seems like global impediments(the ones which slows down progress) if not resolved in time will become local impediments (blockers for stories)."
That may occur but it need not. A global impediment could be that the compile time is very long. That won't become a blocker.
Stefan Roock, CST,CSP,CSM,CSD,CSPO,REP, 11/1/2011 11:52:25 AM
@Chia Wei Cheng: "Isn't it limiting "work in progress" an element of Kanban?"
Yes, it is. The Sprint also limits WiP and often teams find it helpful to limit WiP during the Sprint.
Carlos Colon-Maldonado, CSM, 11/2/2011 6:47:19 AM
Tip number five warns of the single, most frequent impediment of them all, and it's a trend that executives are developing as perpestive: the reason they hire a ScrumMaster. This is a very helpful article that hopefully Scrum software would update with.
Sedettra Bowen, CSM, 11/7/2011 10:22:28 AM
Great article, the separation between global and local impediments is a great way to provide context for the product owner and leaders when asking for support to resolve impediments.
Pedro Garcia, CSM, 11/10/2011 8:35:01 PM
Great article... Our team prioritize the impediments and the Product Owner pays attention to solve some of them.
Xiang Long, CSM, 11/15/2011 2:12:31 AM
Thanks, great article of practicing removing impediments.
Rajaniesh Kaushikk, CSM, 11/19/2011 9:18:01 AM
Very nice article...Thanks for this great article
Steffen Hohn, CSM,CSD, 11/24/2011 1:10:20 AM
Thanks for the great article. Is it a good way that the CSM focuses on global impediments first whereas the team members rather deal with the local ones. If for example a global impediment adresses an old-fashioned build process, the decision to change this could be influenced or blocked by policy. Local impediments on tasks are often depending on unclear business requirements and could rather be solved by the team or the members involved. What do you think?
Carmen Cristian Marin, CSM, 12/8/2011 12:42:09 PM
Very good and helpful article! Thank you!
Simon Prior, CSM, 1/1/2012 3:09:54 PM
Thanks for a very insightful article Stefan. I agree that having the impediments visible is very important and also encourages other team members to resolve them as they are made aware of them and are constantly reminded of them by seeing them on the wall. It is also important that all team members feel empowered to remove impediments and not just leave them all to the Scrum Master.
Ritesh Kapoor, CSM, 1/10/2012 11:59:40 PM
Great and a very useful article.
Kim Poo Gan, CSM, 8/30/2012 4:02:27 AM
The scenerios of impediments is very true.
It help us to detect it and deal with it in early stage.
Sam Ebi Joelin, CSM,CSPO, 10/24/2013 9:12:33 PM
Making the impediments visible to the team enables the team to focus on resolving them. So making visible is good. But why empty impediment backlog is bad. There will be a time the impediments resolved and no outstanding issues/impediments, right?
Thaks for the article.

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