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The Effects of Unnoticed Impediments

30 August 2016

When impediments go unnoticed for a long time, they create a severe impact on the team. The timely, proactive identification and resolution of impediments helps teams quickly reduce their adverse effects.

What is an impediment?

Impediments are issues that either block or slow down a team's progress in achieving a sprint goal or in committing to a sprint.

The article "What Are Impediments?" has a great list of potential impediments.

Identifying an impediment

The team psychologist, also known as the ScrumMaster, can always help with identifying impediments. However, the goal is to enable the team to identify an impediment as soon as it strikes, rather than waiting until its effects are felt by others.

At times, teams do not know that some event is impeding their progress because it goes unnoticed. If significant, it is mostly called out during a retrospective. The definition of an impediment, or an impediment itself, is not always recognized because it depends on who faces the impediment. For example, each team member has his or her own personality, tolerance limit, impact based on circumstances, given day and time, personal mood, etc.

Identifying impediments isn't something that can be learned in one day. It takes even more time if:
  • The ScrumMaster is new to Agile
  • Most of the team members are new to Agile
  • The team was just formed
  • There could be a chance that the team is not maturing over time
  • There is no common understanding of what is an impediment
However, a conscious effort to create awareness and find impediments during the Daily Scrum is a good strategy. Often, if impediments are not raised explicitly, they surface automatically through the burn-down, to-do hours, absence of early story acceptance, etc. That helps the ScrumMaster ask the right questions and spur conversations with the team.

Impact of an unnoticed impediment

As an example, let's take a simple impediment that concerns issues with a server restart during deployment. This event might have caused merely a delay of five minutes a day, and the developer didn't recognize that it is an impediment.

Let's do some quick math; for the entire sprint, the impediment would have wasted an hour. However, the impact doesn't stop there — it frustrates the developer every other day. If the server restart is being done in rotation, every other team member may have to learn about the workaround and then deploy. Moreover, other team members might set an unrealistic expectation for the person affected by the impediment because nobody knows the impediment exists.

Ways to improve awareness

You can take the following steps to increase awareness of existing impediments:
  1. To ensure that there's a common understanding of all Agile terms, start projects with a training program that everyone can attend.
  2. ScrumMasters can look for impediments proactively using different methods, such as Agile information radiators, the Daily Scrum, and osmotic communication (my friend JP's favorite).
  3. Servant leaders (technical managers) continually find ways to improve developers' productivity.
  4. Developers recognize impediments they can surface, asking for help from internal and external stakeholders to help mitigate or resolve them.


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.

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