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What are Scrum Impediments and How to Remove Them

27 Aug 2019

The road to business success is dotted with pitfalls and hurdles. 

Often, we feel like we have to constantly put out fires. Some of them catch us off guard and lead to costly setbacks. Others are a mere nuisance we would rather not handle. 

Well, either way, the good news is Scrum accounts for this struggle and gives you the tools for navigating it.  

Right off the bat, it’s important to realize that Scrum impediments aren’t created equal. There are also many misconceptions and myths surrounding them that we have to debunk. After all, understanding what makes or breaks an impediment is the key to doing away with it. 

This is how you do it.

Impediments One-on-One

Scrum provides a set of general boundaries within which teams are free to operate as they see fit. 

The framework aims to break down big projects into iterations that add value as the project goes on. Moreover, it invests the teams with self-organizing authority to govern themselves.

Alas, impediments are bound to occur sooner or later. In Scrum, impediments entail anything that hampers team productivity and Scrum implementation. 

This definition is quite broad and encompasses obstacles of various shapes and sizes.  Some are as small as a malfunctioning software solution which the team may use. Others, such as corporate culture clashes and silo effects, impact the organization as a whole. 

We need to focus primarily on problems that arise beyond the self-organizing domain. Namely, if a development team can resolve something on its own it’s probably not a real impediment. It falls into the category of a block, which affects only one task or activity. 

So, a defining trait is a reduced ability of teams to either produce potentially shippable product increments during each Sprint or accomplish general progress.  At the same time, impediments may exceed the team’s capacity to remove them. 

Bear in mind that you can use the Sprint Goal as an indicator of whether something is an impediment or not. The positive answer is reserved for cases when an issue hurts your ability to reach Sprint Goals. 

Just to give you a clearer idea, let’s name a few more common impediments:

  • Lack of skills
  • Unresponsive suppliers
  • Conflicts within teams 
  • Sick leaves
  • Unclear tasks and responsibilities 
  • Time-wasting meetings 
  • Incompetent Product Owner 
  • Sudden team composition changes

It goes without saying these issues call for different approaches and solutions. 

Mastering the Impediment Removal 

When it comes to removing impediments, the Scrum Master has a pivotal role to play. 

This individual knows the ins and outs of the Scrum framework. As a servant-leader, he/she is explicitly tasked with eliminating impediments and ensuring peak productivity.

Of course, Scrum Master isn’t alone in this endeavor. Scum is an empirical approach grounded in the self-organizing and cross-functional team structure. Thus, as a general rule of thumb, it’s often better to mediate and broker a solution than to impose it on the members. 

In certain instances, it’s enough to merely reveal a problem and implore everyone to pay attention. 

For this system to work though, teams have to clearly communicate what is weighing them down. Daily Scrums are events when they can let Scrum Master know about progress in the last 24 hours, as well as impediments they encountered. 

Based on these feedback loops, Scrum Master can start working on removing the obstructions. In the process, this role also aids everyone in grasping and applying Scrum methodology better. But, this is not typically a full-time commitment. 

Impediment removal is collaborative and should promote optimal self-organization and cross-functionality. There’s no need to intervene in cases when team members are able to come up with a prudent course of action on their own.  

For instance, two members arguing with each other can become an impediment, but it doesn’t have to. It all depends on how the collective reacts and if it’s capable of restoring healthy cooperation and communication. 

Ideally, teams learn from these tricky situations and grow stronger. 

Hence, it’s an obligation of the Scrum Master to create an atmosphere in which everyone feels comfortable raising their voices and opinions. This is a prerequisite for identifying impediments early on and successfully dealing with them. 

Doing this prevents them from spiraling out of proportion (or even materializing as impediments in the first place). 

Final Step— Taking Action 

Finally, when it comes to taking active measures, there are various smart tactics to ponder. 

We already mentioned transparency and collaboration as general conditions required for Scrum impediments. Here, we would just add that Scrum Master has to possess a deeper understanding of a company’s culture. 

Otherwise, it’s hard to make judgments that everyone perceives as optimal and fair. 

Secondly, the Product Owner comes into play when tackling certain types of impediments. Most notably, this role is crucial in areas of product management and stakeholder collaboration. A great relationship with Scrum Master helps a great deal in working out these issues. 

In terms of concrete tools, there’s no shortage of them to add to the arsenal. Impediment Board, for example, is a very useful one. It visualizes impediments and helps everyone gain a clear overview of what needs to be done.  There should be three columns: to-do, in progress, and done. 

They allow you to keep track of fixed impediments, as well as those that have to be fixed promptly. This data comes in handy when it’s time for the Sprint Review and Retrospective

Lastly, know that sometimes, one has to make bold moves and do the hard thing. You will also need to address the root causes of the impediment. In other words, investigating why something is happening is integral to preventing it from happening again. 

So, make an effort to build collective intelligence, expertise, and team spirit. Be smart about delegating the ownership of the impediment. Foster a positive change in the workplace. 

Let your employees perform to the best of their abilities.

Full Steam Ahead 

Scrum impediments hold teams back and undermine a smooth Scrum adoption. 

They are easily one of the most challenging facets of Agile transformation. Therefore, you have to face them head-on instead of just hoping for the best. 

As you have seen, the Scrum Master is the chief impediment killer. The Agile champion must empower the teams to sort out their own problems and step in only when needed. This isn’t to say impediments are sole responsibility of this role. 

Another thing to remember is not everything is worth trying to fix and solve. You’re better off picking your battles wisely and preserving self-organization of teams. Combat Sprint Goal hindrances and woes affecting overall progress first. 

Stay ever vigilant and you will demolish all barriers in your way.