The Impediment List

The most important thing a ScrumMaster does is remove impediments.

This is easy to say, since anything that needs to be fixed or changed we define as an impediment.

It might be said that the first impediment is that we have not introduced Scrum yet, for example.

What is an Impediment?

So, just about anything can be an impediment.

So, how do we define an impediment?  One way: Anything that is slowing down the Team.

If you define the impediments that way, then there are hundreds or thousands of impediments at any one time.  Hence the need to have a list and prioritize it.

Some examples of the varieties of impediments:

  • technical debt
  • a bad boss
  • someone who does not understand agile or scrum or lean
  • a hurricane
  • a power outage
  • a serve that falls over
  • lack of automated testing
  • Continuous Integration that is not good enough yet
  • a culture that does not fully support lean-agile-scrum
  • the matrix organization
  • distraction to people on teams or to whole teams
  • having the team work on more than one release at the same time
  • a team room that is too small
  • insufficient skill sets on the team
  • a PO that is not good enough as a PO yet
  • confusions about what the story is
  • unresolved technical issues
  • inability to make decisions quickly (by the PO or by people in the Team or by people outside the Team)
  • someone on the Team who is not a Team Player
  • lack of self-organization on the Team
  • lack of knowledge about method X
  • lack of DBA skills within the Team
  • need to refactor the Architecture
  • lack of babysitters for some Team members
  • John is getting a divorce
  • the Company recently had a re-org
  • one person distracting the Team too much

So, to name broad categories of impediments, we might have a list like this:

  • technical impediments
  • blockers to specific stories
  • organizational impediments
  • culture
  • insufficient education or training on lean-agile-scrum
  • insufficient knowledge or skill sets
  • people issues
  • things not working (that were working before)
  • basic things (eg, lack of team room)
  • things outside the company (one example: the weather)

But really about anything could be an impediment if it slows down the Team.

Issues about Impediments

Impediments are not only blockers.

We mentioned blockers, which is not always a well-defined term.  Typically blocker means an impediment that stops one story.

And blockers can be important impediments.

The key thing: blockers are not the only type of impediment.  There are many other types.

Impediments can (always do) include “things around here that have been here for ages that no one has ever tried to identify, much less fix”.

That is, we are asking fish to identify water as the problem.  It is almost that bad and that hard.

So, you have to ask the Team (and others) to think much differently.  And imagine that anything could be fixed.  And put those “it would never be fixed” things on the list.

And then, especially if you are the SM, you must figure out how to address them.

Addressing Impediments

Some impediments are initially expressed more as symptoms than as root causes.

So, very commonly, we must identify the root cause.

The means someone, probably the team, must do some form of RCA (root cause analysis.  This might be done with the “Five Whys” technique or with other tools.

Some impediments can be fixed and some cannot.

The ones that might be fixed, we recommend

normally making two weeks of fixing, and getting some intermediate benefit.  If that is possible — we find it usually is, if you work hard to identify the right two-weeks of work.

Some impediments cannot be fixed, such as a hurricane.

But even those impediments can be mitigated, that is the impact on the Team can be mitigated, almost always.  So, we take mitigation steps.

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