What’s wrong with that impediment list?

Let’s pretend that the impediment list I just posted (the one from the Charleston class) was a real public impediment list for your team.

What would be wrong with it?

First, the most important thing to say is: GREAT!  Finally, a public list of key things to work on.  And, if we worked hard on it, it will make us MUCH better.

Again, imagine it is a list for only one Team…what’s wrong with the picture?

Here are a few ideas…

1. Too many items.

It is not useful to have more than 20 or so items in a list for a Team.  If only 20, then, if new items come up, you ask “Is it more important than anything on our top 20?”  Usually the answer will be no. Until the Top 20 list gets to be maybe 18 left.

2. Not prioritized.

Well, you didn’t know that, but they did not prioritize them. And, if you thought about it, I doubt you would have prioritized them the way they were listed, for your team.

3. Not ordered.

By prioritized, I mean the list is in order of what ‘slows down the whole team the most.’  By ordered I mean additional ideas and cost-benefit analysis has been included. We considered dependencies between impediment fixes. We sliced the items appropriately (eg, small enough). Etc, etc.  They are in an order that will lead to the greatest improvement in the least amount of time. Cf. Theory of Constraints.

Cost-benefit analysis means that some people (more than one) have made some effort to consider the cost of fixing each of the items. This might be done intuitively or more formally.

4. Not well described.

Well, first I will mention again that some items are huge, and hence too vague to be useful.  So, part of describing them well is to make them smaller.  Some are more symptoms than causes. At the least, the Team should be much more clear than the list currently is about what they really mean. They were written quickly, and after discussion, you realize that different words would say it better.

5. No RCA

The list does not make visible whether any Root Cause Analysis has been completed. Of course that must be done.  And the biggest root cause must be fixed first, typically.

6. Small enough

This is important to say yet again a different way.  The items at the top should be small enough …. so that, the top one can be fixed or mitigated in one Sprint. People can feel the benefit in that sprint or the following sprint.  Usually.

Small and actionable. (Where did we hear this idea before?)

7. Take action!

Yes, Virginia, some people use a list NOT to take action.  They may use the list to enable themselves to forget about the top item, and NOT to take action on it.

Hopefully it is obvious to you, your Team and company……the list must represent the tacit commitment to take aggressive action on the top SINGLE item. One at a time.  And that action always must include a commitment from people outside the Team as well (for money, for people, for approval).  At least some of the time.  (Ex: Managers outside the Team won’t be involved in every impediment, but often enough they will have to be involved in some of them.)

Of course, the ‘single-piece-flow’ idea must be applied with common sense. There may be 3 impediments ‘in flight’ in this way: The SM is working on one, the Team is working on one, and Managers outside the Team are working on another.  Maybe this is okay, even good. It depends on common sense.



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2 thoughts on “What’s wrong with that impediment list?

  1. Tim Sanford

    Good stuff, Joe. Too many times scrum masters feel good about creating a list and adding to it in each sprint review, but before long the team will call them out for making sure the items on the ever-expanding list get addressed.

  2. Joe Little Post author

    Hi Tim,
    Yes. And this is perhaps the most important point. Don’t just have a list; actively work the list daily.
    If one does so, it is hard not to make significant improvement (eg, in Velocity or Happiness or Business Value).
    Thanks! Joe


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