Aggressively Attack the Impediments

We can look at impediments or continuous improvement many ways.

In Scrum, we usually look at impediments as continuous improvement for one [Scrum] team at a time.

Note: Of course, we can think of impediments for a scaled group of teams or for the agile adoption, and for other kinds of things. Not for today, though.

I wanted to reiterate a few key points that I make in my course.

  • Anything can be an impediment.

There are many types of impediments.  Blockers ( meaning an impediment that causes a full stop to one User story in the current sprint) is one type of impediment.  Usually we define impediments as anything that ‘slows’ down a team.  Once an impediment is fixed, we can expect an improvement in velocity (without any increased time or effort for the Team).

Impediments, though, are anything that is keeping the Team from being the best Team in the world.  Best in every way with the most business value, highest quality, most fun, highest productivity, etc, etc.

  • Attack every day

Every day the SM should be getting someone to work on the top impediment.

  • Incremental improvement every Sprint

Of course, we could have said ‘continuous improvement’ but we want to relate the concept to getting a small improvement in velocity (usually that is the metric) every sprint.  Now, this may not always happen (we are human, etc), and this may not always be possible.  But I strongly prefer to do things incrementally.

  • SM plus the whole Team

The SM leads this ‘getting better’.  The whole team must contribute.  For example, the Team must decide which is the biggest impediment (at some reasonable period), and the SM must get the Team to decide quickly.  The Team’s motivation will change as they see their top impediment get fixed, over and over again.

I think dedicating about 1/7 of your Team’s time to getting better (especially when the payback of getting better is so great) is about right.  Ck Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits book, especially ‘sharpening the saw.’

  • Get the Managers to help!!!

Of course the managers can and must help in removing the impediments.  And the Team must get the managers engaged.  I recommend making a business case (every other sprint?) to a manager, to get approval for $, for people, or for just approval to change things (often required).

It may take the Team some time to learn how to make these business cases (mostly benefits versus costs).  The Managers should take time to teach them how to do it better.

  • It never ends

Be patient.  The path to becoming perfect never has an end point.  But it is also good to become better.

Never, never, never, never surrender to complacency.

Never surrender to the lie; ‘we can’t get any better’, or the more sophisticated lie that ‘the cost of any more improvements is greater than the benefit.’  The potential power of the Team is virtually immeasurable. Even the best Team has only tapped a small fraction of the potential of the Team.  Even champion sports teams are still far from ‘perfect’.  Records in every sport, expected to stand ‘forever’, are broken every day.

OK.  Once you gather the metrics and write the paper that shows how your Team became and is currently the best Team in Scrum ever, then you can take a day off from removing impediments.  Heck, take two days off.  Then start getting better again.  As you know, once we get really good it is hard to stay at that level.  Very hard.

A few more concepts that I think are obvious which I did not explain today:

  • A public impediment list will help. EX: It is hard for the SM to fix the impediments she does not know about.
  • I recommend telling the truth to everyone.  Hence, a Public impediment list.  Yes, I know that’s ‘impossible’.  Mark Twain: “When in doubt tell the truth. It will confound your enemies and astound your friends.”
  • Focus
  • Work in priority order
  • Plan a bit (adapt)
  • Use cost-benefit analysis
  • KISS
  • Single piece continuous flow (in this case: one impediment at a time)
  • Aggressively attacking impediments is fundamental to Scrum, and key to its success
  • Use metrics (with judgment)
  • Culture is one of the key impediments; a ‘not good enough yet’ PO is a very common impediment; poor flow of business information (value and details) into the Team is a Universal impediment; better Continuous Integration and better automation of the testing is (are?) a near universal impediment(s)
  • Yogi Berra: “Little things are big.”  If you improve 5% per Sprint, it will not take long to double your Team’s productivity.
  • Of course, the world is so incredibly mucked up, that making huge improvements is easy. (I could cry or laugh, and I choose to laugh.)
  • Convert normal human bitching to action.  Shakespeare: “Take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them.”
  • Use the transparency that Scrum provides to help identify the top impediment to work on now. (Yes, the top one could change every hour.)


I hope these reminders helps a Team or two.

Feedback welcome!


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