Public Impediment List !!! – 2

There is a good Scrum trainer who thinks that a public impediment list is not important.  So, if he can misunderstand, then we all can.

Here is a better explanation of why it is important, I hope.

I find the lack of a public impediment list is a prime indicator of a lack of focus in removing impediments.

This is essential in Scrum.  Why?

  • Action.

It is important to say that the public impediment list is not the main deal.  The list must be acted on.

The real deal is removing impediments, and making the lives of your team, yourself and customers better.  The impediment list is one way to do that.  Or, better to say: fixing impediments is one way to do that.

  • One thing at a time

We believe in doing one thing at a time, and getting relatively quick results. Rather than working on many things and usually not getting any tangible progress.

So, the list enables the ScrumMaster and the team and the firm to order the work on the impediments.

How? Well, first an impediment is anything slowing the team down.  If fixed, it would speed the team up. (Speed meaning both higher quality and higher productivity.)  The team receives greater benefit sooner by working on the top priority impediment.

  • Prioritize

The top impediment is the one that gives us the greatest bang for the buck, meaning “business value” divided by effort. Business value for impediments might, too simply, be thought of as the velocity increase for the team.

Apparently one also has to note that one cannot prioritize a list without having a list.

And, by the way, every team has not reached anything close to optimal velocity, so there is always a top impediment.  Always a list of things we can improve on.

  • Make it small and actionable

Let me say again that it is important to make the ‘improvement’ list a series of small actionable things (or, as soon as we start working on one, it is small and actionable).  By small I mean that usually we can get it done in one sprint, and that we can see benefits (eg, increased velocity) in one sprint.

  • Others can give feedback

Why public? So everyone can see and offer feedback on what are our team’s top impediments.  Otherwise, Brian thinks he told George about Item X, but George forgot to put it on his personal list….so, it was forgotten. All these little human errors are less likely with a public list.

And the feedback can be in other ways too.

  • Others can offer help

Anyone can fix an impediment. Or, at least, anyone might fix an impediment.  The SM ‘makes it happen’ or gets someone to do it. And that someone might be…
(a) the SM herself
(b) the Team (and it might even be a significant amount of work for a Team in a Sprint)
(c) someone outside the Team (a managers, an outside firm, contractors, whatever)

And we mean public to everyone.  People in the team and people outside the team, including the higher level Impediment Removal Team (IRT) (if you have one).  Anyone can make suggestions, and help us get better.  [Side Note: I call it an IRT.  Ken Schwaber and Mike Cohn and others have their own names for it.  I assume you are in a company with 4 or more Scrum teams, where an IRT starts to make sense.]

  • Humans need reminders to focus

A public list reminds everyone that someone should be working on the top item, now. “Has anyone started working on impediment 1?” “Oh, yeah, I’m about to start that!”  Human nature again.

  • Resolve conflicts about the priorities

And a pubic list enables Mary… who was sure her Item FGH should be number 1, but shows as number 10 now…. to identify the problem. Now, she knows to go to George the ScrumMaster and make the case why her Item FGH should really be #1 on the list.  Otherwise, she might just guess that George “got it” after their hallway conversation (where he actually was thinking more about the Christmas presents he needs to get…human nature again).

Sometimes priorities (on the impediments) are not obvious, and it helps to get input from others.

  • Justifies having a full-time SM

If people cannot see, they do not understand. And this is true of managers too. So, managers might not give the team a full time SM if they do not see how that helps.

The public impediment list reminds the SM (and everyone else around) why the heck we have an expensive person (the SM) over here not doing “real work.”

(By the way, I think the SM easily pays for himself by removing impediments. But you do the math. Of course, that assumes that the company culture does not stifle all the impediment removal efforts. But, to be fair, from what I see, a good percentage of firms effectively stifle most impediment removal efforts, so that not much gets better.)


The list is prioritized. If the priorities are not readily agreed, then the ScrumMaster breaks ties.

The real juice is that the SM is making sure the top impediment is always getting worked.

Again, there never comes a day when there is not a top impediment. (We never become perfect.)

For you folks into Lean, a public impediment list relates to Visual Management and to Kaizen; two big practices (or ideas) in the Lean community.

The exclamation marks in the title are there to suggest that way too often we find teams without a public impediment list.

Finally, let me recommend a public list of impediments already fixed.  How quickly we forget our successes.  And the successes give us encouragement to keep climbing up the hill.



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