The Retrospective and uncovering the best impediments

I chuckle when I say ‘best’ impediments.  Because, by its nature, an impediment is something that is slowing the team down.  It is ‘bad.’

But, to get better, the Team must focus on the most important things first.  And this is true for impediments.  We must fix the most important impediment first.

It is human nature to ignore impediments.  This is a huge problem.

Why? Because if we do not put the Moose on the table, we can never fix it.

And, for many people, it is very painful to admit all our sins.  Sins we may have been committing for years now. (I tease about ‘sin’ — but it really is a sin to have been doing all these ugly things, and not admitting to it, and never fixing them, honestly. If we are managers, if we are any responsible adult, we must look palely in the mirror and say ‘I was a party to this stupidity for years.’  It is humbling. And we have all done it.)

Not every one will feel pain, but we must remember that many do.  So, they don’t want to talk about any, or many, or some impediments.  Because of the pain.

They say: “It was good enough.” “Nothing really to be improved.” “Well, we don’t need to fix that now, we should just work on the product.” And lots of other such weasel words.  By this denial, they avoid what feels to them like pain.

True winners of course freely admit on television that they made mistakes, that they were not perfect.  Tom Brady and Michael Phelps come to mind.  Only when one admits some stupidity or mistake can one get smarter. Truly, as a real professional, our dream is to be perfect, or the best ever.  We know from years of practice that we will never ever be perfect.  By using that dream the right way, we can learn to be so much — so very much — better than we are today.  But, god, it takes guts.

So ordinary humans (who actually could be winners, even though deep in their soul they fear it) — ordinary humans remain in denial.

The Team feels some impediments are personal.  They feel that to talk about it would be a personal attack.  To be honest, often a person will feel it as a personal attack if anything negative is said about any part of their work. This may sound weird to you or to some member of the Team, but that is how human feelings often work.

This is hard.  But by no means impossible.


We are a band of brothers. We are together.  No man is an island, we are all part of the whole.

We just need to get the Moose on the table and fix it.  So, do not call it ‘his sin’ or ‘my sin’ — call it ‘the Moose’.  And no one owns the Moose.

Maybe you can imagine the heavy weight of denial that they carry (we carry). Let us take that weight from their shoulders.

In any case, we must struggle hard to put the Moose on the table. Sometimes.

Why else?  Because they ‘know’ or think — ‘I might mention it, but it’s a waste of time — It’ll never get fixed!!’  So, they won’t mention the Moose.

The next reason: There are all kinds of human ‘bad eyesight’.  Our eyes, for God knows how many reasons, just will not see the things in front of us.  The impediment may be abstract.  The impediment may be in a process flow, and we have not made the flow visual.  Etc Etc Etc.  You as SM must ‘trick’ them into seeing it.

So, in the Retrospective we try all kinds of tricks to allow the Moose to be put on the table,  to enable us to see the truth.

Derby and Larsen wrote Agile Retrospectives, which gives you lots of tricks. Scrum and Agile tribal knowledge will give you lots of techniques. In any case, often by indirections we find directions out.  Sometimes a member of a Team will identify a technique.  (But be careful about being too cute.)

And then we must prioritize, and then take action. Action ONLY on one impediment.  And action where we almost always expect to get measurable results by the end of the next Sprint.  Maybe not a huge benefit, but something. Usually it shows in the velocity going up in the next sprint.

So, as SM you are like a psychologist who slowly ‘tricks’ the patient to see and forgive themselves. So that they can move on, fix it and have a better life.  You must be cruel only to be kind. You are a kind of trickster, who allows or enables them to tell the truth.


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