One impediment at a time

Why is it important to focus attention on one thing at a time, one impediment?

Well, there are many reasons. But let’s take a few.

First, get something completed. So often we try to do “everything” and nothing gets done.

Second, we need fast feedback. For example, sometimes our “improvement” is a stupid idea. Only by limiting the number of changes can we begin to see how stupid we are. Or how brilliant (and maybe share the idea with others).

Second (b), we need fast feedback, that things are improving. We want improvement now, not in six months. (A related reason is the impact on team motivation.)

Third, to see better. We have kind of already said this. But let’s expand a bit. In the Gemba (the team room) it is difficult to see specifically what is working and specifically what isn’t. And it is very difficult to see through the tangle of inter-connections to what the second impediment is.

Only by doing the top impediment and then seeing the results can we then decide what the next top impediment is. (Cf Theory of Constraints.) Often, after we make a change, the next top impediment is in an area totally unexpected.

Fourth, blindness and fear. One example: We naturally want to think that the top impediment is in an area where we are competent to fix the impediment. So, naturally, we see those impediments and we ignore the others. (We are blind, and at the same time, we fear getting into, for example, “people issues” where those dreaded “feelings” might get involved. Or, some of us may fear getting into SCM or TDD or whatever.) Picking and working on one impediment at a time makes us see or address the blindness and the fear.

So, we recommend not taking a waterfall approach to impediments, but instead take a Lean-Agile approach to impediments. Fix one impediment at a time (usually).


There are some excellent comments below. To Tim, I should have said, “Yes, sometimes you are right, but see Jeff’s comment below. To me, the two bigger problems are: (1) No real focus on impediment removal, and (2) working on too many impediments ‘at the same time’ (or trying to).



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8 thoughts on “One impediment at a time

  1. Tim Eiler/Digineer

    What's important is to focus on only the important impediments. Though I agree with the idea to *limit* the number of impediment-removal efforts (or any efforts for that matter), it is not realistic to assume everything is completely sequential. Even in a simple project, it is often not possible to focus on only one impediment, as there may be many things blocking forward progress on a project. The Scrum Master and Scrum Team must recognize that running around trying to solve all blocking problems is not a wise application of time, but I think what you meant to say is that we need to focus on KEY impediments first.

  2. Joe Little

    Hi Tim,

    Well, no, I meant one.

    Perhaps a small exaggeration.

    If one takes the Michael Phelps attitude, nothing we do is perfect, so the list of things to improve is endless/very long. There are always way more impediments to remove than one.

    Now, are things in reality more complicated than I said? Of course.

    Could there be one impediment removed per Daily Scrum and one per Sprint Retrospective? Sure. Might they overlap some? Sure.

    And there are other issues I have no alluded to. Yet.

    But…in general there is a huge need to move to single-piece flow for impediments.

  3. donquixote

    One important point I would have added is productivity loss due to multi-tasking.

    Also I dont see the need to distinguish impediments from tasks, stories etc. A bunch of things need to be done, do the most important first.

  4. Joe Little

    Hi Don,

    I really agree with your comment.

    I do think it is a little useful to distinguish in some way "building features" from "removing impediments". For example, the related BV is seen in a different way, usually.

    But, for example, both should be done in "single-piece flow". Which is what you said (and you said more).

    Thanks, Joe

  5. Jeff Sutherland

    This week I worked with Myank Jain at Pegasystems who applied his social network analysis tools used by the CIA and NSA to determine root cause of problems. It can show a simulation based on the time that impediments enter the system and the effect of removing them. You always want to remove the top priority impediment first. This will have a ripple effect on all other impediments. In fact, if you make the right choice it may eliminate most of them. In any case, you can only determine the next high priority impediment after removing the top priority as the network of interactions will change dramatically if you really nail a key impediment.

  6. Joe Little


    Perfect. The "network effects", as I sometimes call them, are so important. I tried in the original to allude to them, but you more usefully hit the nail on the head.

    Thanks, Joe

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