Defining Impediments

February 21, 2009


I have a confession to make: I’m a scrum master and I can’t see impediments. It’s terrible – I know I should be able to see them, but somehow they pass right by me every day without my noticing them. Well, maybe “pass right by” is not the right way to put it. Actually, those of us with impediment blindness (I have a name for it: “Impedimentia”) we clamber over the challenges in life’s little obstacle course without out even recognizing they are there. In some sense, my fellow impedimentia sufferers are working really hard to get through the day without even realizing that life could be a lot easier.

Recently I have become determined to find a way to overcome my condition. The first question that arises is “What exactly is an impediment?” Perhaps starting with a definition would help. If I run to the dictionary, I get the following definition:

Impediment: 1.The fact of impeding or condition of being impeded; hindrance, obstruction 2.Something that impedes the function or health of the body; a (physical) defect; an affection or malady

It’s actually kind of a funny word when you look at it. Now that I think of it, I’m not sure that I really use the word impediment all that often. I’m more likely to talk about “blocking issues” or “things holding you up”. Well to be honest, just knowing the definition of an impediment really doesn’t help me much. I know what they are, but I still can’t see them. It’s like knowing the definition of what an elephant is, but not being able to see them (elephantia?). Now that I think of it, it’s too bad impediments aren’t more like elephants – there would probably be a lot fewer project managers out there! Sadly, that would likely include me too.

In truth, much like actual blindness, there are varying degrees of incapacity. In the same way that many people are impaired by blindness, but still have some vision – I also have partial impedimentia. I do see some impediments. I usually see them if they are as big as a truck, with neon letters on the side, proceeded by heralds blowing trumpets. Anything less and I’m likely to miss them. I sometimes recognize impediments long after they have passed by. It’s sort of an “Oh…that’s why it hurt so much” reaction. The point is that I do see some impediments, probably many fewer than most people, but I do see them – even if after the fact.

So in an effort to get better at identifying impediments, I’ve decided to keep a log of the impediments in my life. I review the log on a daily basis to learn more about these creatures we call impediments. By recording them in a daily log, I’m able to capture my impediments under my metaphorical microscope and examine them more closely. My intent is to create a catalog of impediments. I’m compiling a beastiary of these creatures both common and exotic.


  • Too tired to work effectively
  • Traffic jam on the way to work
  • Late for a meeting
  • Not able to contact manager
  • Child refuses to get dressed
  • Not prepared for meeting
  • No time to work on committed project
  • Not allowed to join email group
  • Not enough time to exercise
  • Eating too much

Like any good scientist, it’s tempting to start creating a taxonomy of the creatures that you are studying. So I’m tempted to start categorizing the impediments that I encounter in my log. Some are hairy with great, big eyes. Others have multiple clutching tendrils and sharp, pointy teeth. Some look suspiciously like CEOs.

If I go back and look at the list I created and start looking for patterns, I see categories that look something like this:

  • Delays, waiting (traffic jam, late for meeting, procrastination)
  • Not enough time (project work, exercise)
  • Over consumption (over eating, too many committed tasks)
  • Exhaustion (too tired, etc.)

These are categories that apply to me. They might not be the same ones that apply to you (you may not procrastinate nearly as much as I do). However if I take these categories and use them as a check list, I can review my day and inspect it for impediments. After all, I don’t necessarily need to recognize impediments the moment that they occur. I’d be happy to discover them the same day that I encounter them. That would be a huge step forward for someone with a bad case of impedimentia. So I instituted a personal impediment review at the end of each day.

In my review, I look for impediments in a couple of places. Microsoft Outlook is a good start (or whatever calendar you may keep). I start with the calendar and review all of the meetings that I had for the day. Were any delayed or postponed? Was I on time to the meeting? Was I prepared to make a useful contribution to the discussion? Were there any noteworthy events that occurred during the meeting, fistfights, altercations? Then I move to the real impediments gold mine: my email inbox. Eureka! Aside from dealing with the daily deluge of email (impediment #1), I have every issue that was sent to me during the day – impediments galore!

So I record all of these impediments in my log. This gives me a couple of things:

  1. A catalog of common impediments (a source of ideas for things to look for)
  2. The daily frequency of impediments I find (is my impedimentia getting better or worse?)
  3. A place to catalog the types of impediments that seem to plague me

This daily reflection helps to crank up my sensitivity to the impediments that I encounter every day. As I review my daily catalog of impediments, I find impediments that are vague, impediments that actually contain many little impediments.

All of this reflecting and journaling reminds me of Ben Franklin, the original self improvement fanatic. In his autobiography he describes how he kept track of his habits and his…impediments? I wonder if he had impedimentia too. Probably not.