Treating “Impedimentia”


Why is it so hard to come up with impediments sometimes? I know that impediments are all around me – literally everywhere I look. So why is it that when we do the daily standup and answer the three questions, nobody seems to have any impediments? Obviously the team is having the same problem that I am. I can’t blame them, sometimes impediments are hard to find.

I’ve heard all sorts of explanations for why no impediments come up in the standup.
“Everything is fine.”
“We’ve tackled all the big impediments.”
“We just don’t have any – we’re good!”
I don’t buy any of these answers. You shouldn’t either. I have a few theories to explain why impediments are so hard to discern. It has to do with context, perspective, aclimatization and complacency.

Missing Context
Sometimes we need to have some sort of target to shoot for so that we can recognize our impediments. If I go the to the gun range and use a blank sheet of paper for a target, it will be very hard to tell how accurately I’m shooting. The shots may be grouped well (precision), but it would be hard to tell if they were going to hit what I was aiming for (accuracy). If I paint a bullseye on the target, now I have enough contextual information to judge the accuracy of my shots. So it goes with impediments. We need a metaphorical target that we can compare our objectives to in order to see their impediments.
What would be the equivalent of a target for a set of user stories. It might be a detailed set of task cards associated with those stories. After all, if there are no task details then it’s hard to know if you are blocked on a given issue or not.

Maybe we are just looking at things wrong. Perhaps we need to change the way we view the objectives we are trying to achieve. Maybe we should take the advice of Matthew May in “The Elegant Solution”. Instead of asking, “What can we improve?” Perhaps we should be asking “What is blocking perfection?”
To me, the thing that alters my perspective the most is when I’m being a perfectionist. I’ll admit that perfectionism is a distorted perpective, but it can be very useful when we are seeking impediments. When I am in perfectionist mode, I am very sensitive to anything that doesn’t go exactly right.

Another factor that helps make finding impediments difficult is the fact that we just get used to having them around. It’s kind of like the proverbial frog in a pot of hot water. You know how it goes – the water gets hotter and hotter until the poor frog gets cooked. So to there are a lot of little irritants that get in our way, but for some reason we take them for granted. It’s just how “things are done” We get so used to jumping through the flaming hoops that we stop seeing them entirely. How could it possibly be done any different? Sometimes it takes the perspective of an outsider to help identify these sorts of impediments. Bring someone else into your team for a day. Pay attention when they say, “Why all the flaming hoops?”

Is it possible that we just stop caring about things like impediments? Are we just lazy? I’ll answer that: yes, sometimes. As much as I might like to maintain otherwise, I do have days where seeking out impediments to my projects is not at the top of my priority list. I’ve also seen the case where teams neglected to address the impediments that they did find. Not fixing impediments is the quickest way that I can think of to discourage a team from identifying them. Why bother?
There are probably a lot more reasons why impediments are hard to see, but these strike me as the biggest in the bunch. They give us important clues as to how we might start to address our own collective “impedimentia” by taking action to address these issues.

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