Those are Not MY Impediments!

September 5, 2014

Army Boots Stand Out in a Crowd









When trying to find impediments there is a trap that awaits those of us who are outside of or observing the team. Often, when you are observing a team as an outsider, you may think you see patterns of behavior and obvious disfunction. Naturally enough, not being part of the system often gives us a fresh perspective from which to see problems within a team. Often I have found myself able to rattle off a list of issues that I see a team dealing with after observing them for only a few minutes. Some patterns of team disfunction are suspiciously easy to detect. But wait, here comes the trap. So you make a list, maybe write up a few recommendations and share your “gift” with the team. What team wouldn’t appreciate someone kind enough to share a list of all the ways they suck?


It doesn’t matter if you are right (and you probably are at least 50% of the time). Best case, the team thanks you for your honesty. Worst case, they kick you out of their standup and tell you never to come back. In any case, they aren’t very likely to take your suggestions seriously. The thing about impediments is, in order to really own them and take them seriously, they need to be something the team genuinely care about – and most likely they should be the team’s idea. Ownership is important, because often impediments are pretty tough to deal with, so you need to be really committed if you expect to resolve them.

Often, what I think I see are two different lists of impediments: the scrum master, coach or manager’s list, and the team’s list. The scrum master is scratching their head wondering, “How can I get these guys to engage with these impediments?” Meanwhile, the team is thinking, “Do you really want to eliminate an impediment? Fire a scrum master!”

So I guess the lesson here is that often nobody is all that interested in what you think the impediments are. They already know what the impediments are. They’re just waiting for someone to really listen.