Handling impediments: Understanding Problems

In this third post in the series on handling impediments I’ll explore what you can do to understand the impediment and underlying the problems that the team is trying to deal with. Previous posts explained why impediments matter and how you can recognize the problem.

This series of posts on impediments explores how teams can deal with the problems that will happen in their daily work and how Scrum masters can help to handle impediments. In agile these problems are called impediments: anything that slows down a team and needs to be dealt with. Agile teams need to be able to handle impediments.

When there’s an impediment you have to invest time to really understand the situation at hand before coming up with solutions. When you have a thorough understanding, solving a problem becomes a lot easier. Some say that once you have a deep understanding of the situation at hand, solutions will be obvious, something which I see happening regularly.

There are different approaches possible for increasing the understanding of a problem. Some of my favorites are:

  • If you think that the problem which you are discussing is a symptom then you can do a 5 times why or root cause analysis to dig deeper into the issue.
  • To gather and structure information you can use techniques like brainstorming or mindmaps.
  • Powerful or strength-based questions can be used in individual or team interviews to help people to explore a problem.
  • Based on Cynefin you can select an approach for problem solving. E.g. if you are dealing with a complex problem then don’t expect to fully understand the problem by analyzing it. Do a first analysis, based on that try something, see what happens, learn and adjust.
  • You can use Appreciative Inquiry to envision what might be as a way to improve your understanding of the problem.
  • There are many retrospective exercises that can help to get a better understanding of problems.
  • To understand a problem you can get data and facts on what is actually happening, how often it’s happening, how much time it tales or money it costs.
  • If there’s no direct data available, try to define a measurement and start measuring can help you to get better insight into a problem (if you can measure it you can manage it).

Jumping to conclusions before understanding the problem can be costly. You might waste time when you are not solving the real problem. And as the problem remains, it will keep on bothering your team.

Once there is a shared understanding of the problem, the next step is to look for solutions to solve it. This will be the topic of my next post in this series on handling impediments. Stay tuned!

Learn how to deal with problems and impediments effectively

Workshop Agile Lean ValueIf you want to develop individual Scrum masters and team skills to deal with impediments then I’d suggest to join my workshop Getting More out of Agile and Lean. In this workshop you can play the agile and lean impediment game which teaches you how to recognize and deal with problems and impediments and how you can deploy agile and lean practices to solve problems and become more agile and lean.

Ben Linders

I help organizations with effective software development and management practices. Active member of several networks on Agile, Lean and Quality, and a frequent speaker and writer.

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