Handling Impediments: Why it matters

Impediment matterThis is the first blog post of a series on handling impediments in agile teams. It explores why being able to deal with impediments matters for agile teams and provides a basic “process” for effectively dealing with them.

Agile emphasizes to establish teams and give them whatever they need to do their work. This series of posts on impediments will explore how teams can deal with the problems that will happen in their daily work. 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.

The manifesto for agile states:

Build projects around motivated individuals.
Give them the environment and support they need,
and trust them to get the job done.

Scrum talks a lot about impediments, but handling impediments isn’t a thing that you should only do when working with Scrum. If you use kanban, lean or any combination of this, impediments and how you deal with them will matter. In fact, handling impediments is a key value for teams and organizations to increase their agility.

There will be problems

An agile way of working doesn’t guarantee that there will be no problems. Most probably there will be. An agile team has to have the skills to deal with them to be effective and thus be able to deliver and satisfy the needs of their customers and stakeholders. Nobody will solve their problems for them (more on that later).

Agile didn’t invent dealing with problems, nor does it tell you how to do it. The strength of working in an agile way however is that if a problem is there it will become visible, usually also sooner than when you were using a traditional approach to software development like waterfall.

Agile teams need to deal with problems themselves

Agile teams are self organized. They can decide how they want to do their work. Having the authority to decide comes with a responsibility; agile teams are responsible for doing their work in the best possible way, and always lookout for things to improve. This is why agile recommends teams to do agile retrospectives to reflect, learn and become better in what they do.

Being responsible for your own way of working also means that you have to solve problems that the team is facing. You cannot rely upon management to solve them for you. That may sound as a disadvantage, but it actually is an advantage since you are allowed to solve them in a way that is most suitable and effective for you. Agile teams are empowered to decide on their own agile journey.

How to handle impediments

Handling impediments can be broken down into:

The  steps suggest that they have to be done after each other, which is indeed preferred in most situations. But this is not a waterfall process. Usually the steps take little time, you can go through all steps within an hour (for instance by doing a retrospective) or in less time (e.g. doing the steps during your daily stand-up). If you are stuck in one step you can decide to proceed to the next one, but then be prepared to go back and repeat the steps once you have more information.

In the following blog posts I will explore each step in more detail, and will provide ideas for doing them in an effective way. Stay tuned!

Learn how to deal with problems and impediments effectively

Workshop Agile Lean ValueIf you want to develop individual and team skills to deal with impediments then I’d suggest joining my workshop Making Agile Work for You. 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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