You are the Impediment

WRITTEN BY Mike Cottmeyer

In my post “Secretaries Make the Best ScrumMasters”, I made the point that ScrumMasters and Agile Project Managers need to be held to a higher standard. Tracking impediments is not enough. Helping the team remove impediments is not enough. We need project leaders than can help the team anticipate impediments and work to make sure those things never become impediments in the first place.

Project leaders should be able to understand what the team is building, what technologies they are using, and the impacts of using those technologies. We don’t’ need to be experts but we need to be able to keep up in a conversation. We need to understand what the business needs and what they are trying to accomplish. Project managers and ScrumMasters should be asking questions and digging into places where people disagree.

A good Project Leader can help identify disconnects, find things out of alignment, and anticipate the resources and tools that will be needed to keep the team on track. Some times the team is just too deep in the weeds . That ability is what separates a good project leader from a great project leader. If you are serving in the capacity of a project lead, you need to be focused on developing these skills. The problem is that some people are content to make and track an impediment log.

If you see yourself as the keeper of the impediments… you are the impediment!

Project Managers, Agile Project Managers, and ScrumMasters tend to fall into one of three camps. A lot has to do with their background, experience, and level of professional development. Which camp do you fall into?

The Tracker

This kind of ScrumMaster does a really good job of keeping up with the Impediment log. Whenever an impediment is identified, it gets logged so that it can be reviewed in the next standup meeting. These people spend their time keeping the impediment log up to date. Come hell or high water, they want to see a status update. Our job is to get the impediment from open to closed but don’t really play a part in making it happen. These people incessantly follow-up with the team to make sure that every item on the list is being worked on.

Like I said, if you are only tracking the impediment, you have become an impediment. You can expect to be replaced with a spreadsheet, Sharepoint, or Wiki. Some people on the team have tolerance for this, some less proactive people might even like the constant reminders, but in general, if you are only tracking impediments, people will grow tired of having you around.

The Remover

This ScrumMaster does a really good job of working with the business, the team, and other project stakeholders to resolve issues. The will keep a log of impediments but build networks of people necessary to get issues dealt with in a timely manner. These people have some degree of technical and business understanding and actually contribute to the solution. Folks like this can be a real asset to the team. This person will doggedly pursue resolution until the issue is taken care of.

Being able to remove impediments is a great skill to have. If you are able to quickly get issues resolved and keep things moving, you are adding value. The problem with focusing on impediment removal is that it is inherently reactive. You have to have an impediment before you move into action. The goal should be to have as few impediments as possible. If you are content to stay at this level of maturity and knowledge, once again, you are the impediment!

The Anticipator

This is where a ScrumMaster really starts earning their keep. This is a person who can anticipate problems and work with the team to ferret out the things that could go wrong. A ScrumMaster at this level of maturity keeps track of project risks, works with the team to craft mitigation strategies, prioritizes and makes sure that these risks never become impediments to the team.

Sometimes, no matter what kind of strategies you have in place, bad things happen to good software projects. That is where your impediment log and great impediment removal skills come into play. It just has to do with focus and priorities. I choose to work first to keep bad stuff from happening. Once I have done my best preventing problems, I need to be really good at helping the team eliminate them. I choose to be proactive rather than reactive.

So what do you think? Are you an asset to the team or an impediment? Are you are former secretary up to the task?

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1 comment on “You are the Impediment”

  1. Kevin E. Schlabach

    I agree that the tracker can be replaced over time with a tool, and should be.

    I like your clarification of the remover vs. anticipator. One thing we have to remember is that typically domain knowledge and cultural awareness is needed to be an anticipator. A leader has to be working with a team for a bit before their assumptions can be validated and they can play this role. Otherwise they may be inflicting change or raising stress unnecessarily.

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