What are Blockers and Impediments?
In an ideal world, every project would run smoothly, but we know that the reality is different. All sorts of issues can arise that threaten to slow work down or even derail it.
In the agile approach and scrum framework, these issues are known as blockers and impediments.
Are Blockers and Impediments the Same?
In Scrum, blockers and impediments can refer to anything that slows down the delivery of a product or acts as a barrier that the team must get past.
The dictionary definition of an impediment is:
A hindrance or obstruction in doing something.
Therefore, you could as easily refer to something as being an impediment or a blocker.
The word blocker sounds like it means bringing things to a dead halt, but in the agile working context, it may not be as absolute as this.
Having said that, the Scrum Guide refers explicitly to impediments, whereas other sources of agile information may mention blockers.
The important thing is not to ignore anything that might get in the way of progressing a project.
With this in mind, it can be more helpful to see impediments as the overarching term and blockers as things that sit within this category.
What Do Blockers and Impediments Look Like?
Blockers and impediments can take many different forms. Some will be fairly everyday occurrences, but others may represent systemic issues that need addressing.
Examples of blockers and impediments include:
- Team members absent through illness
- Conflicts between team members
- Skills shortages
- Unforeseen changes in the makeup of the team
- External pressure from management
- A restrictive team environment
- Supplier problems
- A build-up of technical debt.
Some blockers and impediments may come from internal problems within the team and its relationship with the product owner. Others may result from external pressures or changes.
The important thing is for the team to identify these issues and find ways of dealing with and overcoming them.
The Daily Scrum meeting is critical for ensuring this. Here, the team members can raise issues that they see as barriers or potential difficulties.
It’s also vital that the Scrum Master creates an environment where the team feels safe and confident to raise these issues. The Scrum Master should encourage the team to solve its own problems, or to prevent impediments from developing in the first place.
Identifying the Issues
Certain obstacles may be individual blockers that the team can address straightforwardly.
But others may represent more long-term or embedded impediments that the Scrum Master will need to provide support to overcome.
For example, if there is pressure from management outside the team, the Scrum Master has the responsibility to represent the framework and act as a kind of go-between between management and the team.
This also requires a good degree of vigilance. The Daily Scrum might uncover individual blockers but fail to see patterns developing that represent more systemic impediments.
Removing Blockers and Impediments
The Scrum framework enables various tactics for removing blockers and impediments. In fact, the way it works means that there are built-in tools for addressing issues.
One of these is to create a Sprint goal with the express purpose of clearing a blocker. Sprints are fixed-length Scrum events that the team carries out consecutively.
Working this way, the team can continue to work towards its objectives and address problems as part of this.
Another tactic is to be as transparent as possible. Creating an impediment board will visualise the issues, incorporating a checklist of tasks to do, in progress and completed that will eventually remove the impediment.
Collaboration with the Product Owner is vital for removing impediments. Impediments may be related to relationships with suppliers or stakeholders. The Product Owner plays a major role here and is, therefore, the key to removing obstacles or speeding up processes.
Blockers and impediments can reflect issues to do with organisational culture. Where this is the case, unless the culture shifts to incorporate agile approaches to working, these problems will be more likely to keep cropping up.
The Scrum Master must therefore have a wider organisational perspective, beyond the team’s activities. And it can be a case of modifying approaches to get things done more effectively.
Another aspect of perspective is understanding the causes of impediments and ensuring that the team doesn’t spend time and effort solving the wrong problem.
Sometimes, the first blocker that crops up isn’t the real problem at all, but simply a symptom of a deeper issue. Get to the heart of the issue and you can remove the blocker AND the impediment.
Scrum enables agile working and provides the tools for fixing problems as part of this process. For more details, please contact Simple Progression.