In scrum, something that causes a loss of progress towards the sprint goal is ofter reffered to as an impediment. It is a situation where the developers must wait for action by somebody outside the team in order to move forward again. Very often impediments derive from an obstacle created by the surrounding organisation. A typical example might be a failure to align the efforts of different departments leading to situations where people are waiting for the result of another department's work again and again.
Identifying the most important impediment is the first step in getting it solved. When a scrum master detects that their team is not making progress toward the sprint goal, there is often an impediment looming around. Scrum provides many opportunities to find out about those blocking things. The daily scrum is a popular moment to talk about these; also, many scrum teams make good use of the sprint retrospective to point out impediments. But as the scrum team is collaborating constantly during the day, any moment could be used to talk about a possible impediment — and the scrum master is there to facilitate these moments just in time.
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Discovery is the first step. Next is solving it. The scrum master is responsible for removing the impediment and, as a true leader, the people with the power to change the situation together to assess and agree on a sustainable solution.
This is not an easy step. Very often, we have to deal with conflicting interests, and it might be necessary to remind everybody of the company's goals and strategy. Here we strive for global optimization and not for local optimization, which is suboptimal for the whole.
A well-trained scrum master should understand conflict navigation and mediation. They can then return successfully to the team with an organizational solution that removes the impediment. Very often, this also lifts collaboration within the company to the next level. The organisation grows in agility and will be better positioned for the next challenge by competition.
I have seen scrum masters succeed quickly with impediment removal and I have seen scrum masters struggle again, again, and again — failing to remove any impediment. Many organisations underestimate the power of quick impediment removal.
There is one pattern that I saw in more successful organisations:
Establish a quick communication line between the scrum master and the board of directors or the vice president level.
In an organization I worked with last year, the scrum masters report directly to the CTO. This support sped up the solving of impediments dramatically. Everybody in this organisation knows that any scrum master is a true leader.
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About the Author
In 2003 Jürgen Hoffmann had his first contact with scrum. Since then he has been part of processes implementing scrum in different companies of various industries in all scrum roles. He is an active Certified Scrum Trainer (CST) and Certified Enterprise Coach (CEC), as well as Certified Team Coach (CTC) working with all levels of management and staff on product development in coaching and training settings. He co-founded www.emendare.de and is very happy to work there.
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