Monday, January 17, 2011

Impediment Management

I was talking today with Martin Drapeau at, brainstorming "what do managers need"?

So, I have let the cat out of the bag: I am not one of those agile guys who thinks all managers are evil. (Yes, I have in my career seen more bad managers than I want to admit...not bad people, but "not-so-good" managers. Yes, it is a problem.) In fact, I think some managers are quite good. thing we talked about is how important it is to manage the impediments.

I say: Typically our first big impediment is a lack of focus on removing impediments. I talked about this in a recent post.

What's next? Well, I like to ask ScrumMasters..."where is your public list of impediments?" And all too often I get: "Ummm.......(long pause)" Which is usually not a good sign.

Then I like to ask somewhat experienced Scrum people in my classes: "OK, how do you prioritize impediments?" Often I get "Ummm....(pause)". [I don't give them time for a long pause.] You can guess by now: this is not a good sign.

The simple answer for impediments is: We prioritize the ones, which if improved or removed, will increase the velocity of the team the most. The more complex answer is: "The ones that give the best cost-benefit ratio." And the benefit is the improved velocity (mainly) and the cost is (mainly) the cost to reduce or remove the impediment. (Always apply the most uncommon thing: common sense.)

Do managers have a role? Yes, most assuredly, in removing impediments.

And, typically, there is a management team (or should be) whose main (only) job is removing impediments. I will call it the IRT (Impediment Removal [scrum] Team [of managers]), but other writers give it a different name. And that IRT team should see a list of all the impediments from all the teams, and try to prioritize them across the whole group. And then organize the removal of the biggest impediments for the group.

(And all the members of the 'real' teams should see all this too.)

Could a tool help here? Yes, after about two or three teams, we think a tool could help.

So, for management reporting, would it be good to relate the impediments removed with the increased velocity? Yes, rather obviously as soon as you ask the question, although exactly how might be a bit of a problem. But, if managers had this info (and teams too), would it affect behavior in a positive way? We think so, strongly.

(Yes, Virginia, it can be abused. And, perhaps far less likely, people can drink too much milk too...everything has some risks.)

Reminder: Do not do lots of management reporting. Too many numbers running around can be confusing, and NOT helpful. We only report what is useful; things that help us all make better decisions and act better, more usefully. Numbers never tell close to the whole story, but often tell us non-obvious things that can be very useful.

ScrumMasters: One of your biggest impediments is getting some managers to understand the new reporting and to use it well, operating from lean-agile-scrum values and principles. As some of you know: This can be very hard work for you.

Make sense so far?
What are the most important things I have left out? (I know there are many common questions I have not answered here).
More generally, your comments are wanted. Please comment.

I will have more to say on this topic shortly.


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Vin D'Amico said...

You're correct. Impediments always exist. They may be small and merely an inconvenience or they may be large and expensive. A good Scrum Master must devote significant time to identifying and clearing impediments. The impact on velocity can be huge.