... the Scrum Team is trying to make progress on the product.
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Team members often run into problems that hinder their progress. Fixing them at the moment may not be possible, practical, and/or in the best interest of the organization or team.
On the other hand, if you don’t resolve an impediment immediately, it can shift from being an acute problem to a chronic problem; something you just live with and kind of ignore.
An impediment often prevents the Development Team from doing its work. It may also prevent it from improving its performance. For example, team interaction issues can get in the way of making progress, and slow or outdated equipment may prevent the team from working at its best.
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Any Scrum Team member may add an impediment to the list to make it visible. This presupposes that the Scrum Team is a Community of Trust, because some impediments may be difficult to raise, such as personal ones relating to health or family situation. A team member should always be able to confide such impediments with the ScrumMaster. In the interest of preserving the dignity of individuals the ScrumMaster may choose to resolve some impediments discretely.
The Development Team members themselves resolve most items on the Impediment List, but they also may find help from others outside the Scrum Team. ScrumMasters may personally attend to impediments that would otherwise be a distraction for the rest of the team, and which do not require their expertise to resolve. Alternatively, the Developers may work with the Product Owner to add work to the Product Backlog to resolve an impediment.
The Impediment List is a manifestation of kaizen mind (see Kaizen and Kaikaku). An empty Impediment List means that you aren’t looking hard enough for ways to improve. (“No problem is a problem.”) On the other hand, the team must address impediments in a timely manner; otherwise improvement stops. Impediments must not become stale on the list.
True story: A team was complaining about their manager who wasn’t removing impediments for them. I asked if the manager knew what the impediments were and they said they assumed he did. I had the team write the impediments on fluorescent Post-It® notes with the word “Block” in bold at the top, and took them to the manager. As he wasn’t there I plastered them around his monitor so he couldn’t miss them. Half an hour later he called out looking for me. He came up and asked if these were blockers from the team. I responded: Yes, and he smiled saying it was great as he now knew what he needed to be working on.
Picture credits: Picture from: Damian Dovarganes http://www.californiachaparral.com/chaparralfacts/dchaparralgeology.html.