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How a Scrum Master Can Handle Impediments with a Team

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In scrum impediments are used to discuss issues take actions when a team becomes blocked. The expectations and collaboration between the scrum master and the team are important to make impediments work. Impediments are handled in different ways, a look at how some scrum masters do it.

In the blog post impediments (and where to find them), Gunther Verheyen discusses the role of the scrum master with respect to impediments. Starting from the scrum guide, he explains that the scrum master is expected to remove impediments, but that doesn't mean that (s)he has to find them:

(...) [the Scrum Master having to be an ‘impediment hunter‘] suggests that a Scrum Master should proactively search for impediments in order to track them down and kill them. (...)  I particularly wonder how this aligns with the self-organization of teams and transparency?

Team members are expected to identify problems and raise them as impediments. Scrum masters should not to "hunt" for problems: 

Actively looking for (‘hunting’) and removing impediments is solving problems that are not a problem yet. (...). Solving a problem before it’s a problem points at a lack of belief in the self-organizing capability of a team. Solving a problem before it’s a problem prevents learning and improving because it obfuscates transparency to the team. Solving a problem before it’s a problem is mostly a waste of time and energy because the team will probably handle it by itself anyhow, without the Scrum Master, preventing it from turning into something that truly blocks them.

According to Gunther, the role of the scrum master is to prevent that teams become blocked:

Issues only become impediments if they cannot be tackled within the self-organizing ecosystem. (...) By definition, in Scrum an issue only becomes an impediment if it can’t be unblocked through the authorizations of the (development) team.

His advice to scrum masters is to increase the self organizing capability of the team:

Consider how to help a team work out their problems themselves and offer any tools, trainings and insights on how to do this.

Alec Hardy describes in the blog post got an impediment? Great! how scrum masters can work with a team to handle impediments. He starts by explaining the first step:

Often, the biggest challenge is not removing the impediment – it is actually getting people to identify the impediment in the first place.

He explains that it is important to make impediments visible, and create a culture where they can be discussed and solved:  

The Scrum Master’s response when a team member raises an impediment should be to say, “Great!  Thanks for sharing.  Now that we all know about it, we can address it.” A team that is comfortable discussing impediments is far ahead of one whose first instinct is to sweep them under the rug or to switch into CYA mode and run for cover.  

In the blog post should the scrum master remove impediments?, James Scrimshire descibes how he as a scrum master handles impediments: 

As part of my coaching of scrum teams now, when an impediment crops up, I prefer to help the team find their own way to remove the impediment. I may offer suggestions, which if accepted the team must take ownership of, or help them identify the skills, tools, relationships or anything else they need to remove the obstacles in their way.

What can you do if you have (too) many impediment? Marcello Scacchetti blogged about this in a scrum master is keeping a list of open impediments (...), where he suggests several possible actions:

Alerting the management about the impediments and their impact can help determine possible solution and take action before it’s too late.   

Talking with the Development Team about current impediments can lead to the discovery of a root cause if present. Always growing list of impediments could be a sign of a sudden problem that if not resolved could kill the project.

Keeping a prioritized list of impediments transparent to the Development Team and other entities involved could help resolving them as fast as possible. 

How does your scrum master handle impediments with the team?

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