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Five Whats That Lead To Effective Impediment Removal

We’ve all been there. Image showing a frowning face changing into a smiling one

We know what work needs to be done. But an impediment stands in our way. And it’s something the team alone can't remove. 

The impediment has been surfaced to the Scrum of Scrums Master (SoSM) at the Scaled Daily Scrum. Perhaps even to the Executive Action Team (EAT). And there it sits, waiting to be resolved. 

Situations like these can be frustrating. However, the lack of action by the SoSM or EAT may come down to a simple problem - they may not have all the context they need to act. 

Impediments are Product Backlog Items for these teams. As with any backlog item, context is needed for the team to understand the work that needs to be done. Just surfacing an impediment may not provide that context. 

This is why Scrum Inc. Consultant Alex Sheive has evolved this lightweight template to make sure all that context is clear:

Five Whats Impediment Removal Template

Start With The Basics

The top row of Sheive’s template has four questions that let a SoSM or EAT know who surfaced the impediment and whom it affects.

Point of Contact: This should be the team member who can best explain the issue, the cost of the impediment remaining, and answer any additional questions. 

Team: The name of the team(s) affected by this impediment. 

Product Area: The product or service on which the team (or potentially teams) work.

Date Raised: Self-explanatory but important. A metric for any group dedicated to removing impediments should be how fast they clear them (or move them to a group who can).

Then Answer ‘The Five Whats’ 

Now we get into specifics about the impediment itself by answering these five questions: 

  1. What are you trying to do?
  2. What is in your way?
  3. What is the impact of not being able to do this?
  4. What have you tried already?
  5. What is your vision for an ideal resolution?

You’ll notice the impediment is not described until question #2. That is by design. 

The first question helps to orient the SoSM or EAT to the specific work the team is trying to accomplish. A SoSM or EAT must know this before they can understand what the impediment is. 

Question #3, Sheive explains, let’s the SoSM or EAT understand “why they should care” about this impediment. It is also a chance to lay out the business cost of the impediment remaining in place. That cost can be measured in numerous ways. 

Question #4 helps to avoid waste and promotes efficient impediment removal by eliminating rework. Thorny impediments are difficult enough to remove without losing time and effort on approaches that have already failed. 

The final question helps the SoSM or EAT create backlog items for removing the impediment in a way that embodies what the team envisions. In this way, the team resembles the customer in the Scrum framework; the product being the organization itself.

A simple template like this can also be easily incorporated into a Google Form or similar system which auto-populates your Impediment Backlog. Give this template a try the next time you have an impediment that needs to be surfaced. Inspect and adapt it as needed.