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Framing Impediments: Empowering Teams and Getting Leadership to Listen

Breaking through impediments

I have been in a few organizations where leaders say, “we aren’t getting any impediments.”  That may be due to a few factors like teams being afraid to raise issues (Fear to Speak) or, prior situations when leaders have pushed back and said, “This isn’t an impediment. You can deal with this.” The last one is interesting. Why would teams raise issues that leaders don’t think are really a problem? How can we improve this communication?

We have come up with a way to frame these impediments that allows teams to choose their own destiny and become more empowered while removing leadership as a bottleneck. 

What is the impediment?

Clearly articulate the problem that is preventing teams from completing work and accelerating. This sounds obvious, and it is, but this first step is key. Nothing can be done to remove the impediment until it is made visible. Concise, specific details need to be given so everyone knows what the problem is.

What is the impact of the impediment?

Define the consequences of the impediment by measuring the unwanted impact on the team, product or company. Some units of measurement may include financial consequences, hits to productivity, or happiness of the team. Knowing the cost or costs helps leadership understand the importance of removing the impediment and enables them to prioritize which impediments are addressed and when.

What has already been done to try to remove the impediment?

Leaders must have context as to what has been tried to resolve the problem and trust that teams take steps towards resolving impediments themselves before needlessly escalating them. Scrum Masters, Coaches and Team Members must be able to illustrate the attempts that have been made to alleviate the problem within the team or Scrum Master network itself and why the solution failed. By understanding what has already been done the leadership team will often be more engaged.

What would the team recommend we do to resolve the issue?  

This is likely the most important aspect. Leaders sometimes do a really good job of creating unnecessarily complicated solutions which leave their teams feeling even worse off. This question gives the teams the ability to share their recommendation and choose their own destiny by making them a partner in the solution. If leaders continue to say, “Yes, go do that” or, “you have my permission,” Team empowerment will go through the roof. Leaders will learn that they have great teams capable of making good decisions that don’t need constant approval.   

As a team, Scrum Master or Agile Coach, we need to keep a culture of openness and courage to raise impediment by not just complaining, but by showing what solutions have already been tried and proposing new ones as needed.

In Scrum@Scale we are always challenging cultural impediments, we need to create a culture of openness, and courage to raise the issues (especially if leadership is causing them), respect for the teams to be empowered do the work.  It is leadership’s job to remove organizational debt that prevents the team from doing high-quality work, fast. Hopefully, this impediment template recommendation will help your organization remove your roadblocks more efficiently.