Definition of an Impediment?

Note: I’ve written a post with my updated thinking on this point. ¬†I recommend that one; this one is mostly useful if you want to see history of my freaked-out thinking. ūüôā


Our Project Management Department is making a role transition to Agile Coach from what is probably best described as Agile Project Manager.  One of our top priorities has been moving away from the center of the fray.  Where we used to serve as hubs of daily transactions, we instead now help team members solve them problems themselves, removing ourselves as unnecessary inter-mediators wherever possible.  Impediments are one place where this is playing itself out.  We had previously reached an extreme, where team members learned to rely on us to the point of their own helplessness, and we slowed the process both because of the inherent drag of bottlenecks but because we were the weakest link in the chain in terms of technical knowledge.

In many ways, things are improved.  Requests that would take days to make their way through a telephone chain with me as central point now get resolved quickly.  But now I wonder: where is the correct balance?  How do we know when we have swung too far the other way?

Since in most cases in our organization Agile Coach translates to Scrum Master, I turned to¬†the Scrum guide. ¬†There it is:¬†part of the Scrum Master’s service to the development¬†team is “removing impediments to the Development Team‚Äôs progress”. ¬† It does not¬†say “removing impediments to the Development Team’s progress–providing that they are sufficiently daunting that removing them does not¬†undermine the team’s sense of being able to solve problems on their own”. ¬†Do I turn around and intervene on every impediment? ¬†Certainly not; that just¬†takes me back to my old habits as central operator. ¬†But how do I draw the line? ¬†At what point is an impediment large enough, hard enough to resolve, that I as Scrum Master step in and take the reins from the team? ¬†Maybe¬†I handle an impediment¬†that¬†“blocks team for more than x hours” or “requires team member to contact someone outside the team”? ¬†Right now, I am seeing systemic benefits (greater autonomy, fewer bottlenecks, more efficient resolution, team growth) from letting the team resolve issues that cross both of the those¬†thresholds. ¬†Or is the problem with my definition of¬†“impediment”? ¬†Is there a difference between “impediment the team mentions at daily stand-up” (and that the team probably solves on their own) and systemic impediment (that is so huge and external to the team that I put on my change agent cape and go smash it)? ¬†Or maybe our organization has simply developed an extremely¬†inclusive definition of impediments (“My pen ran out of ink, I’m blocked”), and that simply letting things go until “real” impediments arise is the answer. ¬†But if that’s it, how do I know a “real” impediment when I see it?

I don’t expect a formula. ¬†I know this will take case-by-case judgment, but the contradiction I see is so stark that I am having trouble making that judgment. ¬† Can anyone help me resolve this contradiction? ¬†Or come up with a rough rule of thumb? ¬†Or tell me how I have it all wrong?

I Didn’t Say I Was a *Good* Plumber

Occasionally, I run into some online screed about the world surrounding Agile development. ¬†Typically, it’s written by someone who has a¬†relatively high level of¬†experience, and decries¬†people/organizations who are less seasoned. ¬†Those posts really bum me out.

Some focus on the Agile-industrial complex: the slew of people selling services or tools that will help you be better at Agile development.  Okay, maybe some of that happens, but is there any part of any industry where this is anything but normal?  Does it add value to the world to scream that some profiteers have descended on Agile development like they descend on everything else?  It is about as constructive as writing that some people who work in Agile are unfriendly.  Maybe true, but not a great addition to the conversation.

Other posts question the right of newcomers to claim that they are Agile Coaches or a company following Agile principles, etc.  The title of this post responds to this one.  When I started working as an Agile Coach a few months ago, I knew I had a lot of learning to do.  Further, I knew (and know) that my only chance at success lies in striving to continue learning for as long as I do this coaching thing.  Absent a standardized ranking/accreditation system, I immediately began referring to myself an Agile Coach, because I was trying to do the job of Agile Coach.  Sure, I might have been ineffective, ignorant, etc., but I as long as I spent my day job touching pipes with a wrench in an attempt to fix the plumbing, I called myself a plumber.  Not a good plumber, maybe a disastrously bad plumber, but in any case: a plumber.  Are there limits to this thinking?  Sure, but again: what value does it add to the conversation to scream about some human being doing something extreme and ridiculous?

So I am yammering on about adding value to the conversation. ¬†What value does¬†this post add? ¬†Well, here’s my shot: I ask that anyone who is frustrated–whether by some huckster saying that he can Agilitate you for $29.95 or an ignorant Agile Coach in your organization spouting sanctimoniously–to simply not post the screed. ¬†Don’t do it. ¬†Channel that energy elsewhere constructive. ¬†Some ideas:

  • Find a good post on someone else’s blog, and post a comment extending the conversation.
  • Have a cup of coffee with a colleague and discuss some particular aspect of Agile and what it means to you.
  • Look around you and find some aspect of your own Agile practice that you can improve.
  • Re-read a chapter of a favorite¬†dog-eared book about Agile.
  • Write a post honoring (anonymously or not) another¬†individual’s positive contribution to the world of Agile.

What draws me to Agile is its simplicity and focus on eternal learning. ¬†As with many ideas¬†that are simple, though, it takes enormous¬†application to even approach mastery. ¬†Rather than making blanket statements shouting down those that are trying at this ideal–nobly or otherwise–wouldn’t we be better off encouraging earnest pursuit of these principles?