Sprinting Through Hurdles

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The commonality between a Hurdle Race in athletics and Hurdles (also called as Impediments/blockers)in Scrum is that, in both, you are not a winner until you have jumped over all the hurdles successfully. But, Wait….. there is one major difference. Did you spot it? Think…..When both the entities require jumping over the hurdles to achieve its goal, why it would be more difficult for a scrum team to cross over its hurdles as compared to a sprinter in a hurdle race?

In a hurdle race, a sprinter knows, in advance, the number of hurdles he/she has to jump over, the height of those hurdles, what type of hurdles to expect, the distance between each hurdle and this information does not change. It helps the sprinter to plan his/her race better to achieve the goal of winning the race.

Good or bad, this kind of hurdle information is difficult to have in advance when we talk about software development. The only known and constant factor is the sprint duration, the number of days in which the scrum team has to achieve its goal by jumping over all the hurdles. The team won’t know how many hurdles it will have to cross, what types of hurdles to deal with, will these hurdles surface at regular intervals, etc. Achieving the sprint goal depends a lot on the team’s ability and external support to deal with these hurdles.

Of the many reasons, I have found ‘Open Impediments’ as the No. 2 reason, behind ‘incomplete user story description/acceptance criteria’, for missing the sprint target. Many a times this happens because of the team’s inability to identify and highlight impediments at an appropriate time.  While it is an

Image Credits: Basic Biomechanics : Susan J. Hall 

individual’s responsibility to proactively work on impediments, it is the Scrum Master who plays pivotal role in crossing these hurdles for the team. The Scrum Master on his/her own may not solve all issues but should have the ability to maneuver it to right channels.

Scrum’s Inspect and Adapt principle is one of the biggest techniques to identify underlying impediments. Daily scrum at the team level is unarguably the most effective forum to highlight impediments while Scrum of Scrums can be used to highlight team as well as organization level impediments. Remember, organization level impediments such as unavailability of right resources (people, infrastructure, tools, work place), organization culture, supporting functions, etc. are also cause for team level impediments. During Daily Scrum, when you as a Scrum Master, ask this question to your team member, ‘How confident are you about completing your planned task?’ and if there is an uncomfortable pause or silence, then it is an indication that something needs attention. Don’t leave this uncomfortable pause or silence unattended.

Following tips have worked for me, I’d be happy to hear from you.

  1. Never hide the impediments and spend unreasonable time trying to solve the impediment on your own, escalate if not resolved in 1 working day
  2. Make the impediments visible using post-its in your daily scrum area.Always maintain an impediment wall. Visual boards are always more effective than ALM tools.
  3. Track the impediments backlog during daily scrum
  4. Discuss the root cause of impediments during retrospection meetings. The team should not be required to work on same type of impediment again and again. It is OK in a hurdle race but not in software development.
  5. Don’t always depend on the Scrum master to resolve the impediment. Ideally, over the time, team should be able to manage the impediments on its own
  6. Track the turnaround time of impediment resolution. Some impediments are difficult to resolve and may take more time, while some impediments could be resolved in reasonable time, but just due to lack of attention, they remain on the impediment wall for a longer time. You must take timely action on impediment resolution.
  7. Define an escalation process for highlighting impediments

While it is difficult to avoid impediments altogether but we can always manage them effectively with a proper inspect and adapt process.

Enjoy your sprints while making way through Hurdles!!!!

Image Credits: forbes.com

Image Credits: thingsweforget.blogspot.com

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