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Stop escalating impediments. Support the team to solve them.

The “Standup” or Daily Scrum event is well known as a mechanism for identifying “blockers” and impediments to the delivery of a team’s Increment. When teams get together to deliver work together, the Scrum of Scrums pattern is often introduced – a time when Scrum Masters can gather talk about blockers. Sadly, most times these activities are implemented they are simply ineffective.

Impediments and the Daily Scrum

Many teams ask three questions at the Daily Scrum:

  • What did you do yesterday
  • What did you do today?
  • Do you have any blockers?

What results from the use of this pattern is a status report to the Scrum Master. Everyone stands around, being bored and waits to talk. Rarely does it result in stronger collaboration. Typically, no one has any blockers. But when they do, why are they waiting until the Daily Scrum to talk about them? This is likely one of the reasons why these three questions were completely removed from the 2020 release of the official Scrum Guide. It’s why people often feel this event is of no use and either do it once or twice a week, or even remove it completely

Stop Waiting to Escalate Impediments and Blockers

When a team member is stuck and can’t progress work, it’s not the Scrum Master’s job to remove the impediment for them, but instead to help them self-organise with the rest of the team to address the problem. Only when the team isn’t able to resolve the problem should it be escalated to someone who can.

For a Scrum Master, this means:

  • If you remove the impediment yourself you rob the team of the opportunity to learn how to address the issue themselves. Congrats, you’ve just sabotaged your job to serve the team by coaching them on self-organisation and cross-functionality.

  • Getting your team together with another team to problem solve the impediment together.

  • If the team(s) can’t solve the problem, then (and only then) should you escalate it to a manager. Or, if you use Scrum of Scrums, it should represent the last opportunity to formally ask for help from other Scrum Masters or the Chief Scrum Master.

Change your Daily Scrum pattern

The purpose of the Daily Scrum is actually empiricism. The team should be inspecting their progress toward their Sprint Goal. If they need to adjust their plan to ensure they achieve the Sprint Goal, then the team should adapt their Sprint Backlog. This ensures their plans for the next 24 hours are transparent to everyone. The outcome (not the purpose) of this conversation is transparency, stronger collaboration, and focus.

If there is something blocking the team from achieving the Sprint Goal, don’t wait til the Daily Scrum to do something about it. Gather the team as soon as possible and support them to solve the problem themselves.

While there are many ways to have this discussion, the “three questions” is probably the least effective pattern.

Change your Scrum of Scrums pattern

Don’t mimic the “round the room” pattern of the three Daily Scrum questions. A more effective pattern comes from Nexus – one of the scaled agile frameworks:

  • Did we integrate our work across all the teams yesterday?

  • If not, why not?

  • What are we going to do today to ensure we successfully integrate out work?

Integration here applies to anything the teams are working on together, whether it’s a document, training material, communications or software. The goal is for them to integrate at least by the end of the Sprint if not daily.  The effect of this pattern is to de-emphasise status reports and get back to the heart of one of the biggest issue with multiple teams – integrating their work so that the whole team of teams operates as a single delivery engine rather than a bunch of separate teams who, at best, coordinate their activities.

Impediments, again, can be escalated here, but has a more defined role. That is, in the context of why integration across teams didn’t occur, and what are we all going to do about it. Ultimately, though, don’t wait until the Scrum of Scrums to escalate the problem. If the team can solve it then help them to do so.

Conclusions

It’s easy to fall into the trap of leaving blockers and impediments to the Scrum Master to remove. It’s a common misconception that this is their role.

One important way the Scrum Master serves their team is to help them solve their own problems and then only escalate things if and when the issue is beyond their control to influence. One of the best ways to do this is to stop waiting for the Daily Scrum or Scrum of Scrums to act on impediments, but to encourage and support the whole team to jump on the issue as soon as possible. Overall, this supports the deliver value as expeditiously as possible.

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