Quick quiz for all you Scrum experts out there.  Which of these common scenarios for Scrum Team are blockers and which would be classified as impediments?

  1. The build is broken.
  2. The process to interview and onboard a new Team member takes at least six weeks.
  3. Team members do not have the proper permissions to make changes in the customer’s staging environment.
  4. Our teleconference bridge to India has latency resulting in conversations out of synch and people’s voices cutting in-and-out.
  5. It takes an entire day to migrate our software from dev to staging to production.

DragAn impediment is anything that slows down or diminishes the pace of the Team.  When the Team is confronted with impediments (or obstacles), the Team could move forward but in advancing they may generate waste.  Or the whole process of making progress is more difficult than it should be (think about the little girl in the picture).  In contrast, a blocker is anything that stops the delivery of the product.  Without the elimination of the blocker, the Team cannot advance at all.

Clearly, eliminating blockers is more important than resolving impediments, but what is the reality for most Scrum Teams when confronted with a blocker?  Since Team members are generally conscientious and want to make a full contribution each day, they often will switch to a new task in order to make progress on a new activity.  They would rather start something new, i.e. multitask, than take time identify, escalate and eliminate the blocker.  This is why you often hear Team members say in the Daily Scrum, “No blockers.”

So why do people say they have “no blockers” when they do have one (or more) blocker(s)?  Well…from their perspective they do not have a blocker anymore.  By starting something new, they have demoted the blocker (in their mind) to an impediment since they are making progress on something.  IME, I have seen people in big organizations becomes so accustomed to blockers not being fixed around, they assume that multitasking is just the normal way of working.  They just do not see that the light is red anymore.

The second reason is related to the person’s proficiency at asking for help.  The person in question does not know how to ask for help or they do not know who to ask.  That is sad because on Scrum Teams, Team members have the right to ask for AND receive help from their peers, management and customers.

If you have a blocker, bring it up at once.  Do not wait until the next Daily Scrum to resolve it.  Most blockers are really hard to eliminate on your own,  so find another Team member, the Product Owner or the ScrumMaster to help you eliminate it.  Chances are that you are not the only person experiencing the blocker, so people will have an interest in helping you stamp it out.  If not, a serious blocker will become this irritating impediment that slows everyone down.