Management’s #1 Responsibility — Remove Roadblocks That Hinder Achievement

Most employees want to accomplish the objectives in front of them, but they often run into what they perceive to be a never-ending series of roadblocks. And frequently these impediments are beyond their ability to fix (based on where they are in the organizational hierarchy).

A few changes at the start of an agile transformation can go a long way:

  • Managers, in an Agile environment, should promptly setup an obstacle escalation process and a mechanism for visualizing the obstacles. In addition, managers should strongly encourage every member of the organization to surface problems affecting the execution of work and the delivery of product.
  • Obstacles, if not readily raised by team members, can be gleaned from the end-of-sprint retrospectives, from failure to meet the Definition of Done, and from interactions with the teams.
  • An obstacle board can be used to track anything that is slowing the team down and is used within an obstacle resolution process.
  • The ScrumMaster in her servant role should do everything possible to remove impediments slowing her teams. She is accountable for making impediments visible throughout the organization via the obstacle board.

At a previous client we instituted a process wherein, an obstacle identified by the team would go on the team obstacle board. If the team and ScrumMaster couldn’t take care of the obstacle within 2-3 days the visibility of the obstacle would get escalated from the team, to the immediate managers, then to the senior managers and directors, and finally to the Vice Presidents. Obstacle status was displayed on large video screens throughout the campus. At each escalation stage, if the obstacle was not resolved or if a workaround was not found within 2-days, the ScrumMaster would move the obstacle up to the next higher level board. The ScrumMaster did not own the obstacles; managers did and they agreed on ownership of the obstacles amongst themselves.

Quick escalations ensured that people higher up in the organization were aware of issues the teams were struggling with and had an incentive to remove the roadblocks quickly. Obstacles would only be considered “resolved” when the ScrumMaster and the team accepted them; nobody else could remove an obstacle from any of the boards. Some obstacles were impossible to fix in a few days — for these, people higher up in the organization were accountable for explaining to the team why the obstacle couldn’t be solved now, what they were doing about it, and by when they expected closure on the item. For obstacles that management could not solve or help with and for which the team itself was best placed to solve the problem, the obstacle would be returned to the team. Even though management was unable to fix the issue they were now aware that a problem existed and could help the team with resources, etc.

This simple process increased visibility dramatically and team members realized very quickly that they did not have to live with the dysfunctional status-quo — team morale improved as did the sense of empowerment. Company leadership also realized that they had a crucial role to play by removing roadblocks and they didn’t feel left out as most do when switching to a poorly run agile transformation.

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