Being blocked doesn’t mean you cannot work

If you’ve been on a Scrum team for some time, you will inevitably hear someone at the stand-up say:

Today I cannot work on <some feature> because of <some reason>, but that’s all right. I’m not otherwise blocked because I can also work on <some unrelated thing>.

There are two (very human) factors at play here: 1) the desire to be seen as a productive team member, and 2) the unwillingness to deal with bad news. Admitting to being blocked can even become a taboo in some teams. Yet what is the purpose of the stand-up, if not to bring such issues out in the open?

What’s wrong with having everybody always making some kind of progress? Isn’t that indeed one of the patterns in Coplien’s Organizational Patterns of Agile Software Development? The problem is that having your work blocked while you work on something else increases the amount of work in progress, or WIP. And WIP, in a software team, is waste and costs time, effort and money. Not all work is useful; working on non-priority items, when there’s a priority item that’s not taken care of, is the worst thing you can do.

Our team discussed this point at our last retrospective. No one contested the reality of this taboo in our team, and we resolved that from now on everyone should be open about his inability to progress.

As a team member, it’s ultimately your responsibility to be on the lookout for any such pattern. It’s not the ScrumMaster’s alone. Never let a team mate hide his impediments under a carpet of busy-ness; ultimately, he, you, and the whole team will suffer.

Posted on June 13, 2016 at 9:38 am by David Lindelöf · Permalink
In: Agile

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