June 24, 2012

3 arguments against BLOCKED and a bonus on IMPEDIMENT

Why I don’t like "blocked" –

In some companies, people don’t want to say they are blocked.

(1) Being blocked gives you a sense of blaming others. Not wanting to offend coworkers...

Yes, I'm waiting on Joe, but he's not blocking me!

But we want honesty and need safety. I need a safe environment so that Joe and I can agree that Joe's blocking me. It's not Joe's fault. It just is. And it needs to be a safe environment especially if it is Joe's fault.

(2) Being blocked gives you lots of scrutiny.

No! I’m not blocked! Don’t help me!

But that’s exactly what we want – attention on the problem, but in a servant leadership collaborative way. Too often, blockers attract the wrong kind of attention.

(3) Being blocked sounds so absolute.

...and I'm not totally blocked anyway. There's some other stuff I can do.

Yeah, less important stuff. Probably stuff we shouldn't be doing anyway, unless it's taking advantage of slack to sharpen your saw.

(4) Having an impediment sounds like a medical problem.

No, unh-uh, no impediments here.

Impediment is such a funny word. Who introduced that into the agile vernacular anyway? Nobody uses that in normal speech. People new to agile likely don't even know what that means.

That's why I like to ask "what's slowing you down?"

"Oh, yeah, my PC's a few years old. I don't have very good test data. The A/C shuts off at 5:30p each day. I have to make two hops to remote into the test-lab because of security reasons. The build server builds once per day instead of on check-in. The unit tests are taking a few minutes to run; I think someone put something bad in there. We should find it and move the offender over to the regression suite or make it faster. Why can't we get some stickier stickies? I'm waiting for Joe to give me access to the production server. And I keep getting interrupted by customers bypassing the support desk… Sure. Lots of stuff is slowing me down."

Ah. Great. Now that I know, we can go work on that.


  1. Very apt words Andrew! It opens up a conversation instead of raising eyebrows, blame games or creating a friction.

  2. Nice blog which shows that using the right words can be important. When working with team I regurlary have people who find it difficult to say that thay have a problem. I help them to find the right words, and create a culture where people can speak up. The effect is that they usually get help from their teammembers, and are able to solve problems and continue!