Part I: Solving agile organizational issues with an Impediment Council
Does your agile organization run into impediments that linger because no one person or group owns them? Are those issues getting worse over time and can no longer be ignored? Are they causing morale issues in your agile teams?
In agile organizations, teams have regular retrospectives to identify team impediments and take actions to address them. In scaled agile environments such as SAFe, there are inspect-and-adapt sessions to identify and address organization-wide issues. How do you make progress on impediments that are beyond the scope of a single team? What if solutions require collaboration with Product, Engineering, Sales, Marketing or other groups in order to solve?
In the Agile Central development organization, we have regular, quarterly inspect-and-adapt sessions to identify wide-spread issues that need to be addressed. We experimented with different methods to act on the identified impediments. For example, we asked for individual volunteers to own an issue and solicit others to help. We also escalated issues to the leadership team to resolve. But progress was limited and we noticed that the same impediments were coming up quarter after quarter.
What did we learn?
- Many organizational impediments are complicated and require a fair amount of planning and effort to address.
- No single agile team could address the impediment – the skills needed crossed many functional roles and often required leadership participation.
- People did not have enough capacity to address impediments. Agile team members already had high priority planned work for the quarter. In the case of leadership, they often operate at a high WIP and struggle making time as well.
The Agile Central team hypothesized that some type of framework was needed to help provide the structure and forum to address impediments beyond the scope and authority of an agile team. Hence, an Impediment Council was formed.
What is the Impediment Council?
- A volunteer group of individuals from across functional roles in the organization including leadership.
- This “team”can address impediments. Anyone is invited to be part of the council which helps ensure that everyone feels like they have a voice in the process
- A group that meets on a regular cadence to refine and prioritize impediments
- Regular cadence helps to ensure regular review and focus
- Refining ensures proper understanding and characterization of the issues
- The cadence makes it easier to allocate regular time to address issues
The Council uses the Team Board in Agile Central to organize the work into a visible Kanban board. This provides transparency since anyone can see detailed information about each impediment including what’s in progress, what’s been resolved, and what will be worked next. It is the single place to find all the information about all the organizational impediments.
The Council also uses existing ceremonies to communicate progress. We provide a regular report at our bi-weekly system demo as well as more detailed read-out at our quarterly review/retrospective.
An Impediment Council can be a great opportunity for folks in your organization to collaborate and remove impediments that are inhibiting your organization from delivering value to your customers.
In our next blog, we will provide details of how we run our Impediment Council covering topics like:
- Identifying impediments
- Refining and prioritizing the backlog
- Pulling a new impediment
- Communicating updates
We’d love to hear how you address this. Please send us your comments! Until next time.
Guest Contributors: Walter den Haan & Scott Flores
Walter den Haan is an all-purpose trouble maker/finder who discovers problems that need solving with tools from his Big Agile Systems Thinking toolbox. In his current role as Sr. Principal Agile Coach for CA Agile Central, he is focused on continuous improvement of individuals, teams, the entire Agile Central organization and the systems that bind us. He has several hundred years in helping organizations transition and sustain an agile model. Away from the office Walter enjoys, road biking, hiking and snow shoeing.
Scott Flores is the Director of Agile Program Management for the CA Agile Central team. In that role, he functions as the Release Train Engineer for Agile Central product and manages the team of incredible Scrum Masters. Scott has 30+ years of software experience in a variety of technical and leadership roles. His passion for Agile began at AT&T Bell Laboratories and continued at a company he co-founded and helped run for 11 years. In recent years, Scott has leveraged his practical Agile approach and management experience at a variety of companies in Director and Consulting roles. He is thrilled to be working with the Agile Central team.