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One of the primary job responsibilities of the Scrum Master is to remove impediments. Working at several different places, I have yet to grasp what kind of impediments they are supposed to be removing. Here are the typical impediments I see most developers having:

  1. Technical (I can't figure out how to write this, this isn't working as I expect, what's the best way to do this, etc). This seems to be the most frequent and common impediment that developers run into. Scrum Masters are generally non-technical, so they can almost never address these problems. The best they can typically do is ask the question "Who can help you with this?" and then make sure that you are following up with them.

  2. Team-Member (my teammate isn't working well with me, my teammate is writing bad code, etc). Since a separate management chain usually exists, most developers will often bring up these concerns to their manager instead of a scrum master.

  3. Other Teams (the other team I need something from isn't getting back to me, etc). Like #2, since a separate management chain usually exists, a scrum master typically doesn't have any real management authority or political influence. The best they can do is typically act as an additional person to bug the other team. When working with another team is really impacted, I generally see management escalations being the most common (and most direct) way to solve the problem.

So what other impediments are they supposed to be removing?

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    In my experience, a good manager (for some definition of "manager", including scrum masters) will maximize productivity by clearing the roadblocks, whatever they are. New directives from on high, new TPS report cover sheets, acquisition of needed tools and materials, conflicts between team members. It does help if they have a technical background. If you've worked with a good manager, you already know what I'm talking about. They make the difference between a job that is joyful and one that is drudgery. – Robert Harvey Jan 27 '20 at 14:22
  • Good question! I have always seen this as helping the team solve problems, not solving them myself. I organize meetings with other teams, moderate brainstorm sessions to solve issues, flag issues to management to follow up, It's mostly about asking the right questions, i.e. whom do we know who can help with this? What are the next physical steps to address the issue? etc. – Martin K Jan 27 '20 at 14:24
  • @MartinK, can you put that into an answer. – Bart van Ingen Schenau Jan 27 '20 at 16:00
  • sure! added an answer – Martin K Jan 27 '20 at 20:16
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I like to partner this responsibility with the ownership of transparency. Much of the value a scrum master can add is helping create clarity so that people with more expertise can see the answers more easily. Let's take a look at applying these to your examples.

  1. Technical expertise. This is actually a pet peeve of mine. I am a technical coach and I almost never use my technical knowledge to help people in this situation. Developers are smart people. For most challenges, I just ask questions. "If you had to start over, would you approach it differently? Show me how you've isolated the root cause of the problem. Explain to me what is happening." I've literally seen people stand up a cardboard cut-out and talk out these impediments with the cardboard. A scrum master can absolutely ask useful questions and listen without the technical knowledge.

  2. Developer relations. I see this all the time too. Usually where I do, teams don't have working agreements or Definitions of Done or they simply aren't followed. The Scrum Master should ensure these exist and that they are visible. They should help team members surface concerns where other team members aren't pulling their weight. Facilitating these conversations isn't simply about pointing the people out to each other. It's about sitting down with them, mediating, and helping them find a solution. Admittedly, this is hard and takes years of practice to get good at, so new Scrum Masters may understandably struggle with this, but it is part of the job.

  3. Systems Thinking. Almost all inter-team problems come from alignment and process issues. The secret weapon for Scrum Masters is that no one likes those problems. Every case I've worked with, both teams were unhappy with the status quo. Scrum Masters can help the teams visualize the relationship between those teams and start observing how work flows between them. Usually, this enough will help people on those teams identify opportunities to improve the process. But even in hard cases, the Scrum Master can point out those places and teams are often intrinsically motivated to experiment with new ways of working.

Of course, these are just a few examples. I would definitely look at the Scrum Guide for their list of other ways a Scrum Master can help the team and organization. The Scrum Master Checklist created by Michael James is also a great place for ideas.

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The simple way to answer this question is to look at what is considered an impediment (emphasis mine):

An Impediment is anything that keeps the Team from getting work Done and that slows Velocity. Impediments come in many forms: a sick team member, a missing resource, lack of management support or even a cold team room. If it's blocking the team from doing its work, it's an Impediment.

If something is identified as an impediment as per such a definition, then by Scrum guidelines, it's the Scrum Master's job to remove them.

This is the simple answer. But of course, it's too simple to cover everything.

If some impediment can be removed by the Scrum Master, they should of course do so without the need to involve other team members (thus allowing them to focus on other productive work). But not all impediments fall in this category. Technical impediments for example can't be removed by a non technical Scrum Master, or other impediments like decisions taken way above the Scrum team by higher executives in the company.

So, a Scrum Master has a difficult job. They are not a project manager, they are not a boss, they can't impose their view, they can't order people around, they don't have authority over others, etc. Their power is in facilitating things and helping the team with their Scrum practices. As such, the best way to remove impediments that are outside the Scrum Master's reach is to help the team learn to remove them on their own by:

  • encouraging self-organization
  • encourage learning
  • ensure transparency in all things
  • pointing things out
  • challenging things
  • making sure people interact and communicate
  • being a mediator in conflicts
  • bridge the gaps with the rest of the organization (as possible in their sphere of influence)
  • fallow up on things
  • escalate issues when beyond the team's reach, etc.

The team as a whole needs to learn to deal with impediments, and then the range of impediments they can remove increases with everyone's skills and abilities. The Scrum Master is not a heat seeking missile you launch at every impediment. The impediments that are within the Scrum Master's reach (non technical stuff for example) can of course be resolved by them, but everyone in the team needs to be able to remove impediments, not just the Scrum Master.

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Good question! I have always seen this as helping the team solve problems, not solving them myself. I organize meetings with other teams, moderate brainstorm sessions to solve issues, flag issues to management to follow up, It's mostly about asking the right questions, i.e. whom do we know who can help with this? What are the next physical steps to address the issue? etc.

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