What Is a Blocker in a Standup Meeting?

Published on
June 28, 2023

Inevitably, we all face moments when things don't go as smoothly as planned, resulting in unexpected blockers. These hurdles can cause a domino effect, impeding your whole team's progress, putting momentum at risk. And when we surface those blockers in daily standup, it's easy for the discussion to quickly go off the rails.

In my experience as a product manager, dealing with blockers is a big part of the job. This article is a guide to understanding blockers. We'll explore what they are, the most effective strategies to mitigate and manage them, and potential pitfalls to steer clear of when talking about blockers in standup meetings.

Understanding blockers in the Scrum framework

Blockers, in the context of standup meetings and the Agile framework, are obstacles that prevent a team member from making progress on their current tasks or user stories. They're akin to roadblocks on the highway of productivity, causing delays and sometimes bringing work to a complete standstill. 🚧

Here are a few typical examples of blockers you might encounter during a standup meeting:

- A software bug that's too complex to solve without assistance.

- A decision that needs to be made by someone outside of the team (like a stakeholder or a client).

- Absence or illness of a team member who has specialized knowledge.

- Unexpected technical issues like server downtime 

- Unclear project specifications causing confusion or ambiguity.

- Dependency (like an asset or design) from another team member.

Blockers vs impediments

Now, you might be wondering: what's the difference between a blocker and an impediment in Scrum? It's a great question, and the answer can often be a bit hazy.

Impediments and blockers have distinct effects on progress. While blockers immediately halt current tasks, impediments slow down the overall productivity of the team over time.

Picture a blocker as a massive boulder on the road, completely stopping you in your tracks. In contrast, an impediment is akin to a rough, gravelly road surface—progress is still possible, but it becomes slower and bumpier.

Impediments encompass broader issues, like non-user-friendly tools or consistently lengthy meetings. They are often systemic, subtle, and require a strategic approach for resolution. While blockers demand immediate attention.

It's important to identify blockers in standup

Identifying blockers during standup isn't just about getting past the roadblocks — it's about paving the way for successful projects and high-functioning Agile teams.  Here's why the early recognition of these blockers matters so much.

Resolving issues promptly

Early identification of blockers in standup meetings empowers teams to resolve issues more quickly. Time is of the essence in Agile environments. When we spot a blocker, we can address it immediately, minimize delays, and keep the work flowing. It's about being proactive rather than reactive. ‍

Promoting transparency and communication

Flagging up blockers in standup meetings also promotes transparency and open communication. It's about creating a safe space where everyone feels comfortable discussing their challenges. This openness not only strengthens the trust within the team but also helps everyone understand the project's status in real-time. It's vital for a Scrum team's success because it aligns everyone towards the same goals and promotes a culture of mutual support.

Maintaining productivity and efficiency

By identifying blockers in standup meetings, we can better maintain productivity and efficiency. Spotting a blocker early means we can address it before it snowballs into a bigger problem that could potentially grind progress to a halt. It's like catching a small leak before it becomes a flood – a small intervention now can save a lot of time and resources down the line.

Continuous improvement and learning

Finally, addressing blockers in standup meetings is a powerful way for teams to learn and continuously improve their processes and workflows. Every blocker is a learning opportunity, providing valuable insights into potential areas of improvement. Analyzing patterns and trends in blockers will help you refine your approaches, making your processes leaner and more effective. By continuously enhancing your process, your team can better reap the benefits of daily standups.

How to properly identify and address blockers in standup meetings

Let's now shift gears and delve into how we can properly identify blockers during our standup meetings. It's not just about recognizing that they exist; it's about putting systems in place to ensure they're addressed effectively.

1. Incorporate blockers as a regular component of team updates

First things first, it's crucial to make discussions about blockers a standard part of your standup meetings. Instead of waiting for someone to bring up a blocker, proactively encourage team members to share any obstacles they're facing. This active approach normalizes the process of addressing challenges and helps ensure no blocker slips through the cracks. It promotes a culture of problem-solving and collective ownership, where everyone is invested in overcoming hurdles together. 💪

2. Use a tool that seamlessly facilitates standup meetings

Running efficient standup meetings can be tricky. But a dedicated tool can be a game-changer, making the process smoother and more productive. That's where Spinach comes into the picture.

Think of Spinach as your AI Scrum Master that seamlessly facilitates your agile meetings.

During standup, Spinach joins as a passive guest and takes phenomenal notes tailored to the specific meeting type. You'll get a summary of progress, plans, and blockers in email, Slack, Confluence or Notion. You can leverage this summary throughout the day, so nothing falls through the cracks.

Before the next meeting, Spinach will remind you what you said in the last meeting to make sure all blockers were indeed cleared.

In short, Spinach takes the hassle out of facilitating your agile meetings, helping you focus on what truly matters — collaborating effectively, addressing blockers promptly, and driving your team's success. Not taking notes and updating the board.

3. Ask follow-up questions

Once a blocker is identified, it's important to ask some follow-up questions. These questions help shed light on the specifics of the issue, making it easier for the team to rally and find solutions. It's like being a detective, gathering all the clues before solving the mystery.

You might ask things like:

  • What task is this blocker affecting?
  • Have you encountered this kind of issue before?
  • What have you tried so far to address it?

The aim here is not to start a lengthy discussion but to understand the blocker better. It's all about gathering information to find the right approach.

4. Explore immediate solutions to lessen the blocker's impact

After understanding the nature of the blocker, it's crucial to explore immediate solutions to lessen its impact. This doesn't mean launching into a full-blown problem-solving session right in the middle of the standup. Instead, think quick fixes, a bit like first-aid for blockers. These immediate actions can help maintain momentum and minimize disruption to the team's workflow.

Remember, these are just interim measures. The comprehensive solution may need a more in-depth discussion or further investigation outside of the standup.

5. For longer discussions, save it for the end in the Parking Lot

There will be times when a blocker requires a longer discussion. For those situations, there's the Parking Lot. It's a place where you can park these more complex topics until the end of the meeting. This allows the standup to keep moving without forgetting to tackle these crucial conversations.

And here's where Spinach shines again! With Spinach, you've got a dedicated Parking Lot where anyone can add a discussion topic. Spinach saves these Parking Lot items for the end of the standup. It's like having a personal assistant to remind you of those important topics you need to circle back to.

This approach ensures that everyone's time is respected. Those who aren't needed for the Parking Lot discussion can move on with their day, while those involved can dive into the details.

Remember, effective standup meetings are all about balance. It's about addressing blockers promptly, maintaining productivity, and respecting everyone's time. And Spinach is here to help you strike that balance. 

Pitfalls to avoid when handling blockers

While addressing blockers is a crucial part of successful standup meetings, there are a few pitfalls we need to sidestep to keep our meetings productive and our projects on track. Let's dive into some of the common traps and how to steer clear of them. ‍

Allowing blockers to overwhelm the meeting discussion

Blockers are important, no doubt about that. But letting them dominate the meeting can sidetrack the entire team and undermine the purpose of a standup. A standup meeting should be a quick check-in, not a lengthy problem-solving session.

So, how do you avoid this pitfall? Stick to the agenda, keep discussions about blockers concise, and make use of the Parking Lot for in-depth conversations. And remember, tools like Spinach can help you keep the focus and facilitate effective meetings.

Lack of follow-up and feedback

Once a blocker is identified, it's crucial to ensure there's a follow-up and that feedback is given. Ignoring these can lead to issues festering or recurring. To avoid this, assign someone the task of tackling the blocker and set a time frame for a follow-up discussion. It's all about being proactive and staying on top of things.

Overlooking patterns and root causes

Addressing individual blockers is great, but overlooking patterns or root causes can lead to recurring problems. If the same blocker keeps popping up, it's time to delve deeper and understand why. To sidestep this pitfall, use your standup meetings to spot trends and patterns. Use a tool to track blockers over time and gain insights that can help you address the root causes. It's about digging deeper and finding the source of the problem. 

Failing to adapt and be flexible

Finally, failing to adapt and be flexible can hamper your ability to effectively handle blockers. The Agile framework is all about embracing change and learning from experiences.

So, always be open to adjusting your approach, tweaking your processes, or even changing your tools if that's what it takes to effectively manage blockers. And remember, an AI Scrum Master like Spinach can provide you with the flexibility you need to manage your Agile processes effectively.

Revolutionize your standup meetings with Spinach

Navigating the world of standup meetings and blockers can be tricky, but with Spinach by your side, you can transform the way you handle these challenges.

Using Spinach for your standup meetings can be the game-changer you've been looking for. It's designed to make not only your standup meetings more efficient, but all of your agile ceremonies, whether it be team syncs, sprint retrospectives, or sprint planning. It helps you keep your agile meetings focused, ensure follow-ups happen, identify recurring issues, and adapt your meeting agendas as needed.

Now that you understand the role of blockers in standup meetings and the importance of managing them effectively, it's time to revolutionize your Agile process. Start your journey towards more efficient and effective standup meetings by setting up Spinach's AI Scrum Master today.

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