On the Scrum Training and Coaching list today, someone said that a list of impediments was a good idea. I demurred, saying “All it takes is a list of one item, the most important.” Then I was asked whether impediments should be on the Product Backlog. This is my reply.

No, I would not prefer that impediments were in the Product Backlog, would not prefer that they were tracked in the Product Backlog, and for that matter, would not prefer that the Product Backlog be tracked. What should be tracked is what Product Backlog items are done.

The Product Owner’s job is to decide, each and every Sprint, on the most important few things to do. Their job is not to tick through the Product Backlog. Their job does not include deciding when everything on the Product Backlog will be done, and no one else should be tracking that, either. There is no requirement that everything on the Product Backlog be done. Quite likely, there are things on the Product Backlog — that is, product ideas — which should never be done.

Impediments, and their removal, are not part of the product at all, and therefore are not part of the Product Backlog.

It is the job of the Scrum Team to meet, every Sprint, and every day, to determine what are the most important things in their way. A better way to describe the job of the ScrumMaster is that they are to see that impediments are removed, not to remove them. The correct individual or group to remove an impediment varies by the impediment. If only the VP can remove it, and the favorite niece of the VP is on the team, she may be the best one to get it removed.

When a stakeholder has asked for a feature, the correct answer is not “it’s on the Product Backlog”. That leads to expectations which may not be met, or to treating the product as a never-ending list of things rather than as the best possible combination of things to be delivered by the chosen date.

Similarly, when the team encounters an impediment, the correct answer is not “it’s on the list”. That leads to difficult impediments being swept onto the list, out of sight, out of mind.

Sure, someone might keep a list. But I wonder why? If it’s actually an impediment, it ought to be coming up in every Daily Scrum and in every Retrospective. If it requires a list to be remembered, it can’t be very bloody important.

Remove impediments. Don’t inventory them.