Identifying and Managing Blockers in Agile

When adopting an Agile approach like Scrum or Kanban, blockers inevitably arise that can halt progress and bring your team’s momentum to a screeching stop.

Learning how to quickly identify, prioritize, and remove blockers is crucial for achieving the full benefits of Agile.

In this post, we’ll explain exactly what a blocker is in Agile, how it differs from related concepts like impediments and dependencies, and most importantly actionable strategies for overcoming these blockers to keep your team’s workflow smooth and optimized.

You’ll walk away better equipped to manage Agile blockers and empower your team to deliver at their highest velocity.

What is a Blocker in Agile?

A blocker in Agile frameworks like Scrum and Kanban is anything that completely prevents a team member from making progress on a user story, feature, or work item.

While related concepts like impediments and dependencies may slow down work, a blocker brings work to a complete standstill.

Blockers are issues that are typically beyond the team’s direct capacity to resolve – like a major bug, missing requirements, or policy constraint.

When work is blocked, team members should avoid starting new tasks and instead focus on unblocking the current item through escalation, collaboration, and root cause analysis.

Teams will use visual signals like a magenta sticker to indicate blockers on their Kanban board so they are highly visible.

Identifying, communicating, and resolving blockers quickly is crucial for maintaining flow and productivity.

How to Manage Agile Blockers

Effectively managing blockers is critical for achieving continuous workflow and high team velocity in Agile.

Here are some key strategies and best practices for proactively identifying, communicating, and resolving blockers:

Visually Identify Blockers

Make blockers highly visible on your task board. Use a magenta sticker or marker to highlight any task that is currently blocked on your Scrum or Kanban board.

This allows the entire team to immediately recognize blockers and swarm to help resolve them.

Log and Categorize

When a blocker occurs, log it with key details like date, category, reason, and which team member it is blocking. Over time, this will reveal patterns so you can address the root causes of recurring blockers.

Daily Standups

Leverage your daily standup as an opportunity for each team member to raise any current blockers they are facing. Make it acceptable to ask for help when needed.

Focus on Unblocking

When faced with a blocker, the team should rally around unblocking the task rather than simply moving on to the next item. Limiting work-in-progress (WIP) can help enforce this.

Escalate Wisely

If the team cannot resolve a blocker internally, escalate the issue to project managers, Product Owners, or executives who can eliminate the constraint. But first, ensure the team has tried all options within their control.

Examples of Blockers in Agile

Throughout the lifecycle of an Agile project, teams will inevitably encounter a variety of blockers that bring work to a standstill. Being aware of common blocker examples can help teams quickly identify them so they can be resolved.

Some typical examples of blockers in Agile include:

Bug Blockers

A major software bug is uncovered that prevents a user story from being completed and verified. Bugs that crash the application or break core functionality are prime examples.

Knowledge Blockers

The team runs into a complex technical challenge they don’t have the skills or expertise to resolve. Additional training, hiring, or external consultants may be required.

Resource Blockers

A key resource needed to complete a task is unavailable, like a license, server access, or 3rd party tool integration. The team or management needs to negotiate access to unblock.

Requirement Blockers

Acceptance criteria or requirements from the Product Owner are vague or missing. The team should clarify requirements as early as possible to avoid this blocker.

Project Dependency Blockers

Progress halts because another internal team or external vendor has not completed a dependency. Efforts to reduce dependencies between teams, systems, and components can minimize this.

Difference Between Agile Blocker and Impediment

While the terms blocker and impediment are sometimes used interchangeably in Agile, there is an important distinction between the two concepts.

Here are some differences between Agile blockers and impediments:

A blocker stops all work on a task or work item such that the team member is completely stuck and unable to make any headway on the current item. Nothing else can be done until the blocker is resolved.

Impediments only slow progress but do not fully prevent the team member from continuing to work on the task. They can move forward, just less efficiently or at a slower pace.

Since blockers fully stop progress, they should be escalated swiftly to project managers, Product Owners, or other teams that can unblock the task. Impediments on the other hand may only require the team’s collaboration to resolve.

Examples: A missing software dependency is a blocker, while a lack of documentation is an impediment. Insufficient permissions block work, while slow test environments impede work.

Treating all delays as impediments rather than escalating true blockers can leave teams stuck and lower productivity. Recognizing the difference helps teams handle these constraints appropriately.

Difference Between Agile Blocker and Dependency

It’s common for teams to encounter blocking dependencies in Agile projects. But how are blockers and dependencies different?

As earlier iterated, a blocker brings work on a task to a complete standstill until resolved. while a dependency introduces a delay because one task needs another to be completed first. But work can often continue in parallel or on other items.

Also, blockers tend to be unforeseen issues like a major bug or lack of critical information. Dependencies on the other hand are usually known requirement relationships between tasks or components.

Escalating blockers quickly is key, while dependencies should be mapped out early to create an optimal work sequence.

Examples: A security patch that needs to be implemented would be a blocking dependency. But an API that a front-end needs from the back-end is a routine dependency that just imposes order.

Recognizing blockers versus dependencies enables smart mitigation – through early planning for dependencies and rapid escalation of unexpected blockers.


Dealing with blockers is an inevitable part of Agile software development. Equipping your team with strategies to swiftly identify, communicate, and resolve Agile blockers can prevent major disruptions to your velocity and flow.

Empower your team to collaborate on creative solutions and escalate issues proactively as their ability to manage blockers will directly impact their performance.

With a sharp understanding of concepts like dependencies and impediments, you’ll be able to optimize workflows and accelerate delivery by conquering constraints and keeping work moving.

David Usifo (PSM, MBCS, PMP®)
David Usifo (PSM, MBCS, PMP®)

David Usifo is a certified project manager professional, professional Scrum Master, and a BCS certified Business Analyst with a background in product development and database management.

He enjoys using his knowledge and skills to share with aspiring and experienced project managers and product developers the core concept of value-creation through adaptive solutions.

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