Hurdling Roadblocks

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quick cooperation in the future.

In one extreme case, I wanted feedback on my testing strategy from the director in charge of the product under test. The director said he had no time available to schedule a meeting. So I carefully formulated a list of questions to elicit the feedback I wanted--still, no response. I then filled in the answers myself, labeled them as "assumptions," and shared them with the director. These assumptions represented my best guesses about what the answers would be. I made them crisp and unambiguous, so it would be clear to the reader if they weren't right. Even this didn't generate a response from the director, but it did create a paper trail showing the direction I was taking and gave my manager a succinct summary of my plans that we could discuss.

You might be tempted to tell someone "I assume that we don't actually need to do this work at all." That might be the most reasonable assumption in some cases or at least the most likely provocation to get a response, but be careful not to unnecessarily escalate emotions. My documented assumptions helped cut out large swaths of scope, but didn't suggest that we abandon testing entirely.

Avoiding Roadblocks

If you've been able to get the wheels in motion to demolish a roadblock, you may still have to wait until the roadblock is fully cleared. Here are some tips to mitigate that wait time:

  1. Anticipate what roadblocks may lay ahead. Get started on clearing them early, before they're in your critical path.
  2. Use scarce resources wisely. When you see an opportunity to use some resource that's not always available, adjust your priorities to use it when you can.
  3. Keep a to-do list with more than one item on it. When one task gets blocked, shift temporarily to a different task. I keep a Scrum-inspired, personal to-do list, with items ranging from an hour or less up to a day or two of effort, even when the project I'm working on does not use an agile process. I share this list with my manager regularly and discuss the priorities, so I'm always prepared to make a brief shift without needing immediate feedback from the manager.

Don't think that you shouldn't have to work with managers if your own work is more technical than managerial. Managers need to know as soon as possible when you have tried all the avenues within your power and you're still stuck. You should enable them to help keep your work on track or modify your commitments if necessary.

Encountering roadblocks is frustrating. We'd like for everything we need to be handed to us, but then our resourcefulness wouldn't be needed on the job. Don't be afraid to invoke the services of the managers in your organization. Work from the premise that everyone is generally doing what they've been told to do, but you're providing crucial new information that might indicate that priorities should change. Develop the discipline of tackling roadblocks calmly and constructively, and you'll quickly gain a reputation as a highly effective contributor to the organization.

Further reading

  • Becoming a Technical Leader , Gerald M. Weinberg
  • Agile Software Development with SCRUM, Ken Schwaber and Mike Beedle

About the author

Danny R. Faught's picture Danny R. Faught

Danny R. Faught is the proprietor of Tejas Software Consulting, an independent consulting practice focusing on helping clients manage the quality of the software they produce.

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