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What's your exit strategy?

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It happens to everyone. It could happen to you. You're running your standup as usual on any given morning, and you see it. It's right there, staring you down defiantly.

I'm talking about a card that's been moved to the Blocked list.

Why is it it a problem?

It's ok. There's no shame in a blocked card. We're here to help.

The reason blocked cards need to be dealt with expediently is that ideally, you're working through user stories in order of business priority. If you have an item that is blocked, the developer who was working on that item will move on to the next item in the list. By definition, this item is of lower priority than the blocked item, so you're postponing something of higher value and moving on to something of lower value.

It's not a problem when it happens occasionally and it's dealt with efficiently. It is a problem if it's happening frequently or things languish in the blocked list for many days or weeks.

How to make it not a problem

So how do you keep items from languishing? Follow these three steps.

1. Explicitly state the plan for getting unblocked

Make sure you include any dependencies that are involved. Don't just say "When Card X is done, this will be unblocked". Go into detail about what it is that you need from Card X. Clearly outlining the plan should make it obvious if the plan is feasible, and sometimes shows you a simpler solution.

For example, do you just need a particular API endpoint that is part of Card X? If so the person currently working on Card X could prioritize that endpoint and submit it in a pull request when it's ready. Now the blocked card has been unblocked without having to wait for the entire feature described in Card X to be finished.

2. Clearly note the plan on the card

When you come back to this card tomorrow, you can get a clear status update on the specific dependencies that this card is waiting for, rather than a simple "is this still blocked?" "yup."

3. Clearly note the date that the card went into the blocked column.

When you come back each day, you can see how long you've been postponing this item. This can (and should) create a growing sense of importance with each additional day.

Talk to your friends and coworkers about Blocked Cards

Like everything in an agile workflow, this works best when you have buy-in from everyone on the team. Talk to your teammates and make a plan for unblocking your cards. You'll thank me later.

Ben Wilhelm

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