My “Big Agile” Interview on PMPodcast

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Hey everyone. Last week at the PMI Global Congress, Cornelius Fichtner interviewed me on the topic of Big Agile projects. The conversation was a lot of fun, and there are some good nuggets that came out of it. Here’s the full abstract and link to the interview:

Title: Episode 248: Big Agile: It’s Not Just for Small Projects Anymore

Full link to the interview: http://www.project-management-podcast.com/index.php/podcast-episodes/episode-details/516-episode-248-big-agile-it-s-not-just-for-small-projects-anymore

About: The Project Management Podcast™ is a free, weekly podcast that looks at how project management shapes the business world of today and tomorrow. It was first published in 2005, and is intended for both beginners and expert practitioners. It covers a diverse range of project management concepts from A like Agile to W like Work Breakdown Structure. There is no signup required, and best of all, PMI certified individuals can earn up to 30 free PDUs just by listening to the interviews.


Can You Hear Me Now by Jesse Fewell

I’m launching my first book today at #PMICongress

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Can You Hear Me Now by Jesse FewellFriends, I’m really excited to announce the release of my first book today, Can you hear me now: Working with global, distributed, virtual teams.

Here’s the abstract from the back cover:

Today’s work world has radically changed. Whether video chatting with China, or taking a call from home, more and more professional work is no longer in-person. Often, this yields frustration and misunderstanding. However, a deeper look reveals some surprises:

  • Everyone is doing it, and not just for costs
  • Many organizations are thriving with it
  • Most pain points have simple work-arounds

This handy guidebook will walk you through tips and benefits for working with people outside your office.

This is the synthesis of researching today’s trends, together my colleagues personal stories, along with my own experiences working abroad. I’ll post later about the mind-blowing MiniBuk format, but the topic is relevant and important to today’s work leaders.

Right now, the ONLY way you can get a copy of this book is to attend one of my talks or training workshops. So, anyone who comes to my conference talk today at 4:45pm in MR391 will get a free copy.

Again, so much to talk about with respect to this topic and the book project itself, but I wanted to first get the word out about the launch today.

More Agile momentum in DOD

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Covergreensmall inDefense

This week marked the latest annual Agile in Defense conference, in the outskirts of Washington DC. There were about 100 attendees, and strong support form the agile community. As with any conference, the real value was the conversations that happen between the talks, but the talks themselves are also worth mentioning…

Warnings From the Past
I showed up a little, but just in time for Dr. Robert Charette’s talk. He gave a hard warning about the pitfalls of NASA’s Faster, Better, Cheaper program in the 1990’s might be repeated once more in the Defense community. Specifically, the program met with some initial triumphs such as the Mars Pathfinder project. But the continued pressure for “cheaper” began to create a culture of compromise, which some say led to the Challenger disaster. The response was to swing the pendulum all the way back to the extreme opposite end: never ending budgets. He warned us that mentality could bankrupt the military.

Agile EVM for Defense
Scrum expert Brent Barton then gave a tutorial on how to calculate Earned Value Management (EVM) in an Agile environment. Easily the most practical talk of the day, it was based on his original white paper, which you can download here.

The Agile Virus Spreads
Ronald Pontius, the Director of C2 Policy for the DOD CIO, gave an update on specific agile initiatives in the DOD. First, the Section 804 of NDAA 2010 and Section of 933 of NDAA 2011 are formally closed. The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) completed its report for developing a strategy for rapid acquisition. That report included a proposed a modification of the DOD 5000 acquisition standard to be more iterative. But that was just the beginning. Not only did he cite 9 active programs seeking to be more agile (e.g. streamlining for “integrated test” initiative at Department of Test and Evaluation, but he gave a few pointed assertions:

  • “The latest acquisition guidelines are encouraging concept of “time certain” delivery” (aka “timebox” in Agile speak)
  • You can’t execute in smaller chunks if the requirements guys aren’t on board”
  • “The CIO of DOD, Ms. Takai, is absoletly embracing agile”
  • “Agile is consistent with Under Secretary Ashton Carter’s “Better Buying Power” defense memo
  • “All the C4SI senior project officers “get it”. The problem is at the middle management level.”

It was an encouraging list of the seeds of positive cultural reform.

Agile By the Numbers
The most enthusiastic talk of the day came from Dr. David Rico’s talk featuring some shocking statistics.

  • Large systems are risky. When systems approach 400 millions lines of code, bad things happen
  • The average productivity for a DOD system is under 1 line of code per hour
  • Of the world’s $1.7 trillion in IT expenditure, $858 billion is lost
  • Today 60-70% of DOD projects are using #Agile methods, including the F-35 and F-22 (My guess is all those projects may have at least one agile teams, but very few full program-wide implementations of Agile/Lean methods)
All together it was an encouraging event. Slowly but surely, there is agile momentum at the DOD.
What about you? Are you working on a government project that uses Agile methods? How are you using it?

Want Innovation? Be a Follower and a Borrower

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Over the last month, I’ve seen a series of events related to innovation that given me new levels of insight into how creative breakthroughs happen. This is the first of three posts explaining the events, and the mind-altering, myth-breaking, insights that have crystalized the way I look at innovation and execution.

A full four weeks ago, I saw Malcolm Gladwell keynote the PMI Global Congress in Dallas. Here was his opening point:

The paradox of innovative organizations is that they are followers and borrowers, not leaders and innovators

Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell offers provocative observations on innovation

He followed that point with an avalanche of examples:

  • During Bekaa air battle in 1982 (http://bit.ly/nee2Aa), Israel was the first to use drones, awax radar, and SAM missiles at the same time. These were technologies pioneered by the highly funded, innovation-oriented Soviets; then developed by the Americans with budget oversight and “get the job done” culture; finally utilized by a crisis-motivated Israel with no R&D budget at all. He found this example in the military innovation book by Adamsky
  • The mouse and the Graphical User Interface (GUI) were developed at the storied Xeroc Parc project in Palo Alto. Steve Jobs famously took that GUI and did what Xerox could not do: launch a commercial product with the technology (i.e. the Mac). It was a beautiful product and business success. But it was Microsoft who modified the technology into Windows, the most commercially successful operating system of all time.
  • Friendster is the one that lays claim to the first pure-play social media pioneer. MySpace matured Friendster’s breakthrough idea, and sold out to News Corp for a half-billion dollars. Now we all talk about Facebook as the king of social media and its multi-billion dollar valuation.

Here is the myth-breaker: being first to market with a fresh new idea, does NOT correlate to success.

Malcolm Gladwell presents at PMI Global Congress

Zen-PM takes a snapshot of Malcolm Gladwell’s innovation talk at PMI Global Congress

The pattern is that innovation is carried out by three successive parties:

  • First, The Inventors, who typify the innovative culture with big investments, and pioneer a new product, technology, or service.
  • Then, The Implementors, who have less to invest, and focus on how to operationalize, productize, and monetize that invention.
  • Finally, The Tweakers, who have very little resources, and make minor adjustments that transform the invention into a revolution.

Google is a company founded by tweakers of Lycos & Alta Vista. Sony ebooks were first, but Amazon dominates because they had the chance to see the impact of e-readers and then make adjustments. Finally, the iPad came along and introduce a tweaked tablet PC as a new challenge in the ebook space.

“Steve Jobs was always follower and borrower” The resurgence of Apple over the last 10 years, is based on his ability to tweak the PC, tweak the portable music player, tweak the blackberry, tweak the tablet PC, and now tweak the cloud.

…and if that wasn’t enough, he pressed further:

“Innovation at its best is a mass phenomenon, not an elite phenomenon.”

Gladwell’s asserts that the industrial revolution happened, because the West had an historical boom of dabblers and tweakers. James Watt was an implementor, only doubling steam efficiency; the anonymous tweakers increased it by another 500 times. Alexander Graham Bell’s voice-over-wire was only one of many contemporary tweaks of the telegraph’s signal-over-wire. Think of wikipedia. Think of crowd sourcing. Think of the old fashioned “suggestion box”.

It was a fascinating talk, and of course, wildly entertaining. Gladwell is a great story teller; memorizing an outline of his talk, offering just enough detail along the way, and adding energy throughout. Even his crazy hair helps amplify his enthusiasm.

But the talk would serve as the first in a personal series of innovation a-has. I’ll post those other reinforcing moments shortly. Until then, I leave you with this final quote and question: “Nimble adaptive organizations are mutually exclusive of innovative organizations.” Put another way, which kind of company do you work for? I’d like to hear if you think you are an ivory tower organization, or one that ruthlessly applies what already works?

A Full Week of Leadership Activities at PMI

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I just finished a week of activities at the PMI Leadership Institute Meeting, here in Washington DC. It was an amazing experience that reinforced to me the amazing value of volunteering at PMI.

Leadership Masters Class is “High Class”

My first 3 days were spent participating in the PMI Leadership Institute Masters Class program. This is a year long selective program to build the skills of PMI’s volunteer leaders. This first of three face-to-face sessions featured a bevy of interactive exercises and table discussions, allowing us to dig deep into the leadership question of trust. We also took a personality inventory called Strengths Deployment Inventory (SDI), where I gained some very un-nerving insights into how I respond to conflict.

The program is very focused on facilitating learning through relationships. One of the features was the class broke up into groups of 5 “learning partners”. My learning partner group is committed to building the relationships needed to hold me accountable on my objectives.


One of the more impressive elements of the class was the participation of PMI CEO Greg Balestrero. He explained that his strategy to support and grow it’s half-million constituents includes a focused investment into its 10,000 volunteer leaders. For him, leadership has become a critical strategic competency at PMI. Greg is a very busy man, with a very busy schedule. So, when he spends a morning with a group of 30 volunteers, it means he believes what he says.




In truth, I came to this kickoff event with some initial concerns. Some of my colleagues had heard and experienced mixed results with this PMI program. But I can honestly say I walked away very pleased, having become a more self-aware leader after only the first part of the program.


A New Direction for the PMI Agile Community

I spent a significant amount of time with Mike Cottmeyer, Brian Bozzuto, and Dennis Stevens planning the 2011 direction for the PMI Agile Community of Practice. Indeed, we skipped several sessions and instead had talked through the whole agile PM space, what our members are looking for, and how we can really promote the discipline of Agile PM. Here are some of the key outcomes from that discussion:

  • Mike Cottmeyer will be the new Chair of the Agile Community of Practice. For 2011, the roster of our community leadership council will remain unchanged. I will continue to serve on the council along with Dennis, Brian, Ainsley Nies, Bob Tarne, and Mike Griffiths. However, MIke has generously agreed to take the chairmainship for 2011, allowing me a bit of a break. Also, 2011 will be the year we host our first community elections, and transition the community leadership to a new batch of members.
  • We have an operational plan in place. Yes, many of us are skilled agile practitioners, but our distributed virtual setup really prevented the kind of self-organization we tried to foster last year. This week, we realized on many fronts, that our community volunteers need much more detail around what needs to be done, and how to do it. So, here is the plan to address that:
    • 2010 Q4 – The council will do the homework of (a) identifying the key initiatives for 2011, (b) generating the detailed acceptance criteria for each initiative, and (c) researching the how-to-instructions for implementing those initiatives
    • 2011 Q1 thru Q4 – Then, we will complete the handoff to more and more volunteers to implement those initiatives on a quarterly basis during 2011.
  • This year is going to be BIG for PMI Agile. During the week, we had the chance to talk with the staff at PMI headquarters about the Agile community and Agile PM in general. Already I’m seeing signs at the Congress of PMI’s growing investment in the promotion of agile. Their members are begging for vetted content, and PMI is responding. Also, with a new chair and a new volunteer base coming into place, we have a new infusion of energy to deliver more momentum.

This week was about connecting with leaders. Mike Cottmeyer had similar relections here, and Derek Huether enjoyed happy hour the most. PMI is a great place to find passionate, dedicated leaders, who will partner with you on your mission. I made some very good friends this week, and I am finding that it is your friends that shape who you are. You should strongly consider getting involved yourself, either as a volunteer at your local PMI chapter or with the PMI Agile Community of Practice.

An IT Wonderland in Omaha

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Last week I attended the Infotec 2010 conference in Omaha, NE and had quite the time meeting with IT professionals and talking about leadership and management challenges. The conference featured several vendors, including Cox, Microsoft, and Google. The facility was the awe-inspiring Qwest center. I estimate around 700-800 people showed up.


Agile Project Management Nuggets
The project management track was coordinated by the PMI Heartland Chapter, and featured two Agile PM talks. First, I retold the story of the PMI Agile Community, which was fun. But I was more excited by Sally Elatta and Kelly Morrell, who talked about the Agile transformation at Mutual of Omaha (download the slides here). Here are some of their great quotes:

  • PMBOK tells you WHAT to do, Agile tells you HOW to do it
  • "Thinking Agile" is more than just "Doing Agile"
  • servant leaders measure their success by their team’s growth
  • Your team doesn’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care
  • You will fail a few times in the beginning with Agile PM, but you’re supposed to; you need to fail in order to learn
  • Ask yourself as a PM, does this task/artifact/meeting add direct value to the business

Compelling Leadership Talks
Also interesting were 3 other talks outside the PM track. Stephen Balzac of 7 Steps Ahead described “Zen and the Art of Leadership”, Kate Brown of TechEdge talked about “High Performing Teams”, and Chris Russell from Google told us about “Building a Company Culture that Engages Employees”.

I really can’t do these talks justice with one blog post, but I can give you the uniting theme in building dynamic productive organizations:

  1. Craft a Clear & Compelling Vision – This is the high level project goal, with some conceptual success criteria. It can’t be simply “Implement the Requirements!” or “Deliver on time!”. Instead, I heard all three of these presenters independently describing the need for sticky ideas.
  2. Get the Right People: Kate called it “Hire and Professionally Develop Your Winning Team”, and Chris called it “Get the right people on the bus”.
  3. Serve Your Team; Don’t Make Them Serve You – Kate and Stephen both talked about Servant Leadership…it was uncanny how similar they were. Then, Chris gave some concrete suggestions like “Give employees ownership over the workplace” and “Give perks”

It was fascinating to see these three independent talks give startlingly similar advice.

Fabulous Keynotes.
Also during the conference, I got to see two fantastic keynotes:

  • Kansas State Professor Michael Welsch shared some of his insights on digital culture, based on his wildly popular YouTube video “The Machine is Using Us” and his research on Mediated Cultures.
  • Successful Nebraskan businessman Gordon Whitten shared his “7 Secrets to IT Entrepreneurial Success”, which are:
    1. Choose the right ‘what’: What you invest your energy in, is your biggest decision
    2. Go where the wind is at your back: Really hot field right now are mobile IT, healthcare IT, and cloud computing
    3. Find a durable competitive advantage: One example is “Ownable network effect” like Google Ads and Jigsaw
    4. Purple gorilla marketing: Based on Godin’s Purple Cow; think Webkins.
    5. Innovate on your business model: It yields 5x ROI over simply investing in more features.
    6. Relentlessly invest in relationships BEFORE you need something: Give until it hurts
    7. Crash through barriers: Winners endure standard obstacles like low payroll & lost business.

Omaha Agile Development

At the end of Day 1 of the conference, Sally drove me to the Omaha Agile Development user group, where I presented my PMBOK vs. Agile talk. People asked some hard questions, in particular:

  • How do you do Agile, when management insists on capitalizing labor by specialized skillset? This was a topic explored on the scrum discussion group recently, and people offered some good suggestions.
  • Isn’t Agile PM more conducive to products and less conducive to projects? This is a hot topic on the Agile scene right now. I’m not quite sure where I land on this debate, but it’s probably somewhere in the middle. See this post and also this one for thoughts.

I was really impressed by the group.

Personal Ignorance
I have to admit, I came to this conference with some pretty stereotypical views of Omaha engrained in my mind. If you asked me about Omaha, I would think mostly of Cornhusker football and Bruce Springsteen.


But by the time my two days were done, I had a completely different view: Omaha is a serious hub for IT business. From LinkedIn to Qwest, there are some pretty serious technology players there. Human ignorance can be an interesting topic, but most especially when I’m the one guilty of it.