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.

Jesse Fewell is Back in the USA

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Paul McCartney Back in the US

The rumors are true: I have returned back to the US after a two year stint as Managing Director of RippleRock India. Now that my assignment is completed  (“build an India subsidiary”), I have been relocating myself and the family back to the States over the last few months. What was it like, you ask?


What an incredible journey! Over the last two years, I have trained and coached software teams in India, Malaysia, and China. Not only did I get an excellent exposure to different work cultures, but I met a compelling array of people, too many to mention by name. By virtue of being an expatriate, I was exposed to a full contingent of internationals. Here’s one story: The church I attended featured a number of African students, studying in Bangalore. One Sunday, I met a Ugandan and asked about the difficult history of Uganda and India, to which he replied, “Yes, lots of history, but I like to think of the future”. A few days later, I learn the US government is warning citizens not to travel to Uganda because of anti-American sentiment there. So I was one of the few Americans in the world who had the gift of hearing this African millennial’s positive perspective on the 21st century.


I’m proud of what we created at RippleRock India, but it took work. I joke with people that I must be glutton for punishment, given that I took a job that offered both the challenges of working abroad (culture shock, home sickness, language barrier) and a startup (legal, accounting, business development). As you can imagine, I learned a LOT of things all at the same time: (1) doing Agile consulting and training (2) as a foreigner (3) in the developing world (3) starting up an (4) international (5) subsidiary. One friend of mine offered the insight that I gained amount to a real world MBA, only with the bouns of a little more white hair.

Now What?

With the firm fully instantiated, I have handed RippleRock India over to the capable hands of Hiren Doshi. The founder of his own firm, PracticeAgile, Hiren is one of the strongest agile practitioners in India, and his team has generated some amazing results for clients across South Asia. With regards to our offerings, my absence means we won’t be offering Certified ScrumMaster courses nearly as often; however, we have established RippleRock as the premier best-in-class provider of PMI-ACP training.

For myself, I’m a little winded from all the travel and will be focusing my work on my home town of Washington DC for the foreseeable future. To make that happen, I will now be working with my old alma mater, Excella Consulting. My first Washington DC Agile training with Excella will be May 31st – June 1st, and to celebrate I’m offering major discounts to anyone who contacts me personally: email {at} jessefewell {dot} com.

All of you have been a tremendous support to me these last two years, and I am deeply grateful for that support (especially from all you Desi Walas). Of course, I will be posting new ideas here soon, but for now, I’m savoring the satisfaction of accomplishing a personal and professional dream.

Reflections After a Year of Agile Coaching in India

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Agile Coaching India

I started working in India full-time in August of 2010. As an American, I had a suitcase full of expectations and assumptions. After a year of working with Indian IT professionals side-by-side, it’s time for a few reflections and observations.

Scrum in India is HOT. Some 18 Months ago, there was only one reliable vendor offering Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) training in all of South Asia (Pete Deemer of GoodAgile.com), and he was based in Singapore. Now, there are three Certified Scrum Trainers based in Bangalore (Pete, myself, and Vibhu Srinavasan of Solutions IQ), and a Certified Scrum Coach in Hyderabad (Madhur Kathuria). Added to that mix is a spike in agile events, such as the quarterly Scrum Bangalore, the mulit-city Agile Tour, and the upcoming Agile India 2011.

India’s Talent is a Strength. There is an obsession in this country with education. Driving from my home to the airport, I see two to three DOZEN billboard adds for bachelors and masters programs. The kids that score highest on standardized scholastic exams are featured in front-page newspaper articles. It then extends into the professional world. An amazing 2010 book called The India Way highlights the dramatic difference between American and India with regards to talent. In America, companies find talent, but Indian companies develop talent. When I joined large companies like Bell Atlantic or Lockheed Martin as a young engineer, my orientation took 2-3 days. Here in India a new hire can spend up to 6 weeks in skills development training. But it doesn’t end there. Most large firms have a “learning & development” organization that hosts dozens of training programs at a time, which employees are required to take as part of their annual appraisal process. What that means is engineers in India are hungry. They are eager to learn and try new things if you let them. By far and away, Indian teams leave my agile training even more energized and motivated than their US counterparts.

Infosys boasts the world's largest employee training center

India’s Talent is an Impediment. All that positive energy around engineering talent comes to screeching halt after a few years of professional experience. Over the last 30 years or so, the West has fostered the concept of the technical career track. For example, at Marriott headquarters in Washington DC, I met a really smart yet simple man who retired in 2009 as a life-long Cobol programmer with a happy family. In India however, that would be considered a wasted life. If you are still programming after 5 years of experience then something is wrong with you. You should have been promoted to the higher-paying and higher-prestigious management role, where you could then provide a better life for your children. I had one test manager tell me to my face, “Taking the role of an agile team leader is a demotion, and my career won’t be able to survive that.” Yes, there is talk of a technical career track in India, but it usually means getting promoted as an architect or a professor who has long since stopped programming and now tells other engineers what to do. Also, all that free technical training is a set of golden handcuffs. As a provider of IT certification training, I hear many questions along the lines of “Why should I invest in my own career advancement, when every company I’m interviewing is promising me similar training at no personal cost?” This all adds up to a dramatic gap between mid-level engineers and strong senior engineers like Robert Martin describes as the crux of software craftsmanship. Those engineers do exist, but you should expect that your Indian agile teams consist of many motivated, but relatively junior engineers.

Global IT infrastructure is an impediment. Without a doubt the largest shock I have experienced is the atrocious support that multi-national software teams receive from IT infrastructure departments.

  • Some of it is simply multi-national business. The parent company in the West has its network domain, and the subsidiary in India has its network domain. Because they are two different companies, the workstations and servers often are not directly accessible to each other without jumping through VPNs, firewalls, and removing servers.
  • Some of it is cost pressure. One of my clients does not even issue proper workstations to its engineers, but instead has them remote into Virtual Development Instances. Shared virtual development workstations will save a few thousand dollars on hardware costs, but it yields competition for system resources, and more network latency on my coding and testing.
  • Some of it is just mean. Another client of mine is doing iOS development, but the IT department only supports Windows PCs on the network. One would think simply to do a manual sync of the source code to their macs, using a USB pen drive. BUT, the USB ports on their company-issued PCs are disabled “for security reasons”. I won’t say the hack these guys used to get their work done, but let me tell you it would make any sysadmin shiver in his bones.

Regardless of the reasons, it all adds up to wasted productivity. I estimate that Network latency + system resource latency + manually doing what a computer should do = 30-40% loss of engineering productivity. I blame the Fortune 500 CIO for this. His executive mandate is to cut costs, without regard to the ten times great loss of productivity and employee satisfaction. This means if you are dealing with distributed teams, expect IT infrastructure to be your number one issue. Worse than the time zone. Worse than the culture differences.

Everyone is doing it. Another misperception in the west is that only a small syndicate of evil CIOs have shipped jobs overseas. Here in Bangalore, a casual drive down along outer-ring road road will reveal the following firms: IBM, Perot Systems, CapGemini, Tesco, SAP, GE Healthcare, Oracle, Cisco, Intel, Accenture, and Dell. And that’s just eastern Bangalore. Other cities in India feature firms ranging from John Deere (Pune) to Microsoft (Hyderabad). After trading stories with my colleagues, I have learned that a surprising plurality of Agile coaches have made at least one visit to India in their career.

Even India is doing it. One American colleague asked me over dinner, “Jesse how do you respond to the challenge that, as a business agility coach in India, you are an accomplice to India’s sucking technology jobs away from America?” I was stumped by the question at the time, but the more I see of global IT, the more complicated the picture has become. For example, all the top Indian outsourcers have a significant footprint in the US (Wipro has 14 offices across the US), and one of them is even headquartered in the New Jersey (Cognizant). The biggest shock came way back in 2004 when India’s largest Telecom, Bharti Airtel, “reverse outsourced” its IT to IBM for $700 million. But now, it’s getting even more complicated: Last year, Airtel hired the New York based IT giant again, this time to support the Telecom’s expansion into 16 African countries. During the 2012 election season, we will hear a lot of politicians calling for a ban on outsourcing. But doing so may actually have a domino effect on current jobs in their own districts.

I’ve got other observations lingering around in my brain, but these are the first I wanted to share. What about you? What differences have you seen between the Western and Eastern approach to IT work?

Bangalore India Talks About Scaling Scrum

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This week featured the latest gathering of Scrum prapractitioners in Bangalore. This free event drew a solid 50 participants for the second straight time, and featured some really smart technology workers. The group was about 50% developers, 25% testers, and 25% managers. I did get to do my standard presentation on Agile Contracts, but the broader theme for the day was “Scaling Scrum”. This was of great interest to me, since RippleRock is helping a large dotcom implement Scrum across two strategic pilot programs using 4 teams on 2 continents. Needless to say, I took copious notes below

Scaling Scrum

First off was Vibhu Srinivasa from Solutions IQ. People laughed out loud as he facilitated a team dynamics game. But what people came to hear were his points about using Agile techniques on really large projects:

  • Understand Why You’re Scaling – The point is not merely to have an official standard for managing work. The point is to create alignment across larger projects, to make sure people are on the same page about delivering on a business objective.
  • Understand What Scale Means – To help bring alignment to our own large group Vibhu offered this definition of large-scale agile projects: “A group of teams working together on a common product or project or portfolio”.
  • Well groomed backlog is required to scale Scrum. For a single team of 7 people, a poorly formed backlog will only impact that team. On a larger project of a dozen teams working on the same poor backlog of project work, then you’ve just scaled the associated pain and errors.
  • There are several ways to nest Scrum teams. In general you can have nested backlogs of increasing degrees of detail, but there needs to be a clear, singular owner of each product backlog.
  • Charter a Product Owner team, responsible to keep the backlog groomed and prioritized. In larger organizations, the Product Owner role can quickly get to be too much work for one person. Have relevant stakeholders meet as required, above and beyond any other meetings with the Scrum team.
  • Align the sprint schedules. Namely, it helps if everyone is working to the same deadline.
  • Use the Scrum-of-Scrums only to coordinate dependencies. The overhead associated with the Scrum-of-Scrums is best utilized less as a status meeting, and more of an impediment removal meeting.
  • Relentless Automation – Just scaling scrum management is not enough. You need continuous integration, low-cost regression testing, and  “touch free” deployment.
  • Rotate ScrumMasters – Spreads skill and awareness of Scrum and alleviates anxieties about career path.
  • Ambassador Pattern – Fly people to their distributed counterparts for key meetings or even for an entire sprint . This help preserve team dynamic,  when individuals return to their home base.

Vibhu Srinivasan


Globally Distributed Agile Teams

Then, Rini van Solingen. the CTO of iSense Prowareness, joined the group over skype. He started off with describing the “30 meters principle”: When teams are distributed more than 30 meters apart, the communication frequency drops to near zero. So, it doesn’t matter if your 3 time zones away or 3 miles away, the real limit is 30 meters.

This is a bit of an obsession for Rini, who is working a research project at TUDelft called “Creating the virtual 30 meters”. In this research, he has found some best practices:

  1. If a single roof is possible, do it! Don’t distribute if it’s not absolutely necessary.
  2. First, deploy Scrum locally and effectively before working distributed.
  3. Assign Scrum roles explicitly. The Product Owner and proxy roles becomes even more critical.
  4. One team in one rhythm. Staff your regional teams with people from all other locations. This is the “ambassador pattern” described above.
  5. Meet. Teams are not built by themselves. You need to actively establish relationships by traveling to each other’s sites.
  6. Impediment removal and retrospectives are even more crucial. In fact, meet collectively for retrospectives (see previous item).
  7. Work at the customer location at least between 10-20% of the time.
  8. Personal mindset is crucial: “what did *I* do wrong? what can *I* do different? how can *I* help?”.
  9. Don’t focus on tools: discussion and interaction are more important.
  10. However, communication and awareness don’t happen automatically. Here, tools can help, but only if implemented with the right purpose in mind.
  11. Fail fast: improve empirically. Both success and failures are sources for learning.


Open Conversations

The day wrapped up with an open space session. A number of topics were suggested, but the top two were two key topics:



  • Estimation: In this conversation, there was a lot of discussion about the expectations around estimates. Managers expect your estimates to be internally consistent, when in reality they aren’t. They also expect your actuals to match those estimates exactly, but in reality they were really just estimates. One suggestion was to begin using the word “forecast” instead of “estimate”. Doing so may emphasize the fact that the numbers are rigorous, but not iron clad.
  • Careers. Here, there was concern about the impact Agile roles and responsibilities have on your career. For example, if a developer takes the risk of helping lower-paid testers learn code-based automation, will that make him less needed? If a BA takes the risk of not writing all the details for all the requirements up front, how will her skill be judged? If we take the risk to move in the professional direction of Agile skills, is there a job market for those skills? The answers are not easy. If you work for bad managers, then they may punish you for doing the right thing. But then again, they’re probably already doing that. And really, the your career should not be based on a choice between Agile jobs or non-Agile jobs. Your career should be based on what makes you and your team most successful.


It was an eventful day. iSense does a really good job of organizing this. I look forward to the next one at the end of September.

Scrum Gets Going In Bangalore

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This past Sunday, May 31, 2010 saw the kickoff event for the Scrum Bangalore user group (photos available here). It was a 6-hour mini-conference that featured 2 speakers, and open-space, networking, and several prizes. Also in attendance were the Agile Bangalore user group, an online community led by Vinay Krishna.

Rahul Sah Kicks Off The Event

Scrum Bangalore is the product of Rahul Sah of the Dutch company iSense Prowareness. He started the event by setting a vision: there is a huge gap between the demand and the support for Scrum in Bangalore. He said that he was charged by Jeff Sutherland to start something, when it was observed that the most Google searches for “Scrum” originate in Bangalore, more than anywhere else in the world. Before this month, there were no formal user groups supporting the local Agile practitioner community in Bangalore; now there are two.




Pete Deemer Wows the Crowd.

The headliner was long-time South Asian Scrum trainer, Pete Deemer. He shared with us his 19 keys to successful agile adoption. It was a great talk with lots of energy and insights. At the end of the talk, he amazed the group with several giveaways, including a copy of Mike Cohn’s latest book for *everyone*. A very generous gesture indeed. 




The “Amriki Gaura” Gives it a Go

In the afternoon, I got up and introduced myself to the crowd, sharing my story of starting an Agile consultancy in India. I then facilitated a group discussion about how to overcome key challenges with Agile Adoption. We used the “12 Key Objections to Change” from the NY Times bestseller Switch (a great book I will discuss later). Both Pete and the group offered some excellent points:

  • Change is like a rebirth
  • Many agile teams are technically proficient, but behaviorally are still stuck
  • Driving in Bangalore is the essence of a self-organized system
  • Scrum is a paradox: we offer specific guidance on success, but must encourage the team to choose its own direction


Agile India Moves Forward.

Afterwards, I had some drinks with the new leadership team of the Agile Software Community of India (ASCI). We talked about the 2010 spike of activity in India around Agile projects, such as:

  • Agile Coaches camp in Goa earlier this year
  • Launching of 2 user groups in Bangalore
  • Four (4) scrum trainers offering classes in India, instead of Pete Deemer being the only one
  • The forthcoming announcement of the Scrum Day India event in August

It is an exciting time to be a part of this community. And I’m looking forward to an eventful remainder of 2010.

QUESTION: What other signs of increased interest & momentum around Agile engineering or Agile project management are you seeing in India ?


The 19 Keys to Successful Agile Projects

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This past Sunday saw the kickoff of the Scrum Bangalore User Group in Bangalore, India (more on that later). At the meeting, Scrum expert Pete Deemer gave us these 19 nuggets of wisdom from his many years as an Agile coach for organizations across the world.

  1. Do it for the right reasons: Like Harry Potter, when evil wizards use good magic for evil purposes, they get destroyed.
  2. Start with teams that want to try it: It’s counter-intiutive, but don’t force a pilot effort onto resistors. Have the teams pick themselves. Then, set their expectations: “Are you sure you want to try it? It’s really dangerous. You can try it, but only for 1 sprint”.
  3. Set realistic expectations for Scrum: Don’t go in saying, “Scrum will save our disaster project”. Force a project restart & give the team 3-5 sprints of breathing room. That’s how long it takes to get to all cylinders/cruise control.
  4. Call it a pilot program for as long as possible: People assume a pilot is messy, and nor will a pilot threaten their long term career.
  5. Change is scary to many people: Humans aspire, in an unfriendly world, to protect ourselves with some stability and predictability. Introduce your changes gently: “Scrum may not be right for us, but we won’t know until we’v tried it. So let’s do it all-in, correctly, for 1 sprint. Did we see any benefit? If so, let’s do it one more sprint. It’s one way of working. It’s not the final way of working, but it might help us get a little bit better”
  6. Patience is a virtue: - Start with 1 team and grow gradually from there. You don’t want 20 teams all struggling with the same issue we’ve yet to figure out.  Instead, it’s better to have one trailblazer fix that issue so others don’t have to.
  7. Find the Scrum middle path: In some ways, my job is a purist advocating the dramatic change, speaking hard truth, but then encouraging teams to tailor the practices to their situation. Be careful though; many organizations respond to the pain of change by diluting the change.
  8. Scrum is hard: it surfaces your nasty, accumulated junk. If you’re not prepared to deal with the issues that Scrum reveals, then it will be very hard to continue.
  9. Get experienced help: Consultants are not afraid of getting sacked, nor do they have a departmental agenda.


  1. Get high quality training: Often, adoption failures are associated with the initial training provided by someone who was told to read a book over the weekend. Better to send 1 person to really good training, than to send 20 people to bad training.
  2. Your enemy is your friend: Spend the most time with the people that like Scrum the least. Put your chief resistors on the Scrum steering committee. If they’re not engaged, they’ll miss how it works, and feel marginalized.  Also, those resistors will help you understand the key roadblocks to successful adoption.
  3. Be prepared to use Guerilla tactics: Namely, if management won’t solve your problems, sometimes you solve them yourself. One example: get your own screwdriver and change the cubicles over the weekend.
  4. Find your guardian angels: You need senior managers who “get it”. When you need to bend a corporate rule or special budget funding, your guardian angel. Indeed, many executives are eager to try an Agile approach, because they’ve worked on so many project train wrecks over the years.
  5. Make good information more accessible than bad information: There is a ton of bad information on the internet about what an Agile approach is or isn’t. Establish a steady flow of good information with email updates, brown-gab lunches, staff meeting talks.
  6. Measure the results early and often: Publicize the good and the bad results. Have both business and technical metrics. Use surveys to measure both the customer’s satisfaction and the team’s satisfaction.
  7. The urge to tinker is great: To illustrate the difference between tailoring and compromise, Pete described a game of “CricketBut”. We play Cricket, but instead of a pitch, we’ll use my living room. Instead of a wicket, we’ll use my dog. Instead of a ball, we’ll use a brick. Instead of a bat, we’ll use my head. After a few overs, you will have bloodshed, just like at the office.
  8. Choose your tools carefully: Don’t ask “which tool should we use”, but ask “What problem are we trying to solve that makes us think we need some software tool?”
  9. Don’t stop with just the members of the Scrum team: Scrum is an organization framework. Often a team can be successful on a localized level, but the organization is stuck in bad habits and the success is not fully realized. You as a team might be able to deliver results, but if it doesn’t get out to the end customer, who cares?
  10. Scrum will always be messy: The Agile movement is fundamentally about people and what they do. If people aren’t perfect, then our projects will never be perfect either. You will always have conflict, mistakes, and challenges. Simply ask yourself, “is it better than it was last month”.

It was a lively talk, that yielded some good points. Pete has a witty energy about him that made the talk even more enjoyable.

QUESTION: what have you seen to be the keys to successful Agile projects?

I’m Opening an Offshore Agile Shop in India

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Okay gang, some big news here: I’m teaming up with the gang at Ripple Rock to start an Agile consultancy in Bangalore, India.

Fewell Family in India

The Dream
Many of you know that I married into a first-generation family from India. Well, shortly after we started having children, we started wondering out loud:

“What if we spent a couple years abroad, expose the kids to their grandparent’s heritage, maybe help them pick up the language? What if we then come back to the U.S. in time for the oldest to start high-school, and he’s already set up as a global citizen?”

After 10 years of marriage and 3 kids, we finally made it to India…and we fell in love. Since then, we started getting gradually more intentional about making it happen. We did some research and some praying, and came down to this: we need a stable pipeline of work in India before we can make the move.

The Deal
Earlier this year, I was networking with other Agile Project Management people at the 2010 Scrum Gathering in Orlando. While there, I met Colin Bird and Tom Reinsel from Ripple Rock. We discovered we both knew similar people, so I shared with them the dream. Colin looked at me with a stunned expression:

“Really? I have a client that needs boots on the ground in Bangalore ASAP. If you’re serious, then let’s talk.”

We started talking and came to the conviction that this made sense on so many levels: We had a client need, a corporate vision, and a collective family dream that all pointed to India. As a result, we decided that I would begin building a fully operational Ripple Rock office in Bangalore, offering two key services:

  • Offshore Software Process Improvement: If you’re a large Global 100 that moved your IT operations offshore, and it’s not going as smoothly as you want, send me an email.
  • Agile coaching, training, and certification for professionals across South Asia: If you are a South Asian professional in the technology field, and you’ve of Agile Engineering or Agile Project Management, but have not yet been able to get access to good resources, send me an email.

The official press release was posted minutes ago: “RippleRock recruits PMI Agile Community Founder to launch India Practice”

The Transition

Jesse Fewell moves to Ripple Rock

On one hand, this is obviously very exciting. On the other hand, it means a bittersweet departure from Excella Consulting, and the team of a very talented group Agile practitioners there. I’ve been at Excella for 4 years, and have grown immeasurably as a direct result of their corporate culture. If there’s one company in Washington DC that exhibits the virtues of Dan Pink’s “autonomy, mastery, purpose”, it’s Excella. I love the people there, and I’m going to miss them tremendously.

Also, I’m going to miss DC. Seema and I have built incredibly strong friendships here in Washington DC over the last 15 years. We plan to live abroad for only a few years, but going so long without those friendships will be tough.

Still, some things will remain the same. I will be as active in the PMI Agile Community as ever, if not more so. I will also continue to promote Agile Project Management at conferences across the world. But I’ll be doing it from a completely different locale, which means new faces and new challenges.

It’s an exiting time, and I’ll be posting updates here early and often. I’m eager for you to join me in this new adventure…

Question: How many of you are based in Bangalore or familiar with commuting to India? What advice or tips to do you have.