A Distributed Scrum Challenge: How We Turned Certain Failure into Success

What happens to a software product when its development is moved from Seattle to Chennai, its team is cut down to four people, and it is given to a first-time product owner located on the other side of the world from his team? Against the odds, and using Scrum and Agility, Nithya Thirugnanasundaram and Caleb Brown not only rose to the challenge, they doubled product sales and increased the renewal rate from 47% to 92%. In this experience report, you will learn the specific practices Nithya and Caleb used to overcome challenges such as communication, quality, tasking, interruptions – and never having met face-to-face. You will leave understanding the Agile practices that led this team to success, including having a strong commitment to practicing Scrum, being able to see completed work, and reviewing the UATs, as well as the vital roles played by the Scrum Master and Product Owner. 

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Outline/structure of the Session

The session will be divided into 3 parts:

10mins  - Introduction - The first part will cover a background of the team, how it moved from Seattle to Chennai and changed in the process.

10mins  - Key Challenges - The second part will cover the challenges that are faced with distributed agile by the team, and on the other side of the coin the challenges for the PO. Challenges like Communication, Task Splitting & Dependencies, Estimation, Changing Requirements, and Sprint Interruptions. On top of simply having to learn Scrum.

25mins  - Proven Practices - The third part will cover how the team overthrew the challenges and improved the productivity and the sales of their product with dedication to Scrum and XP principles and practices, such as Test Driven Development (TDD), Automation, Continuous Integration (CI), Development Spikes, and more then can easily be listed here.

Learning Outcome

You will leave understanding the Agile practices that led this team to our success, including having a strong commitment to practicing Scrum, being able to demonstrate completed work, and practices that cut through the communication barrier of working from opposite sides of the world. As well as the vital roles played by the Scrum Master and Product Owner. 

Target Audience

Product Owners, Scrum Masters, Business Analysts, any Agile Practitioners

schedule Submitted 5 years ago

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  • Ravi Kumar
    By Ravi Kumar  ~  5 years ago
    reply Reply

    Hi Caleb/Nithya,

    The topic is quite interesting and given that it is a experience report I would suggest to reduce it to 20 min. Vast majority of what is being discussed in the experience report is quite generic but I am sure the audience would love to hear more concrete examples in the following areas

    1. Frequent code check-ins and no code ownership.  These helped promote communication between team members, reduced the code merge problems and also helped the team find regressions quicker. [ Point 4 from your experience report ]

    2. Automation for every piece of functionality. [ Point 8 from your experienc report ]

    3. Quality over quantity. This is the most important practice that made ScrumWorks Pro a defect-free product. [Point 9 in your experience report ]


    Looking forward to hear back from you with the cahnges/updates. 





    • Caleb Brown
      By Caleb Brown  ~  5 years ago
      reply Reply

      Thanks for the suggestions Ravi, looks like we missed out this year. I'll certainly be thinking about what we might submit next year and refining it throughout the year to deliver something tighter and more on point.

  • Caleb Brown
    By Caleb Brown  ~  5 years ago
    reply Reply

    I've added some additional information. The timing of this submission was a bit odd for me due to a holiday I had previously scheduled; I apologize for not having these things up sooner.

    The slide deck I uploaded is just an example of a slide deck I will usually put together for presentations. I tend to be very slide light in presentations, if they aren't there to illustrate a point they shouldn't be there at all. The deck for this class is not yet completed, it will follow the Experience Report I added in the links closely however.

    I've also added one of the few recordings of myself that I could find. I am typically teaching classes or coaching and do little that would be recorded.

    To Rahul and Raja:

    Have a look at this draft of the Experience Report in the link. I think it should start to address what you are looking for. I don't disagree that this needs to shape up at all. I would love feedback on the report itself. Part of it was written by me, and part by Nithya. While I am the more experienced presenter here I really do feel that Nithya may be the star of the talk. My message is really toward the Product Owners and Project Managers in the US (as that is my experience), but Nithya has some extremely valuable things to say about what works and how it can work in India. I think you should see that come out in the Report above.

    To Srinath:

    The report goes into this a little bit. This particular project has only ever had one team. Part of what I have loved about this project is that even with our team being so "damaged" as the perception I see in America is of such a move, we have still succeeded surprisingly well.

    In regard to scale: That's an interesting one. My "day job" if you will is addressing that particular question, usually as it pertains to selling Collabnet Teamforge and ScrumWorks. In the past 5 years the bulk of my work related to Agile Coaching and Training has actually been with Mid to Enterprise size companies that are distributed. That's typically why they come to us. When I was made a Product Owner my experience was almost entirely around helping apply Agile ideals to that type of environment, so I was extremely pleased to see that the ideas and values that I knew worked on a large scale worked at my level also.

    As much as I would like to go into details about what I do with our customers in regard to coaching, training, and applying Agile thought to what they do, I just found I couldn’t, and not just because of the disclosure issues. I couldn’t really give you an experiential report on that because really, it wasn’t me doing it day to day. I speak with many organizations, usually at least 1-2 years into their agile adoption, and I share what I know works between them, but still I don’t actually practice with them.

    In regard to the Agenda outlined there, I believe that is incorrect and I will adjust it. The bulk of the time will be spent talking about overcoming the challenges. The challenges aren't special or unique, I don't believe that much time will be spent relating them as the audience should relate to them quickly.

  • Srinath Chandrasekharan
    By Srinath Chandrasekharan  ~  5 years ago
    reply Reply


    In addition to Raja's ad Rahul's  comments, I would also like to know if you have been able to use this experience across other projects. You have mentioned a team of 4 ( after offshoring). I feel that this size is fairly small and some things would be easy to implement, hence my question.


    Also from a time perspective, you are spending most time on the challenges (about 70% ) and only 30% on how you have overcome those. Would you be able to strengthen the last section with more examples and numbers ?




  • Raja Bavani
    By Raja Bavani  ~  5 years ago
    reply Reply

    Dear Caleb,

    This is a good topic. However it needs to shape up.  From the 'learning outcome' section of your proposal, I preceive that this session is about agile practices, strong commitment to Scrum and Scrum roles (Product Owner, Scrum Master for example).   If there is more to it, please add.

    Please enhance your proposal with additional information such as links to slidedeck, related blog posts/articles, etc.  Here is a sample proposal http://confengine.com/proposal/1/sample-proposal-product-discovery-workshop  - this will give you an idea of what is needed.

    Also, I think it is a good idea to bring in the 'pull factor' by providing some more details such as number of projects, team size, technology, distribution of teams etc. That will help readers understand the number of project or case studies behind this experience report.  Reviwers will find it easy to evaluate and shortlist.  

    Any questions, please feel free to let us know.



  • Rahul Sawhney
    By Rahul Sawhney  ~  5 years ago
    reply Reply

    Hi Caleb,

    Thanks for submitting your proposal. I have these questions:

    Can you add details on specific practices that you used to turn around the situation? Do you have reference slides (draft okay) or related material that you might have presneted in the past at other conferences / events? 30 minutes on introduction +key challenges seems to be too loing, have you considered cuttingthe session duration short?