October 15-20, 2007
[warning on: this is a long post -- I was without email access most of last week]
I am writing this on Saturday evening in my hotel room (it will not go out until Monday evening when I get back on the grid in Kyiv). A loud bang just went off outside my hotel room, and on the highway below two cars were in an accident and traffic is starting to snarl.
What a week it has been for me. As usual, I have learned a lot and am not sorry for crossing so many miles to do learn it.
Last Monday morning, just after dropping off my family in Washington, DC, from a two week holiday in Spain (Madrid, Valencia, and a little fishing village on the beach) I boarded a plane up to New York City, camped out there most of the day (posted to my blog!), and hopped onto a flight to Kyiv, Ukraine. Seven time zones and almost 5,000 miles away.
Arriving in Kyiv on Tuesday morning (and clearing customs/immigration with an entry/exit card, stamped three times), I was met by a gentleman I met on my previous trip named Alexey. He was nice enough to pick me up at the airport and we spent the morning running a few errands and then picked up his wife and dog to head out to his parents house outside the city.
It would turn into a great day of rest, great food, and conversation (not all about agile and scrum lol). While he was planning on going with me in the morning to Moscow, unfortunately he was sick and decided not to go. He was gracious enough to drop me off early Wednesday morning to the airport in Kyiv, and is leaving for a holiday so I will not see him in Kyiv this week.
On the flight to Moscow, I noticed some white stuff on the ground. Snow. Already. Nice :).
I had a great seat on the airplane — I got a free massage from the two year old little Russian girl sitting behind me kicking the back of my chair. Ah. The little gifts in life. At least this flight was under two hours. I slipped my watch ahead one more hour (now +8 from home) and gathered my belongings to clear Russian customs and immigration.
Safety tip for those from the US going to Russia (and I am guessing some other countries too):
You cannot just hop on a plane with your passport and say, “Hi. I am here. I want to visit your country.”
That will not fly.
The good thing is I knew this before I left and had an official letter of invitation and all the legal visa paperwork completed (amazing what money can buy for you these days…. some people may consider it a “bribe” but I look at it more as a service to let me not have to deal with all the paperwork (and a trip to one of the Russian Embassies in the USA) — if you need a recommendation for a company that offers this service, let me know as they provided what they promised.
Coldness for this ex-Florida-Boy hit me like a ton of bricks. When I packed the bag for this trip, I did not anticipate the weather would change from “Fall” to “Winter” while we were in Spain for two weeks.
Live and learn I guess.
After clearing customs (by the way, the female customs officers here all [OK... "most"] look like they came directly from a Robert Palmer video of the ’80’s — except they had on cool looking military uniforms heh) and getting an entry and exit card (stamped three times), I was met by a Russian speaking driver of the company who hosted my visit here to teach the CSM Class.
At least I hoped it was him. It sounds like he was a little miffed because he was expecting “two” people (remember the guy that got sick from Kyiv?) but I showed him the address of the hotel and he grunted something, took one of my bags, and started sprinting to his car. Guess the cold was motivating to him too (smile). So I sat in the front seat and smiled while he negotiated the Moscow traffic for about a half hour ride to the hotel near the training center.
Think Manhattan traffic — a total CF (or “mess”) sometimes but everyone follows the rules. Apparently there was a world cup football game happening, something I did not know (read: stupid clueless American). I would learn more about this later, of course.
The traffic was not as bad as Kyiv (or Bogota, Colombia, for that matter), where they drive on the SIDE WALKS and you seriously need to keep your eyes out for some car careening around a corner while you are walking (another safety tip from your world trotting friend Mike!).
The driver drops me off at the hotel and puts my bags on the ground, gets in the car, and leaves.
Guess I will see the bill for that later (smile).
Upon checkin at the hotel (and pre-paying on the Visa — no American Express here!), I was told (or at least this is what I think she said) to take the elevator to the 16th floor where a chamber maid would give me my key. And I got a few papers and heard a bunch of stamping sounds happening in the background.
Wahoo… I thought…. Chamber Maid. Wondering if she would be as totally hot as the Customs and Immigration officers…..
That was not the case. Think grandma. Then think pissed-off grandma because apparently I got assigned a room she did not yet clean.
She yells something at me then takes me around the corner and points to a couch to wait.
I assume she means she is going to clean my room and I should wait.
I am good at waiting.
Two hours later, she comes back with my key. Sweating and breathing hard. Takes me to my room and I think she wants me to inspect the room. I do. It looks like a room.
She goes away.
I get inside and start unpacking. At about this time, one of the guys that will be helping me through this trip (Askhat) I exchange some text messages agreeing that he will pick me up for my talk at the local “Russian Agile” Users group that evening. Oh (smile). No problemo.
I have about an hour to rest and as I am resting (on the bed that is about 3 inches to short for my relatively short body in the first place) someone starts pounding on the door.
“Oh no, I screwed up something and they are coming for me!” I thought.
Just some guy humping in a TV to install in my room (did not even notice there was not one). After adjusting it to bring in all 10 stations (all in Russian, of course, with 4 of the ten being exactly the same!), he leaves. I know now there will be no TV for me on this trip — although some evenings it has been fun just seeing what is on there. It reminds me that a month away from the TV is not always a bad thing.
At 6:00 we meet down in the lobby and hop into a car to cross town to the Agile Users Group meeting. I am informed I am giving a talk on Agile Estimation and Planning (eh… I must have missed that email!) but no problem, this is something I can do with no problem. Also, apparently Russia is playing the Great British tonight in a football game (nobody thinks Russia will win) and it is contending with the time of my talk. O well. Whatever works.
About 28-30 people attended, and nobody was listening — or watching — the game as far as I could tell.
The talk went well (based on material from Mike Cohn, the guy that is THE go to person on that topic!) and people had many questions.
During the meeting, the Russians won the game.
So the trip home (err… back to the hotel) was filled with a bunch of [possibly drunk.... lets say "loud"]] people driving cars in the [freezing] rain.
I arrive back at the hotel and nod to my Chamber Maid on the 16th floor. I think my goal will be to at least make her smile. She checks off a box and three stamping sounds are made.
Not having any internet access, I start reading a book. A real book. Not technical bla bla. It is called, “The Lemon Tree” by Sandy Tolan. It is about an Arab, a Jew, and the heart of the Middle East (OK so that is the sub-title). By the time I am writing this to you, I have completed the book and learned a lot about “history” that has been happening throughout my life without me even really being aware of what was going on (just hearing the American version of sound byte news propaganda is not really enough). I am making it a point going forward to read more books like this about other parts of the world. Anyway…. it was a good reminder to turn off the TV (could not understand it anyway) and READ and not spend time on the computer or read geeky books.
Finally Wednesday morning comes and I walk to the training center (about a mile). Nice day for a stroll. Not. But, if you have ever seen the movie, “Office Space” with the beginning credits of the guy walking faster than the cars were moving — that was me here. So I smiled a lot while walking. Strange looks, but I am used to that!
At the training center, I dad to hand over my passport again, and three stamping sounds went off behind the desk and I was handed a visitor card for the day.
Humped it up the stairs to the training room and it was set up with all the chairs facing away from the projector screen. No big deal. We fixed the chairs. I knew it would change throughout the sessions anyway….
There would be 28 people in attendance for the next two days.
Suffice it to say the two days went great, and Moscow now has 28 new Certified ScrumMasters running around with their new credentials. I wonder how the marketing people will spin this in each of their companies. The people taking the workshop were great and all of them participated to their fullest extent. When working with a company or training session in another country (or language), I remind myself (and the attendees) that I need to speak s-l-o-w-l-y and allow them to do the exercises in whatever language their tables want to do them in (although debriefs are in English). It was not that hard here as everyone but me spoke Russian. In other places, I have taught classes with people in attendance (at one workshop) who spoke Russian, Ukrainian, Dutch, English, and others.
My good jokes and stories go over just as well — or as bad — as anywhere else. The one thing I did notice during this one is that this group of Russian students did not have a hard time at all with the “feedback” module of the workshop. Apparently, they are used to being very direct already but the exercise did help clarify some things for both them and me!
We concluded each day on time and people went away generally happy. With 28 people in the workshop, the dynamics are much different than with 16 or even 10 or less.
I have come to realize that this is acceptable to me.
Applying some of the agile techniques, I will inspect and adapt as needed to make the next workshop (in Kyiv Tuesday and Wednesday) even better based on the feedback from this group. This is something I have learned is extremely valuable for everyone involved.
I tell people if they have taken the CSM workshop from me (anytime), they are always welcome to request the latest and most up-to-date materials I am teaching. Not many people take me up on that offer; however, people are happy that I offer that.
Still with me?
Thank you (smile).
Today… Saturday… I met with Askhat (and another person) for most of the afternoon and they took me via the subway system here down to Red Square and the Kremlin. The subway — wow — deep; I mean take the deepest subway entry in DC or Boston and multiply that by at least three or four; it would suck having to huff it out of there if an escalator stopped working (remembering days like that In Boston and DC). I have pics and cool memories from the afternoon. Also… finally got away from the hotel food and had authentic Russian food…. no vodka though (just beer).
Unfortunately all the souvenirs they were selling could be found at many shops in the USA, so I decided that I would keep my load of stuff going home lighter.
So tonight (Saturday) I am writing you this and, based on how the weather here looks tomorrow, I will be writing some blog entries for the coming week. I got an email from Tony, our artist for the site, and he is unable to draw a new comic this week. So… I am going back tomorrow to do some write-ups on some of the older material and seeing if anything needs to be added or changed.
As you know by now, I usually do not run out of things to say.
And maybe I will start finishing the outline of my new book and start writing some sample chapters. Wahoo.
Hope all is well with you and I do hope this entry provided some type of value for you.
It is real world stuff from me as I go around the world talking to people about Implementing Scrum.
Oh, and I just looked out the window…. it seems like 5 more cars are now involved in the accident below. Lots of honking. No police cars. Time to find my headphones to sleep….