Lessons Learned From 5 Years in the Dojo - Part 2 - Focus on the Value Stream

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In our last post we discussed how Dojos require a sound overarching strategy. In this post we talk about why Dojos provide the most value when they address the whole value stream.

Dojos Need to Address the Whole Value Stream

What Do We Mean by Whole Value Stream?

Your company offers products and services that deliver value to your customers. How you deliver that value - from your initial product ideas through delivery of products that evolve from those ideas - that's the value stream. A value stream includes how you identify opportunities and problems, generate product ideas, develop and release those products, and ends with your customer receiving value from your product.

Here is how we view the value stream:

 How we see the value stream

How we see the value stream

Why Dojos Need to Address the Whole Value Stream

Several years ago we helped a large retailer start their Dojo. Initially, their Dojo was focused on helping teams learn DevOps practices. As we suspected going in, this focus was less than optimal. DevOps intentionally focuses on the subset of the value stream starting with code commit to product release. Focusing on improving that subset of the value stream often delivers significant gains, however, for many teams the biggest constraints and challenges exist upstream - before code commit.

The first teams that went through that Dojo improved how they built products, but for some teams the adoption and usage of their products was low. The primary constraint wasn’t their engineering skills - it was their lack of product knowledge.

We guided the organization on how to implement product discovery and product framing practices and started up-skilling teams in these practices in the Dojo. The practices helped teams vet product ideas before they invested in writing code. When they did write code, the contextual knowledge they had about the product improved design, architecture, and testing.

In addition to teaching specific product discovery and product framing practices, we coached the teams to adopt a “product thinking” mindset. We drove planning and design discussions with questions like “Does this get us closer to solving the root problem?” and “What else do we need to learn to solve the problem?”

Another situation we’ve run into was one where the delivery team was completely separated from the design team. Design was outsourced to a third party. Delivery team members could talk to the designers only every few weeks. Early in delivery, the team started raising questions about the design. They found gaps and inconsistencies. We challenged them to question whether or not they should continue delivering anything until these questions were resolved. Sadly, there was a lot of pressure on the delivery team to keep delivering. The constraints in their value stream had nothing to do with delivery.

Teams often come into the Dojo to improve their testing practices. This often involves automating test cases that are currently run manually. Teams sometimes get overwhelmed when learning to automate tests with a legacy codebase. The codebases often require complicated setup of test data and there are a large number of test permutations. We use product framing to help narrow the focus to find the most valuable tests to invest in automating. To do this, we need to understand the product in depth - again, we need to go upstream to get context.

Addressing the whole value stream is important. When we do Dojo readiness assessments with organizations this is one of the key aspects we explore before starting a Dojo. We need to be on the same page about what aspects of the value stream the Dojo will address and how we how we are measuring success for improving the value stream. For some organizations, the success of the Dojo might be based on improving the subset of the value stream limited to engineering skills, but this is usually not the case.

In our experience, the most successful and impactful Dojos address the whole value stream. Improvements have more impact and there is a direct connection between those improvements and the skills teams learn in the Dojo.

If your Dojo isn’t addressing the whole value stream, what can you do to help move it in that direction?

In the next post we’ll focus on the theme of learning over delivery.