lessons learned from five years in the dojo - part 1

Man sitting on a wooden dock on a lake with mountains reflected in the lake’s surface.

Having helped organizations with Dojos for five years, we felt it was the right time to share what we’ve learned so far. In this series of blog posts, we want to offer you our “best tips” for starting your own Dojo or for improving your existing Dojo. We’ll wrap up with our thoughts on where Dojos are going next.

Without further ado…

Dojos Need to Support a Strategy

We talk with many organizations excited about starting a Dojo. The concept of teams learning new skills while building products is enticing and practical. Excitement is great, but Dojos work best when there is an overarching strategy the Dojos serve. Without a strategy, Dojos can flounder.

For example, an organization invested in moving from a project model to a product model would leverage that desired outcome as their strategy for the Dojo to support. The strategy frames the purpose for the Dojo. The Dojo is there to help teams understand how to work in a product model and learn the skills they don’t already have required to work in that model.

Another strategy we often see is leveraging Dojos to adopt DevOps. While this is more narrow than we recommend, it is still a nice frame for what purpose the Dojo is serving. (We prefer to see Dojos address as much of the product development value stream as possible. We’ll cover this in our next post in this series.) A “DevOps Dojo” would focus on helping teams learn how to build continuous delivery pipelines and automate infrastructure setup while foregoing other skills like product discovery practices.

A third example is using a Dojo to help the organization migrate applications to the cloud. This is an interesting start, but for the Dojo to truly be effective the strategy should be clear on how teams should migrate their applications. Will teams refactor applications for the cloud, move them in a “lift and shift” model, or follow a “re-platforming” model? If it’s a combination of those approaches, what are the criteria for determining which migration model for an individual application? And what is more important - having teams leave the Dojo with deep knowledge of the cloud or getting their applications into the cloud with sufficient knowledge of how to support them? Knowing the answer to these questions is critical if you want to use your Dojo to drive toward specific outcomes.

Starting from a sound strategy is key. It provides the following benefits:

  • Teams understand the value of why they should participate in the Dojo

  • The skills and topics taught in the Dojo are well-defined

  • Growing coaches is easier because coaches can focus on specific skills

  • Measuring the success and impact of the Dojo is easier since you can  measure outcomes against the strategy

The strategy your Dojo supports should be clear and easily stated. If the strategy is nebulous or complicated, your Dojo will struggle to provide value to the rest of the organization.

What strategy is your Dojo supporting?

Be on the lookout for our next topic in this series: why Dojos need to address the entire value stream.