Before we get going, I would like to acknowledge my cohorts group, Woody, Fred, Kevin, David, and Alfredo, for the continued conversations, experimentation, and learning we do together. As well as Joel and Dion from Dojoandco for trusting in me and working together.
A dojo for me is a place where teams experiment, learn, and create better habits. Habits are what lead to change in practices and changes in outcomes. These habits help to form the culture of your team and organization.
A while back, Woody Zuill introduced me to Joel Tosi and Dion Stewart who wrote the book on dojos. Literally. And their latest book is just now available. If you are interested at all with helping people in the software world, it would be a great idea to read both of these books. It would be an even better idea to reach out to Joel and Dion about the dojo experience for your teams and organization.
After a short conversation with Joel and Dion, and no doubt at all due to Woody’s referral, we talked about working together. After getting things lined up, Joel and I began dojo coaching together with a Dojoandco client. I am currently referring to this as me “falling up”.
As of today, I am referring to coaching in a dojo as helping teams to create better habits. There is quite a bit that comes from that. The habits of a team inform and decide the relationships, principles, practices, and tools of the team. There is quite a bit to unpack in all of this, but for this first dojo post, lets focus on just two habits.
Experimentation. When experimenting is continuous, and you can build off of the learning from those experiments, it is addictive.
Teams in the dojo set up experiments for domain understanding, product exploration(discovery), software teaming(mob programming), TDD, BDD, process improvement(Delivery), agile fundamentals, CI/CD, coding, and a wide range of other areas. This is all targeted towards team learning.
Continuous experimentation and learning as a team helps us share the burden of knowledge and expertise.
Repetition. Repetition is how we learn. I learned to play guitar at a very young age. I wasn’t able to afford lessons, but I had older brothers and their friends that would show me a few things. Then I would practice those things repetitively. In the beginning it was painful for my family to listen to me try to play through a song. But getting through a song was an accomplishment that I could hold onto. And the repeated practice led me to learn new ways of playing, improving on technique and feel.
This has been no different with teams in the dojo. The different skills teams want to learn are repeatedly practiced and refined. A quick example could be introducing story mapping to a team. The team practices this for a little while. The team will then build some piece of software, practicing things like software teaming(mob programming) and TDD. The team will return to the story map to refine the user experience. After a few repetitions of this, the concept of story mapping is not just understood, it is now something they do to help with product exploration(discovery).
There are more habits to share in future posts. And even some I have yet to discover I am sure. These are just the top two for me at the moment.
I have heard on many occasions the dojo being referred to as “slowing down to go faster”. I don’t agree with that statement as the purpose of the dojo. The focus is on experimentation and learning.
Success in a dojo has zero to do with how many things were delivered during dojo. Success is based on what learning goals we were able to accomplish. If the team was interested in learning how to define their domain, refine their process, or practice and learn new skills, experiments are set up to support that learning.
Since we want the learning to stick, people need to feel it is safe for them to take time to learn. The dojo provides this safety. Managers and team members alike need to be supportive and provide people that space for experimentation. A willingness to support mistakes as well as any success they experience.
The principles, skills, and practices that are learned in the dojo help boost teams towards further success. I define success in a dojo when a team continues making time for learning after the team leaves the dojo. When the team creates habits around collaborative experimentation and learning is when long term good stuff happens.
Dojo Coaching vs Agile Coaching
There is a realization that occurs when coaching in the dojo. And it is better to have this realization and understanding going in. When organizations or teams want to participate in a dojo, they are agreeing that everything is on the table. From the things they work on, to the way they work on it. People are going to collaboratively discover what works for them. And continue to try to make tomorrow better, and easier.
These teams may come into the dojo using a framework like Scrum or SAFe for example. But they are able to use this dojo time to discover and challenge these frameworks through experimentation.
I don’t think I will get too many arguments about what is considered “Agile Coaching” at this point in the industry. There are far too many “Agile Coaches” in the world serving the frameworks and not helping the people, teams, or organizations that they work with. Far too many “template coaches”.
Coaching in a dojo is different. I have had the great fortune of working with amazingly talented and gifted agile coaches. Dojo coaches are different. The dojo is typically 6 weeks, 6-8 hours a day. The relationships that develop amongst the team during a dojo is incredible. What has been surprising is the relationship that grows between the dojo coach and the team in such a short period of time.
Dojo coaches have very deep skill sets. They are able to challenge teams on their deepest held beliefs. And help teams escape the “this is the way we’ve always done it…” trap. Knowing when to nudge teams in a direction to capture valuable learning opportunities and challenging teams to make tomorrow better. Make decisions that make tomorrow easier.
Yes, there are agile coaches that can and do effectively do these things. I just don’t think we see them as much anymore. And the ones that I know at least, have begun referring to themselves as other things than “Agile Coaches”.
It’s been a long time since I have been a part of teams really working with agility and not battling what is now referred to as the “Agile Industrial Complex” with all of its bureaucratic stuff. Or being in organizations that want “roadmap plans” to agility. Or “standardized team sizes and practices for agile…”. Dojos don’t have time for that “your not doing agile right…” stuff.
Anyone looking to really help their teams and organization should take a good hard look at having teams experience the dojo. The people mentioned in this post are the absolute best. You can connect with them at dojoandco.
If you would like to hear a great conversation on the dojo experience and coaching for learning, Joel and Dion joined Chris Lucian and Austin Chadwick on an episode of the Mob Mentality Show. Dojos and Coaching for Learning Beyond Facilitation with Joel Tosi and Dion Stewart.
I am going to be writing more about dojos and dojo coaching. I will try to share as many concrete examples of things teams experiment and learn while in the dojo as I am able to share.