3 Keys to a Successful Dojo

Dojos have gained popularity in recent years, especially as an effective alternative to embedded coaching and classical classroom training for businesses looking to scale agility, product thinking, and DevOps. Dojos foster the use of collaborative problem solving through rapid learning cycles, providing teams the chance to strengthen learned practices in the context of their actual work.

Now, a growing number of companies have implemented one or more Dojos on their premises, including 33 of the Fortune 500.

For a deep dive into the Dojo concept, why it’s effective, and whether you should implement it in your organization, make sure to check out this primer.

What are the Key Aspects of a Successful Dojo?

    • Leadership Involvement

Dojos are not meant to be delivery machines; instead, the emphasis is on learning, which is central to the Dojo approach. As such, leadership buy-in and support are significant to long-term success. Effective leaders ask questions, engage and challenge coaches, work to remove obstacles and distractions, and genuinely care about their people and investment, making the Dojo experience worthwhile for their teams. Top-down from leadership to each team member, there needs to be a solid commitment to supporting the Dojo process long term.

In all of our Dojo client engagements, we collaborate extensively with the organization’s leaders to make sure they can support the teams coming out of the Dojo and know what changes they could expect as the teams applied what they learned. Leadership must work with their managers and teams to prioritize learning over delivery while teams engage in their dojo challenge.

    • Coachability of Teams

Often in Dojos, we are limited by leadership buy-in and by how coachable the teams are. How seriously do they take their challenge? Are they leaning into it versus having it pushed on them? Are team members open to experimentation, and are they willing to embrace learning from failure? Part of the success of Dojos is carefully selecting the team that undergoes a Dojo challenge, looking at their qualifications, background, and experience to ensure that it matches and aligns with the organization’s goals for the Dojo. Because Dojos require high collaboration and commitment, team willingness is critical.

In one of Cprime’s client engagements at a large mortgage company, Cprime coaches saw impressive quantifiable improvement from their Dojo program (25% reduction in cycle times) and noticeable quality of team life results (increased camaraderie and morale). After this particular company underwent many iterations of teams going through a Dojo, one team member expressed, “we went into the Dojo as a team, but we came out as a family.”

    • High-Quality Coaches

Dojos democratize knowledge and skills because teams get the opportunity to apply what they’re learning while being guided by Dojo coaches. As such, a Dojo experience requires coaches experienced in product, agile workflow, and engineering for teams to make the most out of their time together.

In traditional training, you may often see coaches with decades of experience in the subject matter and many certifications. While these “knowledge” coaches undoubtedly have a place, what is emphasized in a Dojo is technology, engineering, and product issues — real-world application and first-hand experience with good practices, patterns, and anti-patterns. This requires Dojo coaches to be hands-on, up to date on software development and programming, and comfortable with the social skills needed to work collaboratively with teams. Leadership qualities are necessary, along with a positive attitude as a humble learner. In a Dojo, coaching is action oriented. We’re fond of the mantra, “show, don’t tell.”

In one example, Cprime experts were tasked with bringing an organization’s relatively new internal coaches up to speed to eventually run Dojos in parallel with the programs we would be running. This could have been a challenge, but nearly all the internal coach candidates were highly motivated, self-managed, and enthusiastic learners, allowing for their long-term success as coaches. Additionally, the internal coaches were consistently brought up to speed on the latest offerings to continually add value.

What’s Next?

Cprime has been using immersive learning techniques for the past ten years as a way of allowing teams to focus on a shared goal in a place that removes the day-to-day distractions of their typical work environment.

Agile Product Management Dojos

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David Laribee, Head of Dojos
David Laribee, Head of Dojos