Skip to main content

Why Investing in Dojos Won’t Transform Your Organization

Reading: Why Investing in Dojos Won’t Transform Your Organization
Why Investing in Dojos Won’t Transform Your Organization

This title probably attracted two types of people – people who are wondering what the role of the ancient practice of martial arts has in organizational change management. No, this is not about conflict resolution.

The second group of people are those involved in change management, and already understand a Dojo is an immersive learning environment that focuses on upskilling teams and producing products.

Dojos are successful because they create localized clearings and conditions that limit the broader organization’s influence and focus on maximizing learning. These learning environments take various formats, but most face similar challenges that Dojos alone cannot overcome—challenges that stop Transformation.

A little over a year ago, I executed a few pilot Dojos for a F500 company. In the first Dojo pilot, our goal was to build a simple RESTful API (Application Program Interface) using Extreme Programming techniques (Test Driven Development, Test Automation, Pairing, Continuous Integration, Delivery, and Deployment, etc.) to ship production software in 3 weeks with a team of new college graduates.

The outcome of the Dojo was achieved, and the following challenges were discovered: 

  1. Although the code was written in 5 working days, the overhead of the organization added 25+ days to manage the bureaucracy and orchestration of deployment. This extreme wait discouraged the developers on the team, causing some to vocally lobby for a new employer.
  2. The Dojo created most of the clearings and conditions for learning by physically secluding these individuals from the greater organization and its culture and practices. The Dojo participants forecasted that after the DOJO was completed, the team members would re-enter the organization that did not promote Extreme Programming, and this learning experience would be a waste. From their viewpoint, nothing had really changed for their careers, and now they that knew a better way, the ignorance of not knowing was gone. To anyone, this would be frustrating!
  3. Scaling Dojos without first fixing the organization would be a waste.

(Editor’s note: this feedback was shared with the Dojo sponsor, and the Dojo alumni found new roles with actual XP teams)

Dojos are locally successful due to their ability to provide the localized clearings and conditions for great advancement to occur. In essence, senior leaders give Dojos permission to break the rules, but only break the rules within the Dojo. This “hall pass” excites everyone and paints a picture of what it could be like – if only the hall pass could be extended to the entire organization. In actuality, when the Dojo is complete, most people return to reality, and the skills learned within the Dojo deteriorate. Consequently, this model of Dojos provides hope but does not create long-lasting change.

Outside the Dojo, the challenges of adopting Agility (orchestration, dependencies, governance incompatibility, company culture and practices, and every other challenge that existed before the Dojo) waits to return and plague the participants. At best, Dojo alumni will continue the struggle within the organization, but more concerning, the ex- Dojo members understand what is possible and leave the company for better employment opportunities using those shiny new skills. Either outcome has the same net impact: the organization reverts to its previous behaviors.

At conferences and in popular books, blogs, and chat rooms, the solution is to run more—and better—Dojos, ignoring the organizational problems, to hopefully solve those organizational challenges of dependencies, orchestration, and culture. The common response to these challenges is to double down on the Dojo. It is couched in this common message:

“If only people in my organization would send more teams to my Dojo, we could change this company, it would be an IT revolution!” 

This message is shared in board rooms, and with leadership with confidence. Could it be because those people and companies promoting, running, and delivering the Dojos gain more influence and funding? Or is it because the outcome of long-lasting change has been surrendered? Or is it a simple case of misunderstanding of the investment required to make transformative change? 

Regardless of intent, where are the metrics that tie the economic investment in the Dojo to the value delivered by the Dojo aligned to the company’s strategy?

All of these questions create back channels on message boards, at restaurants during conferences, and late-night phone calls where leaders are still concerned about the lack of progress that Dojos are achieving and the measurable value that is being added back to the organization.

To overcome the challenges such as orchestration, dependencies, culture, and any other item that impedes flow, the clearings and conditions that exist within the localized Dojo must be established at a large enough scale to promote permanent lasting change. Anything short of this remediation will allow those impediments to lurk and ensnare lasting change.

Scaling clearings and conditions is a top-down, structured approach. It is not the glamorized grassroots movement mentioned in corporate fiction. Working harder, having secret meetings, while ignoring the fact that your company’s leadership has not aligned the company’s systems and processes to customers and markets will result in the status quo being maintained.

Instead, to fix your company, clear outcomes must be established by leadership and a systematic structure of change management must be empowered, and the Dojo can then be used to achieve these outcomes. 

In closing I ask; “How do you scale the Dojo’s hall pass to your entire organization?” and I remind everyone, “Hope is not a plan, your company isn’t a fiction project – what happens if you don’t get it right?”.

For more information on our unique perspective to systematic large-scale change management using Dojos, check out these articles: 

Want to Change Culture? Have a Plan.

Increasing Enterprise-Level Predictability with Agile

Agile Transformation Explained 

Next The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Agile Transformation: Begin With The End In Mind

Comment (1)

  1. Andrew Fuqua

    Nice analysis, Joel!


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *