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  • Writer's pictureJess Brock

One Year as a Dojo Coach

Before August 2019, I had never heard of a Dojo in an Agile setting. Up until that point, the only vague association I had of Dojo was a place where martial arts are practiced. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if that association was remotely correct.

Once I recognized that “Dojo” was appearing increasingly in Agile publications and job postings, my curiosity got the better of me and I began passively researching it.

It didn’t take long for my googling to lead me to Target’s Immersive Learning Dojo as they are credited for pioneering the Dojo concept inside of the Agile and app development space.

When I read that the Dojo approach intersected “delivering on current work” and “developing long-standing skills” I was very excited because I am particularly fond of the “learn by doing” and “mile in my shoes” ways of connecting with people.

I was about 9 years into my Agile career journey when I discovered the Dojo concept. At that point, I was starting to question Agile and my place anywhere near it. Not its foundations, but its feasibility.

Traditionally, Agile transformations and trainings involve consultants or internal coaches who come in to shake things up and throw out abstract concepts for people to nod at. The coaches do not feel the organization’s pain. The advice is not actionable. They speak from white papers that follow the happy path and not the real path.

I personally believe detached coaching is a major reason why Agile does not retain well. Agile is a mindset, not a singular thing you teach and leave. It takes practice and cultivating. It’s personal. And, as much as these Agile shortcomings give me job security, I simply cannot accept a role as a pusher of superficial Agile coaching. Journeys are not checkboxes.

It was evident that my mindset towards traditional Agile practices was soured at that point. Ironically, that sourness gave me the motivation to try Dojo coaching. After all, if this hands-on immersive style of coaching couldn’t fulfill me then nothing would.

I am fortunate to say that I was hired in September 2019 by a Fortune 50 to do just that: be a Dojo coach. Try it on for size and experience everything it has to offer. Here are ramblings on my first year as a Dojo coach:

  • The sacred energy of the Dojo space is like no other. So much potential lives there.

  • Spending 8-12 weeks with teams allows you to build real relationships and transform into a singular, tight entity. The trust that comes with that inspires people to speak up, try new things, take risks, and be authentic. It's magical.

  • It is an incredible feeling to see grown adults learn again. I’ve seen reclusive seasoned developers get excited.

  • I am a fan of Extreme Programming more than ever.

  • It turns out teams retain teachings more if they complete things from their backlog versus working on hello world stuff. Surprising, huh?

  • A protective Scrum Master is a good sign :-)

  • The Dojo is rooted in skill development. I truly believe that is the key component to developing a high performing team. Not metrics, not delivery. Once your team is developed and energized, everything else falls into place.

  • While there is some slow down when the Dojo ramps up, it almost always becomes a delivery accelerant.

  • Virtual Dojos are possible and there are some perks to them, too. For example, it puts everyone on the same playing field if you have remote team members. (Zoom and Mural/Miro become your best friends.)

  • The Dojo Consortium is a great group of Dojo believers who hail from many notable organizations. It’s worth checking out.

  • As a Dojo coach, the worst part of the Dojo is winding it down. You become so embedded into the team that it turns into a bittersweet type thing. I still haven’t found a way to make that part better.

I am thrilled to report that Dojo coaching has indeed reinvigorated my Agile spirit. And, its positive impact on people development fulfills me way more than I expected. The improved team performance and value delivery are cool, too!


Much gratitude and admiration to those people who introduced me to the “place of the way”. You know who you are :-)

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