The Crucible - Heating up teams with an agile coding dojo.

An Agile coding dojo is a technique that can be used to create high-pressure software development situations at the team or project.  That pressure exposes weaknesses and forces change and adaptations in short iterations. The idea is to change the game and accelerate the lifecycle to force behavioral change. It is a crucible where you either learn to deal with transparency and change your model or you fail. 

A coding dojo is a local optimization. The crucible operates at the team or set of teams level. It creates individual team cohesion and learning. It keeps the overall organization the same. It can only be the crucible for organizational change if more strategic and systemic re-forging is done above the effort.

I was once involved in a 6-week Agile coding dojo where we compressed our standard 2-week iterations into 2.5-day iterations. All the work of a Scrum-style sprint in 2.5 days. Teams had to break down their work into smaller chunks and become fast at estimating, planning, and creating.   It was the best of times and the worst of times.  

2/3 of the teams crushed it. They adjusted to the accelerated time frame for planning execution, always had something to demonstrate, and gracefully handled frank feedback cycles. The teams continually adapted the short iteration feedback into their processes. 

1/3 of the teams deliberately failed to understand the purpose of the exercise and accept the feedback. They continued to operate as they had in the past and effectively failed an exercise, which was about rapid failure and adjustment. Their management hadn't bought in and killed any future efforts effectively protecting the 1/3 from change.

The Martial Arts view of the dojo

A dojo is a crucible designed to uncover your weaknesses so that you can train through them.

You can’t get weird around your weaknesses and failures, or try to avoid them, you have to actively seek them out!

Frank appraisals and short failure cycles are expected.

Other Concerns

The crunch time dojo experience may be better or worse for marginalized or neurodivergent workers.  They may not want a high level of interaction or they may thrive under pressure with well-understood processes and goals. This should be monitored during the dojo.

Thinking about the idea of a dojo

Other Approaches

SAFe agile has a methodology for transitioning from project to product and for changing the way teams think and operate.  It is supposed to operate across the entire organization but I've only seen it be taken seriously at the individual program level.  Even then it doesn't seem to work unless enough heat is applied for enough time. That year you budgeted for the SAFe transition isn't going cut it.


Revision History

Created 2023 11


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