Agile Dojo - Part II - The 6 weeks of Dojo

Following up on the last post, this one will talk about the activities and events that actually took place during the Dojo and the way things shaped up!

Before going into further details, few things worth mentioning about the Odyssey Crew:
• Odyssey are not a conventional feature delivery team. We belong to the platform Reliability and Scalability tribe and work on things like Continuous Delivery, Standardizing the Local Dev Environments, Performance Monitoring etc. for which other development teams from MYOB are our customers. One of the challenges that the crew has been facing is the unpredictability associated with their work.

• The crew has been functioning without a designated BA since last few months. The BA responsibilities are shared by the crew.

And without any further adieu, the most important and exciting part of the Dojo!

What did we actually do during those six weeks of the Dojo?

Week 1

When we reached the ‘Dojo Room' (as we called it!!), the walls already had few charts and diagrams showing the Improvement Kata, the Dojo Charter, Weekly and Daily program sheets etc. We had our wall set up as well and it had different swimlanes! And that was our first little experiment.

To instill and enforce the idea of ‘Can Do' attitude, we watched a video about ‘Growth Mindset'. An inspiring start! To let the crew settle in the new environment, the first week was intentionally planned to be a bit relaxed! But there still were a lot of implicit mini-experiments done by the coach, be it removing columns on the wall to promote interactions, making amendments for better visualization etc. Some were quite evident, few were not immediately noticeable and some triggered discussions and questions!

As the week progressed, we learned about how to use ‘The Five Questions' from Coaching Kata to address an issue, participated in a session where we defined what ‘Value' means to us. And with the week coming to an end, the walls were adorned with more flipcharts like ‘Not Yet' for issues we were addressing and ‘Improve' board with specific areas namely, ‘Process', ‘Practices, ‘Soft Skills' etc.

Week 2

After the first week of breathing space, it was time to get into real experiments! And the crew was happy to be pushed further as per the discussion in the retrospective the previous week. The second week witnessed the reincarnation of our standups. It was interesting that stand-up, which was not even considered as a problem, ended up being improved drastically!

There were a lot of interesting discussions and arguments (healthy ones!!). As the number of sessions regarding the Dojo activities increased, few of the crew members got overwhelmed with the time spent in non-coding activities! It happens to the best of teams when result-driven people consider such activities as nonproductive as they do not bring immediate tangible benefits. But the coach made sure that the crew understands why it's important to continuously look for improvements, both big and small, and to take a ‘pause'.

The team learned how to use Hamburger Method for splitting epics and generating options for delivering a feature! In a workshop on Change Management, we learned about different Change Management Models & Frameworks! This workshop was the most popular activity with the team from the Dojo. The Coach made an interesting observation about the crew during this week that they appreciate ‘structure' in practices and approaches in general!

Week 3

We started implementing the tasks that resulted from the previous week's Change Management Workshop. We also started measuring the Cumulative Flow to see how backlog was growing with respect to the ‘done' cards. Little tweaks around the wall, cards, visualizations etc. continued!

A team which was practising pair programming since a long time learned how to get even better at it in another session. For the rest of the Dojo, they mob-programmed combined with Pomodoro multiple times!

Week 4

Week 4 was a short week for a couple of days were MYOB Hack Days. Also, the team needed to get away from a bit too many sessions! We still managed to do some follow-up exercises for Change Management. Odyssey crew had been working on multiple capabilities at any given point in time since last few months! The next experiment was to have the whole crew working on one capability and expedite delivering ‘a' feature rather than doing too many things at once!

We also used the Hamburger method on a real epic we had to work on, the session took a while but we were getting there! All the discussions and meetings were recorded visually across the room and we had lesser white area on the walls in the room by then!

Week 5

The second last week of the Dojo started with the Coach asking us to share our thoughts about the things on the ‘Improve' board. To recap, this board had the entries from Charter and observations from the Coach! Everyone expressed their views about what did we achieve/learn and what would success criteria look like! We did realize that with some experiments, we had killed two birds with one stone!

One of the team’s biggest achievements was to create a ‘taskforce' to tackle a burning issue and they did it well! Using CIA’s Phoneix questions as an experiment to see if it generated any new ideas was quite helpful!

Another session that the team enjoyed and learned a lot from was using the ‘Feedback Wrap' from Management 3.0 to give positive feedback for personal and systematic improvement. We practiced the technique during the session and throughout the following week!
Friday of the 5th week was the ‘Crew's Day Out'! We set out to a park for a barbeque lunch and played the Finnish throwing game Mokkly! Great way to finish a full-on week!

Week 6

This week, we continued with our experiments like working on the same capability, practising the feedback technique! Creativity and communication were fostered when we did the Personal Maps, another gift from Management 3.0! All of us learned something new about each other and it was very unwinding!
We ended the Dojo classically with a retrospective and collectively deciding what practices, tools, techniques we wanted to continue using! We also had a wish list for what we still wanted to experiment and learn!

The Dojo was an intense experience. The physical proximity amplified the pressure to an extent, different people reacted differently to the stress and the circumstances! It was challenging, for the crew as well as the coach. We could not follow the plan to a tee and changes were made to address the more pressing issues! For e.g. 2.5 days cycle proved a bit too difficult to achieve given the numerous number of sessions we had during the Dojo! We all wished we had more time to repeat the experiments and consolidate the learnings. The crew and the coach both realized few more outdoor activities would have been great! We acquired new skills and still had more appetite to learn! Overall, it was a very good learning experience and a great way to experiment & grow!

Some thoughts from the crew members after the Dojo:

“Now that the dojo is drawing to a close, I feel I have learned quite a few techniques and practices. We made a lot of small tweaks to the way we work, the way we communicate regarding our work and the way we plan and schedule our work. The dojo might have come to an end, but that is no reason for me to stop challenging myself and stop trying out new approaches to work. I will be carrying these experiences with me when I get back to my desk at Richmond. I am very grateful to our Agile Coach Terence Chase and my team for their mentoring and for being the awesome people that they are.”

“I was so overwhelmed by Terry’s ability to identify the correct issues and to understand the bits and bytes of our daily job, supply us with real world tool set. I feel like this is the first real workshop that I have gained some skills from, and the team learned a lot along the journey”

“It was outstanding. As a team we know each other better, we have more common glossary and a bunch of awesome tools facilitate our daily communication & work. Thanks Terry, We should keep doing this.”

“A lot happened during the dojo. We all got the sensation of being exhausted. Many techniques and tools were learnt. It could have been frustrating or exhausting at some point, be the number of opportunities to be hands off with training sessions or the feeling of not being 100% effective. Personal behaviors and moods were definitely exacerbated. It is interesting to see how the actual weather, the commute or success in delivery could affect people. But my overall feeling is that the team left the dojo reinforced and better know each other. In that sense it was a success. I look forward to keeping and using those practices in the future, out of the dojo.”

And final words from our Agile Coach:

After 6 weeks and the final dojo debrief with the crew on the Friday I sat back at my desk, totally drained of energy. It was only then that I realized how mentally exhausted I was. I had been flagging during the 5th week but managed to keep going and now it was done.

We had achieved so much and the crew had learnt a lot. We completed lots of small experiments, covered 12 of the 15 items to improve and picked up a few other areas for improvement along the way. Individual one on ones with the crew indicated they each had thought the dojo was worthwhile.

The biggest challenge was to change the mind-set of the crew that “work” was not only their fingers dancing over the keyboard but that they needed to step back, have patience and take time think, reflect and improve. I frequently accused them of too much “tappy tappy” which became the running joke of the dojo.

All in all, it was a terrific experience with a great bunch of people who were prepared to be the guinea pigs for something completely new at MYOB. No one knew how it would turn out. Thanks Odyssey ☺

Are there things I will do differently next time? Absolutely!

Bring it on for 2018 but give me a breather first ☺”