How to Create a Kick-ass Dojo Space

A well-designed Dojo space strengthens team collaboration, fosters open communications, and reinforces healthy development practices.

In the past year, DevOps Dojos have taken the community by storm. At Liatrio, DevOps Dojos are immersive, dedicated, and open-space environments where development teams can learn DevOps principles and techniques to reinforce key principles of trust, collaboration, and transparency. A Dojo space help teams lay a solid foundation in DevOps practices and technologies, focusing on the cultural changes needed to build new skills and capabilities. The goal is to push enterprises to become modern, technologically advanced learning organizations and enable teams to develop a new way of working.

“But what if my organization doesn’t have a fancy training center to host a dojo? No problem! As long as you have the space and design with intention, you can create an amazing dojo center in your organization” ~Kathleen Szerlag

Not surprisingly, we at Liatrio get many questions about what a Dojo space should look like. Today I’m going to give you a look under the hood at the dynamic environment for setting up a successful DevOps Dojo. In particular, I really want to focus on the elements that we believe make an optimal Dojo environment at enterprise organizations.

Designing a Dojo space with intention allows organizations to reinforce the working norms, workflows, and methodologies that strengthen team collaboration, foster open communications, and reinforce healthy development practices that individuals and teams can continue to improve once they return to their normal day-to-day workspace. When the Dojo model is up and running, teams will constantly filter through the Dojo space. Individual teams may work in a Dojo for only a couple days or anywhere from 2-6 weeks.

Purpose of a Dojo Space

Designing the right Dojo space matters because it has the power to drive the cultural change needed in your organization. The space you create should specifically foster openness, collaboration, and sharing. The purpose is to break down the walls and create a fun and engaging environment that inspires creativity by allowing teams to have a space that encourages different groups to come together, demo, and share learning with each other. Dojo participants at more than one company have told me that they feel like they're working at a different organization due to their time in the Dojo.

These spaces should be built in an open environment that allows for as much interaction between participants as possible. Key elements are to help teams focus and solve problems using shared knowledge and to facilitate both movement within the space and face-to-face, collaborative interaction. In this open-flow space, coaches play a large role in how teams interact in both structured and unstructured ways to work on their own projects, focus on their backlogs, and make continuous progress on their work.

What an Open, Collaborative Dojo Space Looks Like

The Dojo layout should be an open environment without walls, allowing teams to remain in constant communication. We have found that a successful Dojo space contains the following:

  • Coaches’ Corner: A coaches’ corner is a set location where all Dojo coaches work. Because the coaches are physically nearby, teams and individuals can reach out to coaches when they have questions.
  • Demo Lounge: The demo lounge should seat anywhere from 20-100 people depending on the space. In the lounge area, teams will showcase the work that they have accomplished within the Dojo.
  • Executive Bullpen: Executives onsite have a dedicated space where they can work while also observing efforts that take place in the Dojo.
  • Platform Support Space: Platform support teams are permanent residents of the Dojo. They have their own dedicated space located on the outer edges of the room. If a Dojo team needs help, they can get the support they need in real time.
  • Huddle Spaces: The Dojo encourages constant collaboration and meetings. Each Dojo needs one to three huddle spaces located on the outer edges where teams can gather and meet for sprint planning or backlog grooming.
  • Information Radiators: One to two information radiators (walls with screens) display Dojo team metrics, team accomplishments, and various outcomes that Dojo teams are working towards.

Dojo Space Setup and Use

I recommend separating each dedicated Dojo space by 20-30 feet to minimize noise and interruptions while teams work. If possible, the Dojo space setup should have no permanent fixtures, enabling spaces to evolve as needed.

Each Dojo space should have the following:

  • 2-4 whiteboards
  • 2-3 tables
  • 2 tvs

As teams work on their backlogs, they can use whiteboards to learn content and solve problems. Whiteboards can also be used to help separate the Dojo space for different teams.

Tables can be easily moved to allow teams to work in the manner that best suits them. TVs located at both ends of each table allow teams to display content when they are building solutions. Situating the information radiator in the middle of the room divides the Dojo spaces and enables easily accessible display of up-to-date information.

Below is a snapshot of the ideal Dojo space layout and design.

How to Create a Kick-ass Dojo Space

While we at Liatrio have found this model most effective, the ideal solution for your Dojo space will depend on your specific floor plan and constraints. The most important factors are the different sections themselves, as they are what help foster transparency, collaboration, and effective teamwork.

A Good Dojo Space in a Nutshell

A good Dojo space fosters a culture of learning and enables teams to collaborate, learn, and build skills together. A physical space gives teams a sense of disconnect from their existing ways of working and inspires them to come to the Dojo to learn new methodologies while working on their real-world product/services. Enterprises will benefit long term with this culture of continuous learning and improvement as teams become high performing and productive in delivering value to customers.

We recommend you start small with your space as the first few teams come through the Dojo. Starting off with a conference room should suffice (most of the Dojos we set up for the clients have started off in a conference room). Try a few iterations and apply lessons learned when building out your own Dojo space. Make sure to put the team’s artifacts up on the walls/windows (e.g., architecture diagrams, team norms, skill matrices). The goal should be to build an internal brand for your Dojos and slowly make the Dojo space more open, creative, and fun in order to attract and inspire teams to learn together.

Your Dojo will evolve over time. The key is to get started and learn and adapt along the way. If you’d like to learn more about Dojos, reach out!

References

IT revolution’s recent book Getting Started with Dojos and Joel Tosi and Dion Stewart’s recent book Creating Your Dojo talk extensively about Dojo space and its value.

Getting Started with Dojos and Creating Your Dojo

Here are some of our favorite quotes:

“Teams must have the physical and mental space to learn. Organizations will benefit over the long run as teams become more productive and can deliver on increasingly complex tasks”
“Space can be a very powerful enabler for culture change and learning. Try to put your Dojo in a high-traffic area so that you can broaden the exposure of what teams are experiencing.”
“A dojo space is supposed to feel different than a standard working environment. Having a separate physical space demarcates the dojo as something different from the normal day-to-day work.”

Dojo Consortium

Dojo Consortium is a community of Dojo practitioners from 30+ organizations. This community connects via Slack, annual gatherings, biweekly video conferences, regional meetups, etc., to share challenges and accomplishments and learn from each other. Special thanks to the consortium members for sharing pictures of their Dojos below!

Target's Dojo
Verizon's New Jersey Dojo Lounge
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Liatrio is a collaborative, end-to-end Enterprise Delivery Acceleration consulting firm that helps enterprises transform the way they work. We work as boots-on-the-ground change agents, helping our clients improve their development practices, react more quickly to market shifts, and get better at delivering value from conception to deployment.

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