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Hybrid Dojos: The Perfect Mix of In-Person and Remote

In this post, we'll discuss a hybrid style Dojo and what to consider when implementing.

Dojos have been the go-to method for impactful, immersive learning experiences for many software development teams. They’re a powerful way to help teams learn while doing their actual development work. The learning is specific to each team going through a Dojo; from automation, pipelines, and tooling, the outcomes can be very diverse.

The success of the Dojo is rooted in the fact that the best learning happens by doing, not through lectures or instructional classes.

Dojos make it possible for entire teams to learn a new skill or tool through weeks of in-person, hands-on training, and development.

But last year, all that changed. Suddenly, thanks to the global COVID-19 pandemic, in-person Dojos weren’t possible. We had to adapt on the fly to a new way of learning that embraced the Dojo approach without needing everyone to be in the same room.

As we’ve talked about in previous posts, we’ve had success with remote Dojos. They have developed and have grown into a solution for scenarios when being physically together is not an option.

Dojo Evolution

Dojos are the primary tool to assist teams in learning more about DevOps in the flow of work.

Regardless of the teams’ desired outcomes, the method for conducting Dojos has adapted over time from on-premises (on-location/in-person) to fully remote.

As the impact of working remote shifts how businesses and teams work together, this blog focuses on how to help coaches prepare for mixed scenarios where one or both coaches could be either on-premises (on-prem) or remote. Similarly, the team itself could be mixed with some members on-prem and some remote. A hybrid Dojo offers you the best of both worlds.

But, there are questions that need to be addressed with hybrid Dojos:

  • What areas of concern should the coaches plan and prepare for?
  • How do coaches ensure the Dojo is as effective as possible?
  • What technology tools can assist in this mixed style Dojo?

On-Prem vs. Remote vs. Hybrid Dojos

There are three main ways to deliver Dojos:

  1. On-prem
  2. Remote
  3. Hybrid

The ideal is on-prem, where the team and the coaches are physically co-located together during the duration of the Dojo. When the team is physically together, team metrics, team morale, and team learning are at their highest level.

These in-person Dojos work well because the collaboration is more spontaneous, leading to faster responses on problem-solving, side conversations that foster team relationships and surface areas of concern, and provide deeper learning. Additionally, there are many opportunities for Dojo participants and non-Dojo participants to observe and organically contribute to the Dojo team. Although the ideal Dojo environment is on-prem that may not work for all teams. Thus, a fully remote Dojo offering is meant to provide that flexibility when needed.

startup business people group working as team to find  solution to problem

A fully remote Dojo is when the coach and team are not physically located together to achieve the Dojo goals. The success rate of these Dojos is high but some effectiveness is lost due to the additional layers of complexity that go into a remote Dojo. Also, additional technology often needs to be procured and enabled to allow for a better remote experience.

A hybrid style Dojo has components of both an on-prem and fully remote Dojo. For example, in a hybrid Dojo, multiple team members are working remotely while coaches or other team members are working on-prem. Additional considerations for both approaches and technologies need to be considered, we will address this below.

The Technology Considerations of a Hybrid Dojo

When you’re hosting a hybrid Dojo, your technology and learning space needs are slightly different than a purely on-prem Dojo.

The physical Dojo space for hybrid Dojo is the same as an on-prem Dojo. The Dojo will need a large table for the team to work at, with 1-2 large (50” or larger) TV screens set at either end of the table, along with whiteboards around the tables. The screen arrangement provides for screen sharing, talking, observing, whiteboarding, or other topics that need to be visualized quickly for the team to learn and work on Dojo activities. The technology you used to supplement in-person learning will need to provide the best opportunity for remote learners to succeed. What does that look like?

You will need technology that helps with:

  • Screen, audio, and video sharing.
  • Communication tools for chat, whiteboarding, email, websites, etc.
  • Webcam with audio directional mic, tripod (the 360-degree view is ideal for camera selection).

Communication Tools and Monitors

Not surprisingly, technology plays the most crucial role (besides the coach) in a successful Dojo experience.

The initial setup is the same for all Dojos and it begins locally on a participant’s machine. Access to developer tools and the ability to use them is essential. The company standards for communication tools including chat tools, collaboration tools, email, etc., should all be accessible and tested by both the team and the coach before starting the Dojo.

Screen sharing and audio/video capabilities will be some of the most collaboration features used by a hybrid Dojo.

Hybrid Dojos leverage tools like Zoom, WebEx, Teams, and other collaborative real-time audio/video apps, so the team/coach are talking and working together all day during the Dojo duration. The remote Dojo uses these tools exclusively, and the on-prem Dojo sparingly, the hybrid Dojo will have a few members of the team or coaches using these tools in addition to the large physical TV monitors in the physical locations for those attending remotely to see and hear the team members in the room.

External TV monitors also allow for support team members of a Dojo who are on-prem to drop in as needed. Support can observe or even contribute as the team moves through the Dojo. The TV monitors are also great for team demos when there are standing attendees or invitees that may be in the physical location as well.

Collaboration items (whiteboard, webcam)

If the on-prem team members/coach may be using physical whiteboards for ad hoc drawings, it is very important to ensure that there is a camera that can view the whiteboard so all remote users can see what is being presented. If possible, use a SmartBoard to improve the visibility and experience. This allows for remote participants to observe whiteboards, teams at large, and any speakers that may be talking to the group but not attending via the meeting video (you can use extra laptops with webcams for this but in our experience, audio tends to suffer).

We recommend testing access, sound, and video before the start of each day so communication is ready to go and not a distraction or disruption to the flow of work each day.

Team/Dojo Locations, Time Zones, Team Availability

The team (along with the coach) is what makes Dojo outcomes possible, so making sure both are together as much as possible per day is the goal. For those in-person, Dojos will typically spend the entire workday together working on the Dojo outcomes, team meetings, and small group activities.

Having team members out of the Dojo for extended periods or unavailable for days at a time is a disruption to the team model. It can have a negative impact on successful Dojo outcomes. We account for scheduling during the intake process.

The ideal duration to maintain the balance between team energy levels and working on Dojo outcomes should be 5-7 hours per day, with frequent breaks. In our experience, 45 minutes together and 15 minutes off every hour has been shown to help with stress and screen fatigue. Building out that schedule for the team is part of the working agreement efforts, and gathering the data below will help build that 5-7 hour experience.

Scheduling

A critical aspect of running a hybrid Dojo is making sure everyone can attend as much as possible (ideally the whole thing).

To do this, you need to:

  • Determine the team’s time zone that will be used as a reference time.
  • Ask for the start and end times for each person in the team's chosen time zone.
  • Review and ask for any large out-of-office vacations, organizational events, team meetings, or people blockers and add these to the grid created during consult or charter.

Using a template similar to the one below can help you gather the information needed quickly.

From this grid, select the times that the team can commit to be together and ensure the location is set up for on-prem for those days/times when the team is in that area and that remote connectivity is also available.

Making It All Work Together

Dojos are proven to have a positive impact on many areas of a software development team. A Dojo’s success is measured by helping the team improve their delivery speed and the quality of their code. As a coach, addressing the additional variables of having the team split up can increase the chances of success for the Dojo participants.

In upcoming blogs, we will discuss how the Dojo adapts as companies move towards reducing office spaces and using collaboration or hoteling spaces.