At Target we’re always looking for ways to move forward in becoming the best omni-channel retailer that we can be. This journey demands that we enable change in most every part of our technology organization. Our culture, delivery model, technology selections, working arrangements and org structures are all levers we can pull to help us be more responsive. A key question that we continually ask ourselves is “how can we move faster”? Introducing change in a large enterprise can take a long time if we don’t challenge ourselves to be creative around constraints (like not enough “experts” to go around). Traditional learning approaches might not be fast enough, so we’ve started acting on some innovative ideas to break down those barriers.

While this progress has been great, we’ve continually been asking ourselves how we could go faster.

Building Capacity

One of the newest things we doing is expanding our capacity for others to learn the new ways of doing things. Since we still have relatively few subject matter experts to go around, we are finding that access to these experts is a constraint that makes it difficult for us to scale the learning process for new teams. To address this constraint, we are standing up a learning “Dojo.” The Miriam-Webster dictionary defines a Dojo as “a school for training in various arts of self-defense (as judo or karate).” At ChefConf 2015, Adam Jacobs delivered a very interesting talk titled Chef Style DevOps Kungfu. This presentation talked about building your practice through repetition and development of skills. We needed a place to develop our own special DevOps Kungfu. Cue the Dojo!

The Dojo is a dedicated space in which our subject matter experts take up residence for an extended time. This is the home base for automation engineers, advanced Scrum leaders, OpenStack engineers, Chef experts, Kafka engineers, etc. Project teams and product teams looking to leverage these experts to build their own expertise can colocate their teams within the Dojo to have easy access to these resources. This learning time could be for a few days to a few weeks to a month or more. Providing access to this knowledge within a confined and dedicated area enables our automation engineers, DevOps practice leaders, and lead developers to move from team to team as needed to support their training and learning needs. We can support up to 8 or 9 teams at a time in the Dojo, which is a significant uplift from our existing reach of learning. Teams that “graduate” from the Dojo are expected to dedicate some resources back to the learning environment in future efforts, thus paying forward the investment to help grow the next group of individuals and teams.

Teams that spend time in the Dojo will be working on the full spectrum of skills, which is way more efficient than attending individual training classes. They will be building the automation of their infrastructure as they design their application using new application technologies. They will be learning Agile development practices, applying test-driven development methodologies as they strive for a continuous delivery model. The value in applying all of these concepts together is very powerful and we’ve seen great progress with the teams as they’ve gone through the Dojo. In most cases, the initial learning curve has been steep but we’ve seen teams hit their stride within a couple weeks and start to see huge productivity gains. These teams have emerged from the experience with much stronger skills and with a new working model that allows them to be much more self-sufficient and productive.

What About The Others?

While the Dojo enables us to level up more teams, we also see the need to place learning resources closer to the teams within their “home” organizations. This helps Target to reach engineers not involved in a Dojo project, as well as provide ongoing support and continuous learning to those who have already come through. To fill these gaps, we are in the process of identifying (or hiring), training, and placing coaches within our technology teams. These coaches have the skills and accountability to accelerate learning throughout the engineers in these teams. They’re available for questions and guidance as well as providing targeted teaching within their teams. To tie this together, teams that enter and exit the Dojo are engaged throughout with their coach, and Dojo graduates eventually move into some of these coaching roles.

We’re excited to see this progress continue as level up across our technology organization.