A Dojo Story
“The ones that climb the mountain don’t wait for permission, they just start walking” – Trinity Bourne
This quote suggests that certain challenges must be met with fearlessness and spontaneous action and appropriately describes the mindset of one of our engineering teams as it approached us for a weeklong Dojo challenge. The team was considering the next steps for its application, which supports Target’s “Ship From Store” capability. This ability to leverage stores to fulfill guest orders is an important aspect of supply chain operations.
The team’s application roadmap includes an expansion in the number of carriers supported by the application and a push to roll out to more stores in time to handle the increased volume expected during the peak shopping season in Q4. The team came to us as an already high-performing team that wanted to dedicate time to exploring ways to scale the application with confidence. It also saw this as an opportunity to embed automated testing into the development process and get continuous feedback on performance.
In the Dojo, we don’t just measure technical outcomes when evaluating our work with teams. A learning outcome for teams like this can be observed in their ability to respond to new information. Our aim is to see if team members can elevate their game by pivoting, or changing course, while still being able to maintain the overall perspective. Even though performance testing was this team’s main objective, team members recognized that they needed a foundational step in pursuit of reaching their overall goal and chose to start with expanding their functional test capabilities. The team showed flexibility to change direction and redefine what it might take to reach a higher level of confidence in its deployments. Team members accepted that challenge by learning Spock language and together figured out a way to automate their test suite. The learnings and confidence built as a result of this “detour” was exactly the kind of crucial experience that guided team members to make better decisions on their next stories.
Cultivating an Environment for Learning
A key ingredient of our coaching approach is to cultivate psychological safety to better reinforce that mistakes are pathways to learning. To establish such an environment, we encourage teams to use the practice of mob programming. The team embraced this exercise wholeheartedly. The rotation in mob programming of “navigator” and “driver” provides an opportunity for moderate risk-taking, speaking your mind, creativity and sticking your neck out without fear of having it cut off — just the type of organizational behaviors that we hope can help lead to innovative breakthroughs. Through this activity, we aimed to establish a positive environment, which encourages the teams with whom we engage to approach complex problems through cooperative relationships.
We always encourage leaders to be present with teams during any experience in the Dojo. We believe that their presence exemplifies the spirit of empathy and empowerment that is conducive for talent development. The engineering manager on this team did, in fact, participate in mobbing sessions with the engineers, and the impact was overwhelmingly positive. His presence boosted camaraderie, unlocked synergies among peers and laid the foundation for greater knowledge sharing across the entire group. From recent college graduates to the lead engineers, each team member benefited from having a leader who understands the grit that a learning journey demands from his/her team through a shared experience, and not simply celebrating the outcome.
Sowing the Seeds for Success
We caught up with the engineering manager a few weeks after leaving the Dojo and learned that the team’s accomplishments have had a positive impact on other teams within Target’s strategic “last mile” of our distribution operations. We know this as the flywheel effect: Adjacent teams can advance faster after interaction with innovating groups like this team. The team’s performance testing pipeline provided a proactive solution to address potential bottlenecks when integrating with additional third-party carriers. Success is contagious!
The team came to us for help with its effort to evolve a capability of testing into a culture of testing, built into the team’s very DNA. The existing engineering knowledge and skills of the team flourished in a space that is designed to support and where we as coaches make our best effort to encourage them forward. The team came together and exceeded our expectations in a single week not through backbreaking effort, but by what team members described as a “vacation” from their day-to-day work.