A Digital Transformation Journey, Part 1: The Problem

The first part in a four-part series about transforming Discover to an agile company. This part covers the problem Discover was facing.
February 22, 2023
Last updated February 22, 2023

Technology, transformation, and tradition

The digital transformation underway at Discover® mirrors what is now being experienced by many large companies. Not only do we face adapting to a product-centric view and a consistent agile way of working in everything we do, but we must do it while in the mist of the rapid pace of change in technology.

Many companies would call in outside help to confront this challenge. A consulting firm brought into Discover might scratch its head over how things should work, throw some slides together to define how we should organize our 300-ish teams, and bid us good luck. Now, that's not a knock against consultants; they have their place. But even traditional classroom approaches to transformation lack the "practice time" that students need as they struggle to gain a footing with new principles and techniques. We needed a solution that features a hands-on way of addressing the rapid pace of company-wide technological advancement.

We must do something different.

Enter the Dojo

At Discover, we wanted to explore the use of technical Dojos as a way of meeting our digital transformation needs. So why am I, as a technologist, talking about martial arts? For us, Dojo symbolism takes form as a holistic learning realm where small autonomous product teams can "enter" to adopt new practices and build new engineering capabilities. In this environment, they are provided embedded coaching and technical experts to develop core Agile, Product and DevOps practices. Through this direct transfer of experience, a product-centric mindset is reinforced that maximizes autonomy and encourages continuous learning.

Kind of weighty, right?

The Dojo approach supplies Discover with qualities that we require of our product teams and engineers. We wanted something more interactive than a traditional learning experience where someone stands at the head of class and throws a bunch of materials at you with some made-up lab exercises to reinforce the material. We had a goal of making the encounter as practical and relatable as possible. Above all, the Dojo approach doesn't trash your team's velocity on its way to success, but is accomplished with the actual bonus of getting real work done. How is that possible?

We decided to use the product teams' backlog as the source of lab exercises when teaching a new methodology or tool. Coaches sitting side-by-side with teams will help them learn the new skills and technologies needed to build and run their product. This intense pair-programming is where two engineers work virtually together at one workstation: the driver writes code, while the observer—in our case, the coach—takes a hands-on reviewer role. When necessary, the coach switches roles to demonstrate real product-focused examples.

This pairing has sped up our learning and transformation: it is the "secret sauce" of the Dojo. By working in this manner, we foster the kind of constant communication and constant feedback that can facilitate fast decision-making and learning.

There is no limit to the environments where coaching can yield success. Think product definition, product discovery, story writing, value stream mapping, continuous integration, continuous delivery, automated testing, cloud, and a variety of other application development topics. A team of workers supported by a coach who tailors their experience can come up to speed many times faster than they would on their own.

Defining the Dojo at Discover

Our decision to implement the Dojo model at Discover has had a slew of downstream impacts and decisions that are worth exploring in my upcoming posts. In the next blog, The Dojo Coach, I'll cover how and why a great coach is pivotal for the success of a dojo experience. Who are they? What does mastery mean? What skills should they have?

Moving on to The Dojo Lifecycle, we'll touch on the intake process, any known team prerequisites, and how coaches meet teams where they are on their own journey.

It wouldn't be fitting for our series to wrap without talking about expected outcomes. We're confident that teams will come back to dojos for tune-ups and to learn new skills. But to treat in full this journey of transformation to a product-centric world, we'll provide an outlook on what teams can expect to know on leaving their first dojo in The Dojo Outcome.

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