Thomson Reuters Development Excellence: A Peek Inside The Dojo

Mandy Simpson Coaching, DevJam News, News

In our previous newsletter, we shared the story of how Thomson Reuters is working to transform product delivery teams using the dojo teaching method. The following will provide further insight into what actually happens inside the dojo.

Each team spends a total of six weeks inside the dojo. However, their journey begins a week or two before. During Intake, the Development Excellence coaches schedule time with the product team as well as leadership to explain the ins and outs of the dojo journey. Coaches then take time to understand how the team currently delivers product through questionnaires and taking part in interviews. Using this insight, the coaches develop a learning plan for the team. The learning plan identifies the areas for greatest improvement for the team and the process areas they will focus on.

During the first two days, the team takes part in a Collaborative Framing exercise. The purpose of this exercise is to create a discussion amongst the team to arrive at a common understanding of what business need they are solving, why they are solving it, and who they are solving it for. It is intended not only to get the team to achieve this common understanding but to also set their focus on delivering product and value.

One thing about the dojo is that the walls are covered with paper and Post-it note artifacts. The point of this is that while the team is in the dojo, leaders want them surrounded by rich information radiators that are easily accessible. However, for teams with remote members, this approach doesn’t work especially well. In those cases, Thomson Reuters incorporates the use of tools like Trello and Lucidchart to create an online presence of the same information.

A storyboarding session follows the framing exercise. Teams use a diagram of the solution architecture (which the team architects happily drew) to form the scaffolding for identifying the work that needed to be done.

Once the storyboard is reasonably complete, the team turns to defining paths or journeys through the story map that each represent a complete user experience. These journeys are then prioritized and become the focus of work for each iteration. Because the work needs to be scaled to what can be accomplished within a two-day iteration, the outcomes described on the story map Post-it notes are translated to stories. Each story defines a who, what, and why, as well as the completion criteria for determining that the story is done.

When the stories are fully defined, each is assigned to a member of the team. The process of translating the stories and assigning the work forms the basis of the team’s planning session. As the team gets better writing good stories, the ritual around estimating story size goes away.

At the completion of an iteration, the team runs a 30-minute retrospective session. Each team member is asked to write on Post-it notes things they observed or had happen to them during the iteration that they want the group to reflect on. The notes are then arranged on a vertical scale with the ones higher up demonstrating greatest happiness and the lowest demonstrating least happiness. For each note that is actionable, the team discusses what action should be taken and who should take action on it.

Depending on the team’s working agreement, a demo is done for key stakeholders at the end of each iteration or at the end of each week. The feedback received is noted and actioned on as appropriate. Following the conclusion of the iteration, it’s back to the planning session, rinse and repeat.

In the team’s final week in the dojo, leaders introduce an additional activity, the Commitment Ceremony, to prepare them for exiting the dojo. The Commitment Ceremony is a team discussion around what elements of the dojo they want to take back to their day to day work. The things identified could take the form of wanting to change their physical space, shorter iterations, continuing to use the storyboard/journeying/stories method used in the dojo, to name just a few of the possibilities. The important part of this exercise is that the team agrees and commits to taking things that they’ve learned out of the dojo.

DevEx leader Ed Tilford is seeing enhanced team collaboration as one of the largest values of the dojo approach to date.

“There’s an element to the dojo approach that bears calling out as I truly believe it is the largest contributor to the success of the dojo model – team collaboration,” Tilford said.

“The dojo approach forces teams to collaborate to a degree they likely haven’t achieved before. They are intentionally placed in close quarters to foster easier lines of communication. The sense of urgency is upped because they only have two days to deliver results. Everyone is expected to take an active part in each of the ceremonies conducted resulting in an ‘all knowing’ versus ‘one knowing’ team state. The dojo disproves that the typical divide and conquer approach wins out over doing it together, i.e. collaborating. Gone are the knowledge islands that exist in our teams that become the natural bottlenecks to progress. In the end, the team becomes greater than a sum of its parts.”

If you’d like to learn more about how dojos and product thinking can help your teams, drop us a line at