The Dojo: Cultivating a Mindset of Craftsmanship and Mastery

Can we engineer “excellence?”
We think yes.

We ask our team members to push the limits of technology every day. They’re tasked with solving for Albertans and challenged with making lives better by leveraging technology to focus on what matters most: people.  

To deliver on this we set out to cultivate a learning environment at ATB. One that focuses on mastery, and craft - in harmony with our commitment to instilling an engineering mindset throughout the organization. 

Enter the Digital Dojo: a place for immersive, team-based skill development and mastery. The Dojo shuns the old corporate training modules. Remember those? When it was time to tackle new challenges or solve new problems, team members would be sent off to refresh or upgrade skills, and to learn X,Y, or Z  through a prescribed curriculum only to be met by a neglected backlog when they returned to work. 

So we rewrote the typical skills development and team training playbook. Instead, the Dojo focuses on developing excellence in very specific areas by responding to the needs of teams, and listening and adjusting based on progress and understanding. 

Importantly, entry into the Dojo is initiated by teams when they feel like they’re up against a challenge and are seeking structured support to advance their abilities ... without losing momentum on existing work. 

For instance, one team at ATB was struggling with the quality of their unit tests. They were finding too many bugs at the end of each sprint and weren’t making the progress they were hoping to.

The challenge: learn and master Test Driven Development (TDD), grow as a team, and advance their work without missing a beat. 

Here’s how it works:

  1. Teams submit a request (or what we call a “challenge”) to participate, specifying an area of focus they seek to improve on which will have a positive gain on the work they do.
  2. The Dojo team, internal experts, and coaches review the request and evaluate how they can help, responding to the needs of the participants and ensuring the best outcomes. 
  3. Challenge accepted! So begins a rotation that can be a minimum of five weeks or as long as 12 weeks. 
  4. The rotation kicks off with a goal-setting exercise led by the coach.
    • What are the team’s expectations? 
    • What do we need to achieve as outcomes? 
    • A Charter is drafted as is a skills matrix. Working agreements are put together and we officially kick off.
  5. Immersive learning allows participants to roll up their sleeves, applying lessons to their own backlogs using Katas (coding exercises focusing in on specific skills), Production Exercises (working on existing code in a production environment), and Practice Sessions (individually choosing to work on an existing feature or creating something net-new)
  6. Weekly planning and retrospectives keep the curriculum and learning fluid and responsive to the participants’ needs.
  7. One final challenge to show they’ve mastered their tech training: the experience is wrapped with three days dedicated to participants focusing on a challenge of their own choosing as a means of demonstrating the skills they’ve learned.

Our own MVP.
Right now ATB’s Digital Dojo is in its own MVP stage. As we rolled this out as a resource to product teams and squads, we made a conscious decision to treat the development of our Dojo in the same way we do agile development. 

That means the structure of the Dojo comes with weekly retrospectives wherein coaches and participants are able to examine what they’ve learned personally and as a team and pivot or stay the course on the workflow and lessons to come to stay engaged and create the most value.

Not every rotation in the Dojo will look the same. The foundation is setting, but the guiding principles behind it mean that we’ll tailor the Dojo to the challenge at hand wherever possible. The most important ethos that guides the Dojo, though, is this: our transformation is only possible if we invest in people.

Responding to the needs of our team members and creating methods of learning and personal evolution that will enable them to deliver remarkable results - that’s the key.

We are ATB transformation - innovating at the forefront
of robotics, AI, blockchain and the future.