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Run a DevOps Dojo to improve training and culture

DevOps continues to reshape organizations through efficiency and collaboration. See why a DevOps Dojo is the next priority for your business.

In IT, training is never just a one-time effort. Whether your team consists of new employees, seasoned professionals or a mix of both, they must continually hone their skills and harness emerging technologies.

When done properly, consistent training has multiple benefits. Organizations are less likely to go through the time-consuming and costly process to outsource roles when existing staff can do it instead. Employees grow together as a team, while they also improve their future job prospects. And the business improves productivity and, potentially, gains competitive advantages.

But success in this area isn't always easy. To address these demands, enterprises have created immersive learning environments called DevOps Dojos, which IT professionals can use to close the skills gap at a manageable pace.

Workshops, challenges and conferences facilitate these efforts. Seasoned professionals, internal and external, lead the agendas.

An IT team can implement a dojo in multiple ways. However, several core practices are essential for success. Let's explore the details to keep in mind when designing a DevOps Dojo curriculum.

DevOps Dojo: Define and design

Inspired by the accepting nature of a Japanese dojo, a DevOps Dojo is a space wherein team members learn and practice the technical skills they need to grow and succeed. Typically, teams consist of a learning product team, product managers, Agile coaches and engineers.

The most common application of a DevOps Dojo is the Dojo challenge. This session usually lasts six weeks, with, on average, two sprints per week. Groups operate from a self-organizing mindset where members first decide on a common goal, then plan how to develop the skills needed to achieve said goal. Coaches work closely with teams to ensure they grasp the new skills and technologies required for their objective.

Instill the right culture

Individual enrichment is crucial to a dojo environment. However, success during each sprint and workshop rests on teamwork: Collaboration is vital. Dojo leaders should foster an inclusive culture in which participants recognize the collective effect of contributions to projects.

It's incumbent on instructors to generate excitement, welcome honest mistakes and unite people under a common goal. Universal support -- not finger-pointing -- leads to better productivity at the actual office. Healthy communication is vastly underrated in many professional circles due to operational silos or fear-based cultures.

Identify areas of improvement

Every team has its weaknesses. Perhaps employees are inexperienced in certain technical tools, such as Git, Ansible or Kubernetes, or languages like Python, Java and PowerShell. Or maybe they lack soft skills like problem-solving or leadership.

Tackle these shortcomings head-on to derive more value from your team. That might involve building technical skills or shifting attitudes toward certain technologies.

While completing a challenge is commendable, the skills gained along the way are more important. Instructors should monitor team members closely as they work to identify what areas need sprucing up.

Start small, and ramp up

Don't just celebrate major milestones. Dojo lessons focus on better understanding of tools and processes, and progress occurs in stages.

Praise dojo members for modest victories, too. Even small wins are foundational for exercises that scale in complexity. Those acknowledgments boost morale and keep participants engaged. Each successive win strengthens skills and prepares personnel for what's ahead.

Provide adequate resources

Without textbooks and academic resources, professors can't guide their students. Similarly, dojo instructors require specific resources to teach. Those might include sandboxed, virtual testing environments, coding playgrounds, and hardware or software tools. Supplemental materials might be necessary for group labs -- even if they incur additional expenses.

Find a suitable meeting space

Convert existing office space, temporarily or otherwise, to serve as a home base for your DevOps Dojo. Schedule use of these spaces around regular business activities.

Because today's interactions have grown increasingly remote, it's critical to ensure activities are accessible virtually. Some lessons might span multiple weeks, so assume that in-person collaboration won't always be possible.

Develop and identify leaders

Dojo instructors can blossom into better leaders throughout the process. While some teams outsource this talent, many look to in-house staff. It's not a requirement to have instructors with extensive experience in leadership roles.

A six-week dojo can determine who's best aligned to group instruction. These leaders often become "turnkey trainers" who also lead future sessions. Target -- often credited with forming the first DevOps Dojos -- maintains this same mindset.

Unlock a team's potential

Tailor your instruction based on needs and temperaments to get the most from those involved.

DevOps Dojos should take developers and admins out of their comfort zones. They must challenge and expose them to evolving technologies. They must also acknowledge there are numerous pathways toward a given result.

Whether you're a dojo master or coach, the lesson is clear: Invest in your workforce. Your teams -- and the company's bottom line -- will ultimately thank you.

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