How it works
During an immersion cycle, coaches embed with coalitions and pods and help them define and work toward their intended outcomes using short, two-week challenges. During each challenge, coalitions and pods apply hypothesis-based methods to iteratively and incrementally deliver outcomes (with coaches overseeing the entire process), emphasizing the right practices through repetition. Through this approach, learning is reinforced so that new skills and the future state ways of working become tacit knowledge.

Designing an IWE:

It’s best to think about immersive working environments as “hubs” or “camps”. In other words, a place specifically designed to enable Pods to immerse themselves in the transformational future state, while working on outcomes that solve real-world challenges.
Whenever possible, it’s best to create environments that are on-site and easily accessible. The set up can be flexible, but generally, the goal is to optimize for collaboration. Visualization is an important part of collaboration, so it helps to provide plenty of whiteboard space as well as a collaborative seating arrangement so that cross-functional groups can easily engage and discuss at will. In addition, it helps to set up so-called “Information Radiators” that help visualize the current goals, work in process and overall progress against the stated outcomes.

Staffing an IWE:

At least initially, staffing an IWE should only require a coordinator and three coaches, as follows:
  • The coordinator handles administrative tasks as well as ensures the day-to-day operation of the IWE runs smoothly.
  • The process coach ensures coalitions and pods apply appropriate discovery and delivery techniques, as well as promote the core tenets of high-performing teams such as customer value, incremental delivery and continuous feedback and improvement.
  • The product coach helps coalitions and pods make the shift from the project mindset to the product mindset, while keeping teams focused on customer value and business impact.
  • The technology coach works with Pods to ensure they have the ability to release early and often through hands-on training, tool chain development and skill building.
From time to time, your IWE may also need a niche subject matter expert, assuming that expertise is not already part of an existing coalition.

Operationalizing an IWE:

While there is no prescribed way to get an immersive working environment started, there are some existing models that have proven successful.
Generally, immersive working environments follow a four stage lifecycle as depicted by Figure N below.
Figure N: Generic life cycle, adapted from Creating Your Dojo by Dion Stewart and Joel Tosi

The Intake:

The intake is a short meeting between coalitions, pods, and the coaches running the immersive work environment. The intent is to give coalitions and pods enough information to decide if the Immersive Work Environment is a good fit for them at this time, and for the coaches to begin to form a hypothesis as to how they might be able to help and where they should focus.

The Consult:

During the consultation, coaches will again meet with coalitions and pods to briefly highlight their credentials, and provide examples of how they have succeeded using immersive working environments.
In addition, coaches will begin to work with the coalitions and pods to gain alignment as to the broad outcomes and the commitment required, as well as explore any technical, product or process practices the group might want to learn.
In their book Creating Your Dojo, authors Dion Stewart and Joel Tosi describe some of the key questions that need to be answered during the consult:
  • What products are you working on?
  • How does the work flow into and through the team?
  • When and where are you engaged?
  • What do you hope to learn?
  • What’s preventing you from learning in your day-to-day work?
  • Are you willing to commit to spending 6-8 hours per day for six weeks in the IWE?
  • Is the team free from imminent deadlines?
  • Could the work we do here serve as an example to other teams in your organization?
  • What is the ratio of full-time employees to contractors? Will contractors join the IWE?
  • Does this team provide products/services to other teams in the organization?
  • If so, is there an opportunity for a multiplier effect on the rest of the organization?
  • Will this team prove to be good promoters of the IWE model within the organization?

The Charter:

During the charter session, the team agrees on what they will deliver, what they will learn, and how they will work for the next six weeks. They also take care to decide how they will manage dependencies such as access to environments, repos, tools, etc.
According to Stewart and Tosi, after approximately four hours, the team should be able to produce the following artifacts:
  • Team Name
  • Timeframe
  • Goals and Measures
  • Community Map
  • Architecture Diagram and Tech Stack
  • Skills Matrix
  • Logistics
  • Working Agreements

The Experience:

During the experience phase, coalitions and pods will work through six two-week cycles in which they repeatedly apply similar principles but different practices, with each practice tailored to meet the needs of the current challenge and make progress against a broader business outcome.
During this time, teams may learn practices such as test-driven development, or spend time studying and discussing the principles of DevOps and how to apply them. Regardless of the exercises, the role of the coaches is to ensure that the energy and focus of the group is always directed towards the challenge at hand, and the broader outcome.
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