5 min read

Wax On, Wax Off

Wax On, Wax Off
Daniel-san, there is no such thing as a bad student. All credit Columbia Pictures I think

One of the most important things to come to terms with as you get older is the realization that you don't know everything.

And that's okay.

In fact, it's kind of important, because if you understand what you don't know, at least you can do something about it.

Gaps in your knowledge are opportunities to make yourself better. To become a more well-rounded person, with a wider set of skills and a greater ability to make a difference.

And one of the best ways to do fill a knowledge gap is to find a coach.

You Ever Get Into Fights?

My team has a vision.

That vision is to offer capacity management capabilities to any service in Atlassian.

We've got a lot of experience in this sort of thing because we do it every single day for Jira and Confluence Cloud. We want to share that experience with other teams so that they can reap the benefits without having to invest too much.

In other words, we want to make a capacity management platform.

Now, I've never led a team that's making a platform before. It sounds pretty complicated though.

I have a general sense of what is required.

Things like:

  • Establishing a vision and strategy, to keep things aligned
  • Understanding the intended users, and what they need
  • Exploring and eliciting requirements, to know what should be delivered
  • Constructing a technical architecture, to meet those requirements
  • Breaking it all down into small deliveries, with lots of places for feedback

I've done those sort of things before. Sort of. Maybe.

Okay, I have a bit of a knowledge gap when it comes to initiating and shepherding large, multi-quarter, game-changing initiatives. I don't really have the tools and skills necessary to give me the confidence that it would end well.

And neither does anyone in my team.

But I know that I don't know, and that means I have enough information to seek help from people who are more skilled and experienced than I am.

So I can steal their delicious knowledge.

Someone Always Know More

Atlassian is full of all sorts of amazingly competent people doing exactly the sort of thing I described above; spinning up large initiatives and successfully shepherding them through to completion.

I'd love to benefit from all of that experience, but everyone is always so busy with their own things that I hesitate to add to their pile of stuff. I just seems like a dick move.

The good news is that there is a team of people within Atlassian whose literal job is to just be coaches.

We have something called The Dojo, which is a hands-on coaching experience where experienced practitioners spend dedicated time with you or your team in order to achieve specific education goals.

There are three services on offer:

  • A Wonder/Explore Dojo, which is a full-time, two week experience where an experienced practitioner runs a group of people through the early phases of a project or initiative using The Atlassian Way
  • A team tune-up, where an experienced practitioner embeds themselves in your team for a period of time, helping the team to improve their delivery capabilities
  • A technical tune-up, where an experienced practitioner educates your team about a new language or technical approach

As you might have already guessed, the first offering was a perfect match for the situation that I found myself in.

So I signed up for it and dragged a few engineers along with me.

Now, this isn't one of those cases where I explain my plans and then leave you hanging for the thrilling conclusion. I'm not some sort of supervillain explaining my plans so that you can foil them.

We finished the dojo experience almost two months ago.

Mmmmmm Watchmen

When Do I Learn How To Punch?

Honestly, it was okay. Not earth-shatteringly amazing, but not terrible either.

One of the biggest challenges was actually just organising for two weeks of uninterrupted time. It was easy for me to create that for the engineers involved, but much harder to get the same effect for both the product manager and myself.

As a result, I don't think we made the most of what we had access to. I got a mediocre amount of focus on it during the first week, but the product manager was bouncing in and out and I missed the second week entirely.

The coach provided by the Dojo initiative was great. Able to provide structure and guidance when necessary, but also more than happy to sit back and just observe us while we explored things.

I'm not certain that we made the most of the structure and tools provided though, as we'd already done a decent amount of work beforehand, mostly as a result of trying to build up a guiding strategy, so we kind of skipped over some things that might have been interesting to familiarise ourselves with for future use.

For example, we spent some time coming up some personas for the users of our system, but I don't think we really fleshed them out all that much because we thought we had a pretty good handle on what people wanted already.

Having said that, one of the best tools that came out of the process was the delta next process for aggregating information out of customer interviews. We did quite a few customer interviews (with our customers being internal service owners), and I think the delta next process really helped us to get a handle on our evolving understanding of what our users actually required.

I think the thing that was most valuable was just spending a lot of time together working on the problem space. We're often so busy that we don't just get to sit down and think about things, and actually having that opportunity really felt like it helped to get our thoughts in order.


Finding a coach to help you fill a knowledge gap is a challenging process. I'm lucky enough to work for a company that makes it slightly easier, but I'm still not 100% certain that I accomplished the goal that I wanted to accomplish.

Part of that dissatisfaction is on me, because I should have made myself more available during the period that we had access to the coach.

But another part is that coaching someone doesn't feel like something that can be accomplished entirely within a two week period, no matter how hard you try.

There just isn't enough opportunity to practice and hone those skills in such a tight timeframe.

Still, as an experiment I think it was well worth it and I would gladly do it again.

Except next time, I'd organise myself better.