Dojos change minds

Published on
May 14, 2024
Roberto Priolo
Roberto Priolo
Roberto Priolo is editor at the Lean Global Network and Planet Lean
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CASE STUDY - Faced with safety and quality issues, this Brazilian factory installed a dojo, and the results are promising.

A year and a half ago, our plant in Caxias do Sul, in southern Brazil - which produces fifth wheels for trucks, the part that connects the tractor to the trailer - was experiencing safety problems. JOST has clear safety guidelines, but people had trouble following them. Whether it was crossing aisles using the safety crosswalk and holding onto the handrail when going up or down stairs, there was clearly a lack of compliance with safety standards. This resulted in a number of accidents that, combined with various quality issues, eventually led the organization to question its approach to training and staff development.

Traditionally, our training method was to bring people to a conference room, show them some slides and assume that would be enough for them to understand and internalize the standards they needed to follow in their daily work. Of course, that didn't work. Even leaders failed to follow safety rules, setting the wrong example and failing to live up to their responsibilities to front-line workers.

What could we do to make people part of the solution, change their behavior and develop a more robust and effective approach to training along the way? The solution came in the form of a dojo - a structured learning environment where employees practice and develop their skills through hands-on training and problem-solving activities. Knowing that Toyota, Embraer and other excellent companies use dojos for developing their people, we visited a few times and conducted a benchmark analysis. We realized we didn't have the knowledge we needed to develop a dojo, so we partnered with Lean Institute Brasil.

LIB has developed an effective approach to this that is currently being used in many organizations. It is based on the key elements of three learning theories - behaviorism, constructivism and cognitivism - combined with Training Within Industry practices.

The implementation of the dojo, as designed by LIB, follows a clear series of steps organized into three main phases: project structuring, development of dojo trainers and standard materials, and creation of the actual dojo space (which should resemble as much as possible the real environment at the gemba).


The first step for us was to create awareness among the leadership. We knew that top management had to sponsor the project if it was going to be successful. Once we secured that support, we were ready to run our first pilot.

This focused on the first three modules (there are 12 in all): dojo introduction; health, safety and environment; and operational excellence. Together these comprised eight hours of training, covering roles and behaviors, safety, standardization, waste and help chain.

With LIB's help, we develop a process study sheet for each module we cover and identify the key outcomes of each module. Then we decide how to prepare the dojo room to provide the best possible training and ensure that people really internalize the concepts and practices. A document is prepared with a script for people as they cover each module.

The dojo space (which by definition is flexible and adapts to the specific needs of each organization) changes depending on circumstances, with certain simulations or devices (such as screens for quizzes designed to test people's understanding of standards) taking center stage.

The first training we did in the new space was for managers and the leadership team to make sure they were clear on the five golden rules. After that, we went full speed ahead. Since the launch of the initiative in July 2023, as many as 400 people have attended the dojo training. This incredible spread of knowledge was the responsibility of four dojo instructors (to develop them, LIB offered 16 hours of training; previous experience with the processes was also a prerequisite), supported by a team of multipliers. As our implementation progressed, we began to look deeper into activities - such as welding - that caused specific quality problems.

The four dojo instructors were selected based on the skills we had identified as necessary during our benchmarking exercise. We looked at how they communicate, what experience they have in the workplace, and so on. We try to give those positions to internal people: for example, one of our instructors has been working in the process for 10 years. That kind of experience is invaluable!

All new employees now go through the dojo when they join the company. I recently received a message from one of our team leaders who told me that a newly hired person complained that a document that was supposed to be displayed on his workstation, as listed in the dojo, was not there. That's a sign that the dojo is really working. Indeed, onboarding has become much easier: we have had high staff turnover in recent months, and having a system in place to get people in quickly and effectively has proved very helpful.


We are the first client where LIB has used this approach, and the results have been so impressive that we are currently introducing other departments to use the dojo. Safety accidents have disappeared, compliance with the five golden rules is increasing (something difficult to measure but impossible to ignore today at JOST), and the number of quality defects has begun to decline even before the team formally began addressing quality. In the last quarter of 2023, compared to the same time the previous year, the number of customer complaints dropped from 24 to 9. That's how powerful behavior change can be! For example, at the end of 2022, 83% of employees surveyed said they did not use the handrail when going up or down stairs, while six months after the implementation of the dojo, 93% said they always use it! Interestingly, the number of uncertain conditions recorded by team members increased by 110%, evidence that their understanding of what constitutes a risk has increased.

In recent months, stories about the success of our dojo have spread and other companies in the JOST group have visited us in Caxias do Sul to see what we have done. Two of those companies have now started implementing their own dojos. Our German COO also visited us and there is now talk of applying the dojo to the entire JOST group, worldwide.

In general, we are reducing the time it takes to bring a team member to maturity in terms of their understanding of standards. We are also noticing that our people are starting to ask questions about work, a sign that the company culture is changing. This is what we were hoping for. The dojo is a safe space to discuss issues, a fundamental part of that "show respect" principle that is so crucial in Lean Thinking.

Looking ahead, our next steps are clear. We will continue to tackle the modules of the dojo, gradually working on maintenance, ergonomics and welding. By the end of the year, we plan to complete the 12 steps of the roadmap. We also plan to work more closely with leadership, reinforce the message so we can really change their behavior.

People often assume that the dojo is a place that works on people's hands, their practical skills, but that is only part of it. It is in their minds that we see the biggest change!


Gabriel Oliveira is Value Analysis - Continuous Improvement Engineer at JOST Brasil Sistemas Automativos.
Nilson Rodrigues da Silva is project manager at Lean Institute Brasil.

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