I joined Des Moines University as a Senior Business Intelligence Analyst in December of 2020, and one of the first things I noticed whenever I got to know a colleague from another department was that many of them were eager to begin analyzing the data generated by their individual business units, but didn’t know where to start. Of course, there are tons of excellent books, videos, blogs, and self-paced e-learning resources about Power BI and data analytics in general, but I’ve found that the best way to learn is to do, and the best way to do is together.


The natural solution was to establish an inter-disciplinary Power BI Community of Practice (CoP) at DMU, which is exactly what we are now in the process of doing. We call our CoP the Data Dojo, and I’m excited to share our journey with you.

Founding the Data Dojo

From the very beginning, I knew that there were varying levels of Power BI experience among the faculty and staff at DMU. Some had never even heard of Power BI, while others had already been using it for several years. I also knew that I didn’t have the time or energy to teach everyone everything they needed to know about Power BI on an individual basis. Additionally, I knew that I couldn’t be the only one teaching if I wanted to have an organization-wide impact. And finally, I knew that a hierarchical structure would only hinder our ability to grow and adapt organically. So, with all of that in mind, I created our Data Dojo with these founding principles:

  1. Anyone who is interested in learning how to make better use of their data can become a Data Dojo member.
  2. Members are welcome to attend as many (or as few) of our workshops as they like.
  3. Members are encouraged to share their knowledge and experience, though no one is required to do so.
  4. We facilitate the sharing of knowledge primarily through two channels:
    • Interactive workshops (in-person, virtual, or hybrid).
    • A private Yammer group where members can ask questions, share ideas, and collaborate on projects.
  5. There are no instructors or students in the Data Dojo; We are all here to learn from each other.
  6. The only “stupid question” in the Data Dojo is the one that goes unasked.
  7. Members vote on the topics they’d like to learn about, as well as the dates and times for the workshops where those topics will be covered.
  8. Members are encouraged to network with each other, form their own ad-hoc groups, and collaborate on projects together. This is designed to break down the silos and walls that have hindered the business in the past, and replace them with pipelines and bridges. {More on this subject coming in a future post.}

Calling All Data Ninjas

Before we could hold our first workshop, I knew that I’d have to drum up some hype and get people interested in joining the Data Dojo. Of course, the easiest way to kickstart any new marketing effort is to reach out directly to any existing early adopters and ask for their input, so here’s how I did that:

  1. I created a Microsoft Forms survey to collect some basic information about those who might be interested.
  2. I used our PBI Monitor report to identify the people who had used Power BI sometime in the past six months. {More on the PBI Monitor report coming in a future post.}
  3. I sent those people an email with the survey link and an explanation of what I was up to, and asked them to fill it out if they were interested in joining us.

I was pleasantly surprised by the response. In just a few days, we had over a dozen people sign up to join the Data Dojo, and they had all provided lots of useful information about their existing knowledge, skills, interests and goals, as well as their preferred days and times for future workshops. Shortly thereafter, some of the folks who had signed up asked if they could also invite some of their coworkers to join the Data Dojo, and I was thrilled! My response: “Absolutely! Just forward them the survey link and ask them to fill it out. The more, the merrier!”

I collected survey responses for a few months, wanting to ensure that everyone interested in joining the Data Dojo had ample time to sign up. Then, I sent out a follow-up email to those who had, asking them to confirm their interest, to tell me about any questions or concerns they might have, and to provide any suggestions for topics they’d like to see covered in future workshops. I was elated to learn that everyone who had signed up was still interested in joining the Data Dojo, and that they were all eager to attend our first workshop. Using the date and time preferences from the initial survey results, I determined that July 20th, 2022 would be the ideal launch date, so I sent out a calendar invite to everyone who had signed up, and started preparing an agenda for our first workshop.

Next Time: Our First Two Workshops, and First Major Setback

Thanks for joining us for this first installment in the Data Dojo series! In the next installment, we’ll talk about the first two workshops we held, the topics we covered, and a major setback we encountered after our second workshop, which has forced us to reevaluate and reconsider certain aspects of our approach. There are many great lessons to be learned from our experiences, so I hope you’ll join us again next time!

Data Dojo featured on Havens Consulting YouTube Channel!