ShuHaRi: The Path to Mastery

ShuHaRi Defined

According to Wikipedia, “ShuHaRi is a Japanese martial art concept and describes the stages of Learning to Mastery”  In more detail, the word can be broken down as follows:

  • Shu – Obey
  • Ha – Detach
  • Ri – Separate

I was introduced to the ShuHaRi concept after engaging a consulting company to help me conduct some large scale Agile training for a startup in Austin a few years back.  At the risk of dating myself, the best way to understand ShuHaRi is from the teachings of Mr. Miyagi in the 1984 movie, Karate Kid.  In this clip, Mr. Miyagi demonstrates how waxing a car, waxing the floor and painting a fence translate to Karate.

ShuHaRi & Agile: The Connection

So what does this have to do with Agile?  ShuHaRi is an important concept that, if observed, could save you and your team countless hours of frustration and increase your adoption rate.  To say it crisply: Find a practice that you want to learn (like Scrum or Kanban), follow the practice it to the letter and then after you master it, make your own adaptations.  Better yet…hire yourself an Agile coach who will teach you the best way to implement Agile principals. Then, follow them like a student of Martial Arts until you know enough about why you are doing something before making changes.

If I have the opportunity to provide just one piece of advice to new teams, the ShuHaRi concept is at the very top of my list.  I see countless teams learn an otherwise solid practice like Scrum and bastardize it right out of the gate.  With little to no experience, early practitioners regularly dismiss the advice of their teachers and Agile coaches.  Teams make common mistakes like delaying the remediation of defects to the Sprint right before a major release. (Isn’t this really Waterfall?!)  Another common adaptation young teams make is to assign estimating to Dev Leads and Architects and exclude the rest of the team from the process (including the QA Engineers).

Learning Requires Discipline

The ShuHaRi concept isn’t necessarily new to most of you.  You probably just didn’t know it had a name.  I’m fairly certain that when you learned how to drive a car, you likely followed the instructions of your teacher to start.  You learned the basics before you tried driving with one hand on the wheel while eating a cheeseburger and talking on the phone.  I’d also venture to guess that if you are a Software Engineer, you learned the basics of coding and the syntax of your chosen language before you started innovating and developing more complex solutions.  Learning a development methodology requires the same discipline if you want to speed up your adoption and realize it’s true benefits.  It’d be a real shame if you abandoned your Agile adoption without achieving your goals simply because you thought you knew better than the experts teaching you.

As you start and proceed through your Agile transformation journey, remember:

  1. “Obey” your Agile Coach’s instruction (Shu)
  2. Only after you understand why you are doing something, begin to “Detach” and adapt (Ha)
  3. With 1 & 2 under your belt and with further practice you will then be able to “Seperate” and coach others (Ri)

Where are you in your path towards Mastery…Shu, Ha, or Ri?


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