Best In Shu

Let’s get #BestInShu trending.

Hashtag proposal: #BestInShu – annotate / celebrate behaviour of individuals / teams as they toe the line between Shu & Ha in their solid accomplishing of specific Agile practices, or clear embracing of the mindset / particular Agile principles.

Forget “Do Re Mi” – we be talkin’ “Shu Ha Ri”.

Amongst Agilists, we like sprinkling in Japanese words where appropriate: Kaizen (actionable item of improvement), Muda & Mura & Muri (3 kinds of waste, from Lean, from The Toyota Production System), and here: Shu & Ha & Ri (competency model). Here’s how I think of them.

  • Shu – do the forms
  • Ha – tweak the forms
  • Ri – be formless

In the beginning, you are Shu – a beginner, an apprentice, a learner. Since you don’t know much, and there are many who have come before you, the advice is to copy. In martial arts, repeatedly practice those sequences of movements – you will feel that this is useless, and that you’re better than this, but if you want mastery, start here. In Scrum, follow the Scrum Guide and do all the events – you will feel that this is useless, and that you’re better than this, but if you want mastery, start here.

In Shu, there are standard ways of doing things. As a beginner, just copy these. This Shu stage takes discipline & repetition.

After some time, you are Ha – advanced, a journeyman, a practitioner. Since you have spent more time practicing, you have also experienced more of a craft, as well as the different contexts in which to apply your craft. In martial arts, mix ‘n’ match those moves as you react and then respond to the environment. In Scrum, adapt the framework to better suit the team and context, e.g., I have had teams refine one backlog item at the very end of the Daily Scrum, allowing time through the day for folks to investigate the next prioritized & unrefined item.

In Ha, there are still standard ways of doing things. Now that you’re advanced, break these rules thoughtfully. This Ha stage takes sensing & responding.

Once eons have passed, you are Ri – an expert, a master, a trainer. I think of a local comedian who’s no longer on the circuit, Chris Coxen. He gets up on stage as Barry Tattle in a burgundy velvet suit, with a mustache and shades, swanky music playin’, and… he riffs. A line that has stuck with me is, “I don’t tell jokes. I exist.” (I later found him and told him how deep that line is. He told me that he didn’t prepare it, and he rarely remembers what he says because he’s so in flow in his character. Chris really does… exist.)

In Ri, you know there will always be forms. As an expert, you know the reasons behind them and act not from the forms, but from ‘the why’ behind the forms. This Ri stage takes embodying a deep understanding, and giving, often by teaching.

This is how I think of the competency model. There are plenty of other descriptions out there if you’re not satisfied with what I’ve got here. Anyway, I share all this as context for my hashtag proposal up above.

Let us celebrate instances of advanced newbiness! These are milestones on a journey that takes time, perspiration, and patience, so positive forms of nudging should be welcomed, and encouraged.