Every time I travel to Japan, something that strikes me is how process-driven the Japanese people and culture seem to be. Even something as simple as buying a train ticket is an intricately refined process. The ticket seller first makes sure they have heard and understood you correctly, repeating back your exact request before they print the tickets. And once they’re printed out, they will pick up a pen and check each detail of the ticket — before going through each check again with you. You will be given exact and clear instructions on how to locate the platform and when to expect the train. And you’ll notice that when the train arrives and stops at the platform, the driver also has a checklist they will diligently follow. It’s incredible to observe, but not arbitrary — they do this because they have found it reduces error rates by up to 85% and ensures everything runs smoothly.
You might be wondering what Japan has to do with successfully coaching teams, particularly within an Agile framework. And the answer is Shu Ha Ri. This Japanese concept, roughly translated to “first learn, then detach, and finally, transcend” (or more simply: walk, run, fly) is a way of thinking about the stages of learning from beginner to master — and a key philosophy used in the martial art Aikido. Working in an Agile way requires much learning of new rituals, processes, and different ways of thinking, so if you are a scrum master, this concept can be a very useful one for understanding and guiding you in how to be a better team coach and ensuring that each project runs just as smoothly (and to time) as a bullet train.
How Does Shu Ha Ri Relate to Agile?
Shu Ha Ri is centered on the idea that the pursuit of learning and perfection in itself is a continuous and valuable process. Now let’s look at how this approach can be employed in a practical way to enhance a team’s adoption and adherence to an Agile mindset.
When a team first begins to work in an Agile way, they will be in the Shu phase:
- carefully following processes and rituals,
- learning fast,
- building experiences until they are fully absorbed.
In the second phase, the team will become more focused on purpose:
- understanding the purpose of all processes and rituals,
- learning processes and their purposes in more depth.
The final phase of team development will be based on experience. They will be:
- learning from their own experiences and practices,
- engaging in more self-discovery,
- building on the original principles and extending their use,
- developing new concepts and techniques, and sharing with others.
How Can You Use Shu Ha Ri as A Scrum Master?
Now you have an understanding of the different phases of learning a team passes through, you can use this knowledge to help guide your coaching approach. By assessing and recognising the stage your team is presently at, you can adapt your own behaviour accordingly to offer them maximum support.
Shu: Coach as A Teacher
- Remain patient during this phase as the team builds valuable experience.
- Keep the fundamental Agile principles constant.
Ha: Coach as A Mentor/Facilitator
- Empower team members to learn, rather than directing them, even as the team experiments with new methods.
- Support the team to self-identify solutions and steps for their development.
Ri: Coach as An Advisor
- Your team in Ri should be self-organized, self-monitoring, and self-correcting.
- You maintain a presence as a mirror to increase awareness and reflection.
- Your question, augment or illuminate their current challenges but allow the team to come up with their own solutions.
Have you employed Shu Ha Ri in your coaching activities? What other approaches have you found useful?