Agile ShuHaRi

Agile ShuHaRi

ShuHaRi, a term that originated from Japanese martial arts, is often used in agile classes to describe a learning model.

Shu represents the first stage when the student imitates techniques.

Ha represents the second stage when the student understands the underlying principles and theories, and feels comfortable making modifications, keeping the principles and theories in tact.

Ri represents the final and the most innovative stage. The student is creating his own approaches and adapting what he’s learned to his unique circumstances.

When I’m teaching students who are new to agile, I use a cooking analogy, both to describe ShuHaRi and to describe the difference between what it means to “be agile” versus following a methodology, such as Scrum.

I tell the class that agile is like cooking and Scrum is more like a recipe. Agile gives us the manifesto and the 12 principles, but does not provide a step-by-step “cookbook” approach to either project management or developing software.

When we are new cooks, we need to follow a recipe. This is the “Shu” stage of learning to cook.

As we become more familiar with different flavors, we reach the “Ha” stage, feeling comfortable modifying the ingredients to our taste.

Finally, as we become chefs (“Ri”), we create new recipes or maybe write a cookbook ourselves, striving to create a unique and innovative set of recipes or approach to cooking.

If we compare this to agile, when we are new, it’s best to use the more prescriptive approach to following a methodology, such as Scrum. In other words, we need to “follow the recipe” at this stage.

Though agile promotes adaptability and flexibility, when a team is new and still in the “Shu” stage of learning, they are probably better off starting with the recommended “best practices” provided by the experts.

Too many people feel that they will be more agile by not following a recipe or rule book, but that really depends on how experienced the team is.

If you have a bunch of people who are inexperienced cooks who throw a bunch of ingredients together without really understanding the concepts behind cooking, the chances are that your resulting dish is not going to taste that good.

Similarly, inexperienced agile practitioners who pick and choose different agile techniques to follow may end up with a methodology that doesn’t work too well.

It’s really better to at least start with that recipe. However, having the benefit of gathering feedback and constantly adapting and improving allows the team to develop the skills to move to that next learning stage.

Whether it’s cooking, music, art, software development or project management, when we are new, we start the learning process by imitating others.

Over time, we gain the skills to make modifications, and at the highest levels, we create something entirely new.




Yvette Francino has more than 30 years in the software development industry, and is an independent consultant, experienced agile leader, coach, author and trainer in various methodologies including SAFe, Scrum, Kanban and large-scale custom methodologies.

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