Shu-Ha-Ri is frequently used as a good model that shows how we adopt new skills. The general idea is pretty simple. First, we just follow the rules. We don’t ask how the thing works, we just do the basic training. That’s Shu level.
Then we move to understanding what we are doing. Instead of simply following the rules we try to grasp why the stuff we’re doing works and why the bigger whole was structured the way it was. We still follow the rules though. That’s Ha level.
Finally, we get fluent with what we do and we also have deep understanding of it. We are ready to break the rules. Well, not for the sake of breaking them of course. We are, however, ready to interpret a lot of things and use our own judgement. It will sometimes tell us to go beyond the existing set constraints. And that’s Ri level.
I’ve heard that model being used often to advise people initially going with “by the book” approach. Here’s Scrum, Kanban or whatever. And here’s a book that ultimately tells you what to do. Just do it the way it tells you, OK?
Remember, you start at Shu and only later you’d be fluent enough to make your own tweaks.
OK, I do understand the rationale behind such attitude. I’ve seen enough teams that do cherry picking without really trying to understand the thing. Why all the parts were in the mechanism in the first place. What was the goal of introducing the method in the first place. On such occasions someone may want to go like “just do the whole damn thing the way the book tells you.”
It doesn’t solve a problem though.
In fact, the problem here is lack of understanding of a method or a practice a team is trying to adopt.
We don’t solve that problem by pushing solutions through people’s throats. The best we can do is to help them understand the method or the practice in a broader context.
It won’t happen on Shu level. It is actually the main goal of Ha level.
I would go as far to argue that, in our context, starting on a Shu level may simply be a waste of time. Shu-Ha-Ri model assumes that we are learning the right thing. This sounds dangerously close to stating that we can assume that a chosen method would definitely solve our problems. Note: we make such an assumption without really understanding the method. Isn’t it inconsistent?
Normally, the opposite is true. We need to understand a method to be able to even assess whether it is relevant in any given context. I think here of rather deep understanding. It doesn’t mean going through practices only. It means figuring out what principles are behind and, most importantly, which values need to be embraced to make the practices work.
Stephen Parry often says that processing the waste more effectively is cheaper, neater, faster waste. It is true for work items we build. It is true also for changes we introduce to the organization. A simple fact that we become more and more proficient with a specific practice or a method doesn’t automatically mean that the bottom line improves in any way.
That’s why Shu-Ha-Ri is misguiding. We need to start with understanding. Otherwise we are likely to end up with yet another cargo cult. We’d be simply copying practices because others do that. We’d be doing that even if they aren’t aligned with principles and values that our organization operates by.
We need to start at least on Ha level. Interestingly enough, it means that the whole Shu level is pretty much irrelevant. Given that there is understanding, people will fill the gaps in basic skills this way or the other.
What many people point is how prevalent Shu-Ha-Ri is in all sorts of areas: martial arts, cooking, etc. I’m not trying to say it is not applicable in all these contexts. We are in a different situation though. My point is that we haven’t decided that Karate is the way to go or we want to become a perfect sushi master. If the method was defined than I would unlikely object. But it isn’t.
Are there teams that can say that Scrum (or whatever else) is their thing before they really understand the deeper context? If there are then they can perfectly go through Shu-Ha-Ri and it will work great. I just don’t seem to meet such teams and organizations.