Agile Motivation

Shu-ha-ri concept in Agile teamwork

Agile discipline and shu ha ri concept in agile teamwork

Have you ever heard about Muhammad Ali? He was one of the best boxers in the World. Many people still recognize him as the athlete of all times. Yep, that’s true. More than 10 years ago, when I was training kickboxing, I hung his poster in my room. It is still there!

Ali was famous mostly for two things: a wonderful, dynamic fighting style and a big mouth. He even lost a championship title for a lack of political correctness! Fortunately, no one was able to withstand his speed and precise blows in the ring. Ali’s style of boxing was distinctive. Bold but effective. That’s why he stunned opponents during fights.

Muhammad Ali is primarily known for his spectacular sport successes. However, hardly anyone remembers that it took 10 years and 119 boxing fights (including 100 as an amateur) before he achieved mastery. 10 years of gruelling, everyday trainings at a stifling gym in Louisville.

3 steps to achieve mastery in almost anything

Achieving success in martial arts not only depends on physical skills, but also (mainly?) on character. That’s why discipline is the key factor of victory. Exactly the same as in teamwork.

Adepts of Asian martial arts follow a philosophical concept called Shu-ha-ri. It’s a process of continuous improvement, which describes 3 stages of learning to achieve mastery.

The first stage is the Shu state. You have to learn habits and proven knowledge, observe your masters and obey specific rules. The Shu state is often the longest and the most demanding phase. It requires determination and resilience, which seems to be a tremendous obstacle for many people. By the way, this is the reason why we have so many students and so few masters.

If you are persistent and patient enough you will enter the Ha state. At this stage, you are so experienced that you are able to notice vulnerabilities of the system and things that are worth improving. Moreover, you are sufficiently mature to undertake the task of implementing changes. You are not afraid of modifying processes and experimenting.

The last level of initiation is Ri. When you checked the validity of the principles by yourself, you are ready to improvise.

Shu-ha-ri in Agile teams

The Shu-ha-ri model can be adapted not only to martial arts. This is a perfect metaphor for the development of Agile teams.

How it works? When I was a scrum master I noticed that when are you implementing Agile methodologies, at first you try to teach the general rules of agility in a business environment. You use a so-called “copy-paste” method and strictly follow the principles you read in the Scrum Guide (or in another guidebook).

Together with the team you set up some routines (like morning daily scrum meetings) and it works like a well-oiled machine. Actually, the team calendar is simple. A sprint lasts for a week. On Monday you have a Sprint Planning, on Friday – a Sprint Review and a Retrospective meeting. Once per month you have a Backlog Refinement meeting. Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland would be proud of you.

But eventually, a confusing moment always comes to almost every Agile team. At the same time the team members come up with the same idea. They want to change the rules of the game and feel the fresh wind of something new.

That’s cool, as long as the need of change arises from ambition and a feeling of ownership, not from a willingness to escape from problems. In that case, it’s just a rebellion, not progress.

In Poland we use to say that pride is before a crash. Be careful observing the development of the team. Remember that strength and efficiency are often the result of the discipline developed at the foundation. Just as Muhammad Ali did not give up hard training till the last fight. Do not lose track and stay focused on the purpose and confirmed practices.

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