The Shu-Ha-Ri Argument

“These developers have no idea at all about Agile practices. They need to slavishly follow what we tell them- at least for a while. We must show them the exact A-B-C steps. And they must do them. It does not matter if they want to or not. They are in the “Shu” stage of Shu-Ha-Ri. We must tell them exactly what to do, and they must do it.”

Well, OK. Let’s unpack this.

First, “Shu-Ha-Ri” comes from the martial arts. “Shu” is beginner’s mind. “Ha” is the intermediate-stage of competence. “Ri” is mastery. So far so good.

Second, those karate students, those Judo students, those Kempo students….they all WANT to be taught. They want to learn. By being present in the dojo, they are signaling that they are submitting to the authority of the teacher.

So they are willing to be led through learning. WILLING. They are submitting. And they are in Shu-mode.


The situation is completely reversed when you impose teaching about Agile practices on teams, and then make them do these practices. These teams never agreed to submit to anything.

Yes- they are in “Shu” mode but let’s not pretend that they agreed. They did not.

Therefore: the Shu-Ha-Ri analogy does not really make sense, because you are imposing a set of practices on people who never agreed. People who never consented. 

The predicable result is a very unhappy ending. For everyone. This is the main problem with your Agile adoption. You’re forcing it on intelligent people, people who are problem-solvers.

People who are independent thinkers.

People who have a strong need for control.


So stop doing that. And use invitation instead. It actually works!


And please stop it with the Shu-Ha-Ri argument, because if they never agreed, then that argument just doesn’t have legs.


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