Shu Ha Ri Model

Shu Ha Ri as an agile adoption pattern

Shu Ha Ri is an agile adoption pattern. The term Shu Ha Ri comes from Aikido, a Japanese martial art form. It focuses on incrementally mastering a technique or skill. The model says that in any learning process, we go through 3 stages - Shu, Ha and Ri. We start out as an apprentice. We don’t know anything and need to follow the rules (Shu). After we gain some mastery, we start to observe, explore and discover new approaches. This is the second stage (Ha). Finally, we enter the Ri stage where most of the learning comes from reflection on our own work, and continuous improvement.

Shu Ha Ri

The Shu-Ha-Ri model is often used to address the appropriate time and opportunity for process tailoring in agile. Level 1 is Shu (follow), Level 2 is Ha (break away), and Level 3 is Ri (fluency or go beyond and transcend).

Shu (follow)

Teams who are new to agile are at the first stage - Shu (follow). In this stage, it’s best to first follow the rules and best practices of agile that have been tried and tested over the years. In other words, try the plain vanilla agile before removing things and inventing new flavors.

Ha (break away)

Once they gain some mastery, they will start to gain a better understanding of the underlying principles and appreciate why things are done the way they are. At that point, they will enter the ‘Ha’ stage where they can start to ‘break away’ from the rules and tailor the processes to their needs.

Ri (go beyond)

At this stage, the team has developed a true mastery of agile. From this point, most of the the learning comes from their own work. The learning is not based on doing (as in Shu stage), or observing (as in Ha stage), but from reflection. At this stage, the team strives for continuous improvement.

Refer to the video below for a practical application of this approach:

Agile Coaching Styles

The Agile coaching styles that align with the Shu-Ha-Ri model are:

  • Shu - Teaching
  • Ha - Coaching
  • Ri - Advising

An agile coach would use teaching style for a team new to agile, then move to a more coaching role when the team has gained some experience in agile, and finally move to an advisory role when the team has mastered agile. Learn more about project management leadership styles.

Last updated: September 19, 2021