Friday, June 26, 2009

Shu, Ha, Ri with Alistair Cockburn

Yesterday, I had the chance to spend the day (actually 12 straight hours) with Alistair Cockburn. Excella’s Agile Center of Excellence held a private breakfast event featuring Alistair and he and I met with several clients later in the day as well. It was a great experience and great fun. Not only is Alistair extremely knowledgeable, but he’s a funny and nice fellow as well.

Rich and Alistair

(Alistair and I after a long 12 hour day)


(Alistair with Excella’s OPM team in front of our Scrum wall. Note we are both pointing at the IMPEDIMENTS sign)

Yesterday provided much blogging material, but I will start with Shu, Ha, Ri.

During one of our client meetings yesterday, the topic of Shu, Ha, Ri came up, which Alistair describes in his book Agile Software Development (now in second edition as Agile Software Development: The Cooperative Game).

When Shu-Ha-Ri came up, Alistair asked me to describe it and I provided something along the lines of the following:

Shu, Ha, Ri, comes from Aikido (think Steven Segal in Above the Law, his only good movie …. other than Executive Decision, which barely counts considering he dies in the first 20 minutes … bonus material for blog, not in original statements). Shu, Ha, Ri roughly translates into learn, detach, transcend.

From the perspective of learning Agile (and really learning in general), Shu represents the first level of learning Agile. At this level, one learns a certain skill/technique and essentially mimics it. In the case of Scrum, one learns Scrum and then starts by implementing a set of Scrum based procedures; daily stand-ups, product and iteration backlog, Scrum Board, etc. At this point the Scrum student is learning and implementing the technique.

The next level of learning is Ha. At the Ha stage, one starts looking beyond their technique. For someone looking at Scrum, they realize that textbook Scrum doesn’t speak to areas such as project initiation, engineering practices, and testing techniques. One looks at other areas to broaden and deepen their skill sets.

The third level of learning is Ri. At the Ri stage, the focus is no longer on technique but more on outcomes. When presented objectives and goals, the practitioner doesn’t say they’re going to use a particular method to solve a problem, but rather the practitioner achieves the desired outcomes by applying the appropriate techniques from their repertoire needed for the specific situation to deliver the desired outcome.

After I gave my interpretation, I asked Alistair if I had it correct. I was happy to hear Alistair state that I had it correct and he said that he really liked my explanation of Ri, which wasn’t quite what he said. He then said he liked what I said about Ri better and is thinking about stealing it. Which makes me happy and will make my lawyer very happy when I put the lawsuit together (kidding!).

Overall, fun day.


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