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Establishing Change Agents within Organisations Using Shu-Ha-Ri

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Shu-Ha-Ri provides us with a learning path toward being agile by mastering the basics and understanding the fundamentals to gain incremental success. By having their own change agents, organisations can adapt quickly to changing market needs and get a competitive edge.

Ritika Singh, a Scrum Master at Speechmatics, spoke about the Shu Ha Ri Path of mastery to being agile at Aginext.io 2020.

Shu-Ha-Ri is a Japanese martial art technique which talks about mastering the basics. It has three stages, as Singh explained:

Shu: Where one follows the teachings as such without any deviations or questions.

Ha: Stage where the basic technique and its use are understood and now deviations can be made to fit the purpose.

Ri: This stage comes when one has become very comfortable with the technique and one can come up with their own approaches and adaptations.

Change agents can be anyone in the organisation who can help the organisation to transform in their journey, Singh said. Most companies give contracts to field experts who then observe the culture of the organisation, assess how the change can be made and then help in the transformation. But with the Shu-Ha-Ri stages of learning, since we are encouraging the concept of mastering the basics and then innovating based on the needs, we are actually reaching a stage of helping organisations to have their own change agents, Singh mentioned.

Singh advised organisations to have their own transformation or change agents to help them in the long run in adapting quickly to changing market needs, and in getting a competitive edge. She mentioned that we need to have trust in the process of mastering the basics and the importance of understanding the fundamentals to gain incremental success:

This kind of culture is what organizations need to look at; they need to create smaller results to gain the confidence of their stakeholders in the company’s process.

She gave an example of mastering agile retrospectives:

Any team will not be successful in doing retrospectives if they do not understand the need for it. Unless everyone understands the basics of why and how retrospectives are done, it will never be possible to in-build the behaviour.

InfoQ interviewed Ritika Singh about the heart of agile, using Shu-Ha-Ri and Kokoro to achieve the mastery of being agile, and to adapt to the pace of the market and competitive change.

InfoQ: How can we use the heart of agile from Alistair Cockburn to map out daily agile activities?

Ritika Singh: Heart of agile talks about an agile culture by simplifying it into four stages – Collaborate, Deliver, Reflect and Improve and if we look into daily agile activities, they all revolve around these four imperatives.

If we dive deep into agile activities all we are trying to achieve is more collaboration within and between teams starting with the daily stand-ups, refinements, and sprint planning which helps teams to collaborate with all the required stakeholders, making it fast and simple for teams to deliver. This is then followed by retrospectives which give teams and organizations a chance to reflect and eventually improve on things for them to perform better. So, overall the heart of agile very well depicts the agile activities.

InfoQ: How can this mapping help us to get insight into the different views that may exist in an organisation of what agile is?

Singh: The mapping gives us a defined set of ceremonies which is a chance for teams or individuals to put forward their views and at the same time a chance for stakeholders to see things from different angles. It gives an opportunity for people to observe and express their ideas, have transparency, openness, and trust, all of which are all built with the help of these ceremonies which help organizations get insight into different perspectives.

InfoQ: How can Shu-Ha-Ri help to establish a learning path to achieve the mastery of being agile and business agility?

Singh: How this can help us to achieve mastery of agile or business agility can be explained with a simple example. Let us take stand-ups, for instance.

Shu: We need to make sure that teams start doing stand-ups and communicate the three basics of the stand up: what was done yesterday, what will be done today, and are there any impediments? We need to make sure that teams continue to follow this until they become good at it.

Ha: At this stage, teams can come up with certain deviations, like adding "any other business" as a fourth thing or completely changing it to walking the board style to fulfill their requirements.

Ri: This is the stage where the flow of information happens naturally and teams do not even need to think before doing stand-ups. This is the stage where this becomes an in-built thing for the team.

So with these learning stages or paths, we can see organizations leaning towards agility by getting into the heart of agile by first collaborating to understand the vision and motive, then delivering with actual intent, and then introspecting and improving based on their needs. And when people in an organization start reaching towards the Ri stage, they are then ready to do different things.

People become innovative in the way they work; they can themselves find out the ways of doing the work efficiently and very well understand the vision/strategy of the organisation and what is being expected from them, which means organizations will have their own change agents.

InfoQ: What is kokoro and how does it extend Shu-Ha-Ri for achieving mastery?

Singh: Kokoro is basically a stage where you have mastered the basics of any technique, and is an extension of Shu-Ha-Ri, where the Kokoro stage comes after the Ri stage. Kokoro talks about the heart of agile, which is to collaborate, deliver, reflect and then improve. It basically reflects the concept that any practice can be mastered if we understand the fundamentals fully (or what we call mastering the basics).

So let us say that if we have understood the concept of collaboration and retrospection fully, we can then use it in our daily corporate and personal life, without even realising it (as it is now in-built in us and we do not need any practice for these things ).

InfoQ: What is your advice for organizations that need to adapt to the pace of the market and competitive change?

Singh: It is really important to have transparency throughout, have leaders who have a clear vision, who listen to their stakeholders, and most importantly are open to investments (both financial and non-financial). Also having a culture of openness and trust throughout helps organisations to achieve a competitive advantage.

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