So your Agile adoption failed! Ever heard of Shu-Ha-Ri?

Posted on Sunday, January 27, 2008


This story would interest you if you are new to Agile and are planning to adopt it with full enthusiasm.

Xlabs started Agile adoption with the full fanfare. It had the upper management support and the team was convinced about its values and the results it could bring to the table. Four iterations down, Xlabs started feeling that things were not working out as well as they expected them to be. They tried for a few iterations more with even more disappointing results. Finally they came to the conclusion that Agile was overrated and worked only for a few organizations. Let down by the results they moved back to what they had been doing for ages, waterfall. The management however was reading about the agile development success stories around the world and decided to do a root cause of what went wrong.

Within a week the process auditing folks came out with the basic flaw with the way Agile was adopted. Xlabs had no idea about Shu-Ha-Ri! and hence they adopted agile in the incorrect way thus leading the current state of affairs.

So what is Shu-Ha-Ri and why is it so important?

ShuHaRi closely translates to Learn, Detach and Transcend.

Shu is the state of learning. In this state, the adoption should be carried out without any modification. I.e. if you have decided to follow Scrum, XP or any other methodology adopt it by the book. Do not even dream about making any modifications to what the book says. The idea of this state is to understand the rationale and technique behind the methodology. This state lays ground for sound technical foundation. Once you are thorough with the Shu state you can move to Ha.

Ha is a state of Detachment. The solid technical foundation has already been laid and now you should reflect on the meaning of each practice and formulate a deeper understanding of everything which is done in the methodology. This is moving ahead of just following the repetitive practices and to question the reason for each practice and principle. This would give you a better understanding and you would start thinking in the direction of customization.

Ri is to go beyond of transcend. Now you change from adopters to practitioners. Now is the time to think originally and try out your original customizations in your real case situations. This is the state where the methodology can become your own version. The methodology should be tailored to meet your needs and become more effective. This state also brings a social responsibility where you are expected to share your experiences with the community.

So what was the problem with Xlabs. The problem was that they moved directly to stage 3 i.e. Ri state. They started to adopt Scrum and within the first iteration, they started with a super customized version of Scrum or should we call it Xcrum. They had a technical architect, project manager and the team with no Scrum master. There were irregular standups and no retrospectives. There was no product owner as for simplicity they wanted to all the stakeholders to have full access of the product backlog. Still they wanted to call it Scrum.

Obviously it was bound to fail and the easiest whipping boy was Agile. It was easy to say that Agile was overrated whereas it was the adoption process which was undervalued.

If you see any customizations happening when you start following any agile methodology beware that you might end up the Xlabs way. Let Shu-Ha-Ri guide you through your adoption process.

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Posted in: Agile, Scrum