• Sam Cen

Rethinking Agility in combination with Shu-Ha-Ri

Originated from the Japanese Martial art Aikido, the concept "Shu-Ha-Ri" describes the typical process in mastering almost any skill:


Shu - Precisely following the basic rules, do exactly as the teachers do.

Ha - Further develop the skills by trying something different.

Ri - Make your own story and be the skill yourself.


In comparison with my observation on how my son learn to play LEGO, I made this slideshow story:



Actually we can observe "Shu-Ha-Ri" in every learning process. We also discussed about applying it to the change initiative in the company: Exactly following the change rules, further develop the rules and being the rules in the end.


Agility is also about change: From following rules and procedures to put human needs above others, from negotiating about the contract to collaborate openly with the customers, from following a certain plan to react to changes.


At the end of the day we want to develop from being forced to change to embracing change.





My customer experience in the drug store DM triggered me to write another story.


In case you don't know German, this is the story:


My wife placed an order via DM-online to get some basic materials. She did not inform me about the difference of "express" and "normal" orders. With the "express" customers can get things prepared within 24 hours, while with the latter customers have to wait 2 - 3 days until things are prepared and delivered for pick-up.


As I dropped off by a DM store in the next town and asked for my order, I was not aware of the differences. Since it was a "normal" order, the store worker politely ask me to wait for a confirmation via Email. I asked if I could just pick everything here in the store, since there should be enough in stock and I was already there. He asked me to follow the procedure.


Online service, especially in the times of global pandemic, is a must-have and a very innovative way in the sense of customer service. Unfortunately the store worker was not able to take advantage of the service agility to make customers satisfied.


I would do this if I were the store worker: Well, please feel free to pick the things you have ordered online, check out and I will cancel your online order for you. At least, I would suggest this alternative solution. This would cause some changes:


  1. Customer's problem gets solved

  2. Same or even more business done with payment in cash

  3. Less stock in the store


The story above did not happen because the lack of flexibility and customer-oriented mindset. What dominated in the mind of this store worker at that moment was, rules and procedure first, customer satisfaction second.





For a certain moment, I pondered if my two stories are contraditions to each other: Agility begins from following rules and ends in being the rule; Agility begins from change in mindset and ends in creating customer-centric innovation.


I would say No.


We introduce different agile frameworks to increase our agility to face changes. A total change goes through different stages as described in "Shu-Ha-Ri", which is a long-term process. Truly living agility we have to put customer needs first and weight them more than existing rules.


The contexts are different: the former one leads to internal changes in a long period. The latter requires the collaboration between mindset and technology. By taking advantages of technological advancement we keep our behaviours customer-oriented, which will lead to external customer satisfaction in a short time.