Shu-Ha-Ri, estimate like never before

This week I want to talk about Shu-Ha-Ri and it’s meaning in my everyday life. In this post I won’t go into details about the way you learn new techniques. The focus will be on the way of thinking. To illustrate my point I will talk about a recent experience with a customer.

Shu-Ha-Ri – what it means to me

Before I talk about the customer experience I want to describe what Shu-Ha-Ri means to me and why I use this mindset gladly. Shu-Ha-Ri roughly translates to obey (shu) – detach (ha) – leave (ri). These three stages of learning are meant to achive mastery in a technique. The concept is easily explained:

  1. obey the rules of the pattern
  2. adjust the pattern depending on your situation
  3. leave the pattern and apply the underlying idea

This concept is meant to improve your self and/or what you do. I do like this mindset, because I derived a simple rule for my self:

When your performance drops, check how much you detached your self from the best practice and return to it.

Estimation workshop – how we get more precisely

A few weeks ago we had a workshop at the customer, which was intended primarily to improve our estimations. Our Scrum Master invited our team because this topic was mentioned multiple times in the retrospective. Before I outline the conversation I want to give you some background information.

This team has been working on a joint product with multiple other teams for over 10 years now. A couple of years ago those teams started to work in an agile environment with scrum. The teams scales and coordinates with the Scrum of Scrums technique. Every team got it’s own product owner . Currently all stories are estimated in StoryPoints (SP) and each task in man-days. The StoryPoint values are spread from 1 to 3 points. As soon as a story is rated with more than 3 points the team tries to break it down in multiple stories.

The meeting was opened with minutes of the last retrospectives and recent data / statistics to the current iteration. After the short introduction we were invited to an open discussion.

After we identified the following pain points during the discussion we reconsidered our wishes and intentions when we estimate.

  • (surprising) extra effort
  • irregular delivery reliability
  • high set-up time (e.g. workspace setup)
  • low priority task were started with high priority tasks to get them done in time

It was desired by all parties that the delivery reliability increases and that our commitments are met more often. We identified the following road blocker for these goals:

  • lack of discipline in the execution of prioritized tasks
  • with longer waiting times we have started new tasks
  • high number of simultaneous work in progress stories
  • ignored gut feeling during sprint planning
  • capacity planning ignored long waiting times

For all these road blocker we found different solutions. Solutions went from innovative to old known and various variations of them. Even “we don’t estimate at all” was mentioned in combination with “we focus on one user story after another”. Which solution we implement in the next iteration will be discussed in the next retrospective. Because of that I would answer the given question “how we get more precisely” with:

“we try to improve ourselves constantly and continuously”

Shu-Ha-Ri – when do you switch stages

During the outlined workshop I couldn’t help my self and was constantly thinking about Shu-Ha-Ri. The most frequent question I asked my self in the workshop was “why don’t we go back to the pattern” (given by scrum). But my question was based on the single aspect estimation. I recognized and understood all other aspects mentioned in the discussion. And most of them I did experience more than I was aware of in the first place.

Through the productive discussion and the common sense about our goal I discovered that it is not always just black and white. The proposals and mindsets had different facets which prevented a clear statement “we go back to the pattern” or “we leave the pattern completely”. When I evaluate my thoughts and mindset retrospectively I must say I was an advocate of “back to the pattern”.

My previous conclusion, that if the performance drops you should go “back to the pattern”, has been loosened since the workshop. I still feel the urge to recall the best practises when I see the performance drops. But inspired by the experience in the workshop I catch myself thinking about ways to leave the pattern and find different ways to increase the performance again.

This is why I changed my answer for the question “when do you switch stages” to:

When your performance drops, check how much you detached your self from the best practice and find out if you are ready for [Ri], otherwise go back to [Shu]

This post is also available in deutsch.

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