Shu-Ha-Ri in Agile

The concept of Shu-Ha-Ri originates from the Japanese martial art Aikido. Here the meaning:

Shu (守) "protect", "obey"—traditional wisdom—learning fundamentals, techniques, heuristics, proverbs

Ha (破) "detach", "digress"—breaking with tradition—detachment from the illusions of self

Ri (離) "leave", "separate"—transcendence—there are no techniques or proverbs, all moves are natural, becoming one with spirit alone without clinging to forms; transcending the physical.


The Shu-Ha-Ri model can be adapted not only to martial arts. This is a perfect metaphor for the development of Agile teams.


Shu - We strictly follow the rules of agile. I see that as having all the agile ceremonies, and following the guidelines for these e.g. your stand up follows the pigs and chickens rules, everyone answers the “3 questions”, and it is time-boxed to 15 minutes. This should be done until everyone, and I think the key word here is everyone, is comfortable with those “forms”.

Ha - Now that everyone is comfortable with the basic forms, we can start to tweak/make amendments to them. Looking at the example above, maybe now we look at our stand ups, and change the timing of it, or go through each story rather than each member of the team. Doing this, we can see what works and what doesn’t work — retrospectives would play a big role in this section.

Ri - We have moved away from the “out of the box” structure and mechanisms and we have become the rule.