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The Science of PPM Mastery via Japanese Martial Arts - Wellingtone PPM
The Science of PPM Mastery via Japanese Martial Arts

By Emma-Ruth Arnaz-Pemberton

A little while ago, Marisa Silva posted an article about the phenomenon of ‘experts’. You can read it HERE.

I agree wholeheartedly with Marisa, which is indeed lucky because we work together in various PMO contexts! But her article got me to thinking about what it takes to become good enough that you have the confidence to put yourself out there, and I came across the ShuHaRi concept.

Now, let’s be honest, my twitter handle is @PMONinjas so anything in this field is likely to peak my interest but it genuinely seems to have some correlations with what we find in the industry, and people such as Martin Fowler and Alistair Cockburn have written about its’ alignment with Agile principles.

ShuHaRi translates roughly to “To keep, to fall, to break away” and describes the stages of learning to achieve mastery.

It introduces the three stages as:

SHU (守)protect“, “obey” and is focused on utilising traditional wisdom and learning the fundamentals. In this stage we repeat the disciplines and the norms and become accustomed to those ways of working that have been set before us.

HA (破)detach“, “digress” which diverges the fundamentals and introduces breaking with tradition as the learner begins gaining confidence. In this stage we use those ways of working, and history to innovate and improve on, and even discard some of the traditional techniques.

RI (離)leave“, “separate” is all about transcendence where actions are natural, and the individual is becoming one with spirit alone. In this stage we are able to open the door to creativity and arrive to a state of Mastery that allows us to act in a way that is driven by passion and a will to continuously improve.

ShuHaRi - The Science of PPM Mastery via Japanese Martial Arts - Wellingtone PPM ShuHaRi is depicted in Figure 1 which shows that the fundamental techniques, although they can be evolved; are always in the center and do not change.

Just like with PPM knowledge, however ways of working evolve and change the basics are still at the center of what we do (think the Triple Constraint).
If we bring this concept into the world of PPM, we can see some clear correlations. Learning from the basics, ensuring that we are comfortable with the ‘standard’ ways of working. Then moving onto innovation of those processes using the confidence they gain through practice. Lastly, learning continuously and experimenting with passion to bring innovations to others and share their mastery.

As detailed in Marissa’s article, whilst journeying through the ShuHaRi stages, it is important to be aware of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Where confidence is proven to be high when people have little skill or experience (they don’t know what they don’t know so they overestimate their ability). However (and sadly), as expertise builds up in terms of experience and knowledge, we realise how much more there is to learn and add a negative bias to our confidence levels assuming we are not as good as we think we are. You can read about how the Dunning-Kruger effect impacts our levels of confidence in my APM blog piece HERE.

You don’t have to be a ninja to be a master at something! But it helps to understand the process we all go through to reach that point; and have the level of emotional intelligence to acknowledge where we are before proclaiming expertise in a domain.

Like beauty, expertise is in the eye of the beholder; if you have to call yourself an expert, it’s probably not true! And in my view ShuHaRi can be cyclical, in that there is never a point at which you have evolved so much you don’t have anything left to learn.

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