ShuHaRi for the New Generation of Product Owners

October 22, 2020
5 minute read
A guest post by Joanna Tivig 


The ShuHaRi concept emerged in Japanese martial arts and describes the stages of learning to achieve mastery. The concept was first introduced in Agile by Alistair Cockburn as a way for people to develop techniques, practices, and tools for software development. It was based on continuous learning and improvement and was at the core of agile delivery, where learning and continuous improvement to how we perform in our roles are fundamental.


I find it so pertinent for product owners and the evolution of the product owner role to a different level – a new generation of product owners who care about customers and deliver value for those customers. It means, ‘that while we adhere to traditional wisdom as a novice, we should break with it if needed, especially when we gather new knowledge which allows us to understand the essence of past success. What follows should be transcendence to a new expression, based on tradition’, based on what ShuHaRi says.

This new generation of product owners requires mastery on at least three spectrums: relationship with customers, managing feedback and dealing with change. Let’s see what that means in ShuHaRi.

The character ‘Shu’ means ‘to abide byto defend’. For product owners, this stage means the status quo of how they have worked in a certain environment for generations. The customers were a distant variable, the shareholders instead were the stakeholders to please. Feedback from the customer was non-existent and happened too late, mostly in the form of customer rejection of the product. And the change was a threat to a successful project.

The character ‘Ha’ means to ‘to break’. With Agile, product owners had an opportunity to break the norms by considering the discussion with the customer and business stakeholders, even if that puts shareholders in a secondary place. The feedback from customers is visible. Changes are still a challenge for fear of too much disruption.


The character ‘Ri’ means ‘to leave, to depart’. For product owners, this is a critical stage in becoming the new generation of product owners. They take the relationship with the customer to the level of partnership and representation. They incorporate the feedback they receive from customers and stakeholders continuously. Change becomes a tool to improve constantly and deliver value to customers.



Which level of ShuHaRi are you in and what do you think you need to become the new generation of product owners, to serve your customer and your organization?


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