|14 Sep 2019|Klaus Leopold

Are Flight Levels the Shu, Ha or Ri of agility – or is that the wrong question?


I have often thought about what Shu-Ha-Ri means in terms of agility. I also often hear that Flight Levels are a Ri thing. I’m not so sure about that, so I try to put my thoughts into words.
Shu-Ha-Ri is a cool thing and I can well imagine that it works in many areas when it comes to learning something completely new. But I’m not sure if agility and/or Flight Levels are something completely new.
If a highly paid manager is unable to establish the required agility of his company in the market, then in my view he is not at the Shu level of agility, but at the Shu level of management.  There can be no Ri manager who acts at the Shu level of agile management when the market demands agility. That would be just like a Michelin star chef (Ri) not being able to cook rice dishes (Shu). If a star chef cannot cook rice, he is most likely not a star chef.
Yes, if you introduce Flight Levels as a thinking model in your organization, you will have to think. And that’s a good thing! The highest maxim of the Flight Levels is: “Thinking is explicitly allowed”. It is strongly desired that managers turn on their brains and – yes – also contribute their experience. They are not idiots, but smart people, which is why they run companies. I find it really disturbing when poster and framework agilists dictate to managers what they have to do to become agile. But I find it even more disturbing when experienced managers let themselves be dictated. Poster and framework agility is convenient. If it doesn’t work, managers can blame the method. Consultants, on the other hand, can say: “Of course it doesn’t work. You didn’t do it like the book says.”
With the Flight Levels we take a different path. We believe in the ability and responsibility of managers and even consultants. The Flight Levels model can help to get an overview of what needs to be done at which levels in an organization to achieve what you want to achieve. But the Flight Levels are not a recipe to follow – they “only” help to make the right decisions. The people involved have to think and make decisions themselves. When Flight Levels are applied in organizations, we often hear: “Now we finally see clearly where the problem lies and what we have to do”. And that’s really awesome!
Unfortunately, I am not smart enough to come up with the ultimate recipe for how every organization in every industry and of every size should work best. I also can’t imagine that such a recipe exists. Hopefully in every organization there are experts who know how to manage a company (aka managers). I am always very humble and honored when I see that managers use Flight Levels as a tool to make their daily work more effective.

Bruno Lopes Mello
23 Jan 2020 19:49

Klaus, I have to say thank you. Your vision is impressive. Flight Level’s have thought us a lot of new things. Your Flight Levels are a pretty smart way to interpret the system and its reality. we have started to use it and the benefits of the overall structure design emerged very quickly. We have implemented using visual management, building the hierarchy at the kanban board level and at the cards level. The level of transparency and the speed of decision making improved drastically. For all of your experience and contribution to business, thank you!

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