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December 9, 2013 / KaTe

Scrum Master’s toolkit: The Dreyfus Model Of Skill Acquisition

Hi Everyone  🙂

Today I am starting a new series. We’ll see how regularly I will be able to update it, but the two posts will be there before Christmas.

So why a Scrum Master’s toolkit? Because lots of SM’s and managers/leaders who would like to build better Teams and Scrum Teams struggle with good sources of knowledge. Of course there is Patrick Leoncioni, the Heath brothers, Tom DeMarco, Esther Derby, Diana Larssen, Lyssa Adkins, Seth Godin, Steve Denning, Ken Schwaber, Ken Blanchard, John Kotter, Jurgen Appelo, Uncle Bob, and many, many others. You can read all of their books, and actually you should. But what about someone that has just started working as a SM or a manager? They should start assembling their own understanding-and-exercising toolkit right away and I would like to give them a digest and a direction where they should go. And to point more experienced ones into terrains they may have never explored before.

Let’s start with one of the most important models for knowledge and skill development.  Many know about the SHU-HA-RI model. Good! If you don’t then go ahead and google it. Or not J. The Dreyfus Model is the SHU-HA-RI extended and for me way better explained.

Where did this model come from? In the ‘70s (maybe even ‘60s) of the past century, brothers Dreyfus worked with pilots.

As you can imagine, simulators, just like pilot schools have today were not invented yet. So there had to be some other way of knowing whether a pilot knows enough no to kill their passengers when something bad will happen mid-air. They observed lots of people and finally in 1980 they published a paper where they summed up everything they knew.

So let me explain how the model works. I will use an example that most of us can relate to: learning how to drive.


You start learning how to drive with your instructor, parent, guardian or sibling. Take a moment how it felt – clutch, gearbox, safety belts, blinkers, wipers, RPMs, speed, the sound of the engine, the big metal box you just sat in to operate. A lot to take in. And a lot of rules: when you change the gear, push the clutch. Release it slowly. Blinker! There is a 40 speed limit here. At this speed change the gear. Lights! … and so on. You were so consumed with getting to know the rules, you needed someone to remind you about some of them you were just currently not concentrating on.

Advanced Beginner

This is the moment when you start to grasp it. Your leg automatically pushes the clutch when you’re changing gears, you don’t even think about the blinker, you just turn it on, sometimes even when you don’t need it. Seatbelt? Automatic when you sit behind the wheel. Mirrors? You know what they are for. But wait. Now, because your processor load with all the mechanics is off, you start seeing the environment around you. You actually see the road signs your instructor was telling you about. You remember here is a 40 speed limit, but suddenly you understand why – there is a sign!
But wait, there is more – there is traffic! There are other people! They are DRIVING! You suddenly start noticing the environment. It doesn’t happen at once of course, but gradually. But this is when you’re not a novice anymore. You gain perception of the environment.


This is when you just drive. You got your license some time ago, you know your way around town. You don’t worry about operating the car anymore, you just do it automatically and it just listens to what you want to do, not how you want to do it. You drive confidently and you can actually predict what will happen in simple situations. A car coming too fast from a street on your right? You just slow down and watch him closely. Someone isn’t going at a straight line? He may be intoxicated, let’s pay close attention and maybe call 112/911. Rules are in your blood, you can see the environment and you can envision negative consequences of breaking those rules. This is what a competent driver does.


Proficient would be an experienced driver. Not their first car, they drove quite a few. Maybe even other vehicles. They have their license for 6, 10, 15 years now. Not only they can envision consequences of breaking the rules, but they bend them and understand why.  They can predict even complex situations they have never seen before.  For example, a truck driver starts slowly turning left. Something’s not right. That driver may not be aware what is wrong, but his brain will know and put him in high-alert mode. He will be able to predict what speed limit will is where, even without looking at the signs. He may not even remember it. He also may bend the rules – speed limit? RPM limit on that gear? Getting out of skidding? The fact that you have to speed up to do this, may be incomprehensible for a less proficient driver. So a proficient one automatically sees that something’s wrong and bends rules understanding what it brings.


Most of us will not be experts. WRC drivers or F1 drivers would be experts. Professional truck drivers would. These people intentionally break the rules to achieve something more. And they risk a lot with it. Regular drivers may not be able to operate in an environment when your car weighs 30 tons and you have 2 gearboxes and 20 gears at your disposal. Or when you have to speed up to 130 KM/h to be able to turn. This is the environment where only experts can go.

They also sometimes have kind of supernatural powers. There is a story of an F1 driver that just stopped in the middle of a race. He couldn’t explain why he did that. There were high walls on the track with fans on the top that could see all the action. Drivers couldn’t see more than few

hundred meters ahead. But he just stopped – and as it came out – it saved his life. Right around the corner there was a huge accident, involving several cars. Later everyone started wondering – how did he do that? Does he have some supernatural powers? After further analysis of the footage from the race, it came out that he must have seen the crowd on the top of the fence – they weren’t cheering, as usual, they were looking to their right. He must have spotted it with a corner of his eye and his body just reacted, braking and stopping right before it. It saved lives of few other drivers behind him too. Unfortunately I was unable to find the name of this driver. Maybe someone can help me here?

But there is a catch in all this. Do  you know when young drivers crash the most? 6 months after getting their license. Why? Because of the Dunning-Kruger effect. You are still a beginner, or start being competent, but you think you’re an expert already. That’s when you start breaking the rules and you either crash or break the engine, or the gearbox. Because you don’t understand consequences as well as an expert would. If you are aware of this effect, you can act.

If you are a Scrum Master, you can watch for that in your team. If they are introducing Scrum for example and after 3 sprints they decide to ditch the Review, you can see the Dunning-Kruger effect is happening. And you can tell then why they should wait a little more, until they actually see the environment.

It applies to everything. Learning to play an instrument, cooking, programming, drawing, simply everything.

It will help 🙂




Leave a Comment
  1. wooysiah (@wooysiah) / Feb 17 2014 11:02 am

    Kate, the driver you mentioned was Juan Manuel Fangio – one of F1 legends.

    • KaTe / Feb 17 2014 11:09 am

      This is fantastic – thank you very much for that comment! I’ve been looking fot this story for months!

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