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Mindfulness meets Agile

What happens when Psychology meets Project Management? Natural conflict, you might think. This simplified introduction to the basic concepts of ‘Mindful Agile’ is here to change that.

One is about ‘keeping calm’, while the other is about ‘speeding up’. One is a project management methodology, while the other is a psychological state of being  purposefully aware, non-judgmental, and action-ready in real-time.  Recent research reveals that the match between Agile mindset and Mindfulness can create magic when implemented right.  Read on to know why, and how.

The American Psychological Association defines Mindfulness as: “…a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment. In this sense, mindfulness is a state and not a trait. While it might be promoted by certain practices or activities, such as meditation, it is not equivalent to or synonymous with them.”

 The Agile methodology, on the other hand, is an iterative approach to project management and software development- a pathbreaking technique helping teams deliver value to their customers faster and with fewer glitches. 

Agile: What it is, basic concepts and advantages 

One is about ‘keeping calm’, while the other is about ‘speeding up’. 
Does that make the two concepts mutually exclusive?
What happens when their powers combine?

Mindfulness helps practitioners attain the ability to introspect, be more receptive to change, develop the ability to evaluate,  enhance flexibility, and engage in pragmatic thinking. These qualities, in turn, facilitate ingenuity, innovation, emotional intelligence, empathy , and embrace dynamism in the face of unprecedented market challenges — factors pivotal to success in Agile teams. 

Bridging the gap:  ‘Going Agile’ & ‘Being Agile’

We cannot emphasize this enough: Agile is a mindset and not just a set of practices and rituals. Teams often fail despite setting out on an ambitious Agile transformation journey. This is particularly prevalent in scenarios where employees aren’t truly prepared for a change on a ground level.  

When Agile practitioners  start spending  time in Mindfulness sessions, they  gradually learn to calm their thoughts, master the art of allowing chaos-inducing emotions to settle down, and finally,  open their  minds to solutions that meet customer needs in novel and improved ways. Mindfulness also allows them to respond to each other with clarity, and work more effectively with greater collaboration. All these elements contribute to the success of an Agile team. 

Mindful Agile is the synergy between the Agile mindset and Mindfulness that  facilitates a team's transition from 'going Agile' to 'being Agile'.

Benefits of Agile teams practicing Mindfulness 

By practicing mindfulness, Agile teams can elevate their level of awareness to develop clarity in perspective on what is going on inside as well as outside their environment. Besides, they are more likely to resist the urge to act impulsively and to allow the time and mindset to choose appropriate responses to mitigate critical situations. The table below provides a glimpse into how this works:  

Agile Mindset Mindfulness 
Iterative approach to work
with focus on value
State of complete awareness
: in the moment
and without judgement
Collaborative and adaptable Deliberate observation
Responding to change
over following a plan
Non-judgmental objectivity
Continuous learning
and growth
Openness to whatever
unfolds in the present
Focus on current sprint
deliverables while also being
aware of  happenings  in  business or client’s end
Helps being in an undistracted, yet alert  mental state.

What happens when you practice Mindful Agile…

  • The Agile Manifesto states that teams should reflect on how to become more effective, and then adjust their behavior accordingly. Reflection leads to awareness, and awareness in the present moment is brought about by Mindfulness.
  • You are better equipped to prioritize the most valued features or use-case Stories for releases.
  • You develop the ability to observe without criticism.
  • Gradually, you master the art of  ‘letting go’. You get better at  shelving plans which  are incongruent with unforeseen changes in a business environment or customer requirements.
  • Your ability to look, listen and learn improves significantly. With enhanced awareness, you can devote unwavering attention to customer and stakeholder interactions.
  • Your sense of mental balance improves. For instance, as your ability to accept the present improves,  so does  your ability to adjust to a Product Owner’s last-minute decision changes  related to the Sprint.
  • Being fully present with others helps team members communicate more effectively.
  • Judgement-free observation  during testing helps you learn from errors.

Disclaimer: Views and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to Trundl. Information shared is subject to change.

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