Do something that scares you everyday.
Do something that scares you everyday.

How to practice an agile mindset in everyday life.

How to practice an agile mindset in everyday life.

You don’t have to develop software to develop an agile mindset. You also don’t have to enroll in an expensive course to develop agility in your thinking. And you don’t necessarily have to follow Scrum if you want to be agile.

In fact, the most agile organizations started off using Scrum, but stopped following any defined methodology, as agility is about responding to change over following a plan.

Everyday agile is about practices and tools to be agile each and every day, regardless of the methodology, technology, or environment. And one of my goals is to integrate agile and lean into non-development environments, making it more than just another software development methodology.

Naturally, this lead me to find ways to integrate agile into areas where no technology, or very little technology, exists. I worked with beauty spas, physiotherapy centers, with a gynecologist, a primary school, a print design company, a travel agent, retailers, and the past few weeks, learning how to make soap.

My goal is to find ways to make agile accessible to everyone, much like Apple made personal computers accessible to the masses, not only developers.

Here are some of my insights on how to apply agile in everyday life, from learning how to make soap.

1. Rules are there to be broken.

A few weeks ago I had no idea how soap is made, and if you told me I would become a soap-maker hobbyist, I would have laughed at you. But a few batches of soap later, and I’m in love!

Creativity flows when you break the rules.

The love affair, however, only started when I started breaking the rules. With the first two batches I was too scared and followed the recipes blindly, resulting in a boring (but beautiful) bar of soap.

As my confidence grew though, I started experimenting. I replaced olive oil (which ran out) with macadamia oil, water with a cup of green rooibos tea, and added organic ingredients, which changes the saponification rate and amount of lye required.

My creativity started to flow with each new batch, and every one is getting better, more exciting, more interesting. My love affair is blooming more and more every day.

The world of software development is no different, with creativity and motivated employees at the heart of a successful, and agile, organization.

Let’s face it — there is more competition for any given technical solution than what you can keep up with. What differentiates you is no longer the technical solution itself, but the technical solution and the customer relationships, or the technical solution and the level of innovation around it. You need creativity to stand out from the crowds.

An agile organization doesn’t follow rules blindly, and rules are not enforced either. Rules are available as a safety net, like training wheels when learning to ride a bicycle. But that’s their purpose — to provide a safe environment while mastering a new skill, and to ensure order in a complex society.

An agile organization understands that breaking the rules also leads to breakthroughs.

Breaking rules thoughtfully and with adequate knowledge to make an informed decision, can help an organization or team overcome obstacles during the sprint, or design an innovative solution.

2. Know the rules before you start breaking them.

But before you can start breaking the rules, you first need to know them. An agile organization is not anarchy, hoping to deliver at the end of the sprint.

Agile teams are confident that they can deliver the stories committed to, and they know that they can only be confident if they have the necessary proof from past experience.

With soap making, you first need to understand the science, or rules, of the reaction, and how each ingredient will influence the soap making process.

Each oil has different properties, and depending on these properties, the soap will be less bubbly, more conditioning, or contains too much or too little iodine. Each oil also has a different SAP value, which tells you how much sodium hydroxide is needed, and for the soap to form, you need to have exactly the correct amount of sodium hydroxide for the reaction to take place.

You have to follow the rules, and understand how breaking them will change the outcome of your results. In any organization, breaking rules have an impact, so it is necessary to understand the impact of change before the change happens.

3. Constraints are fuel for innovation

Whenever a constraint during the sprint is used as an excuse not to deliver, you can be sure that it is not an agile team. Agile teams welcome obstacles and are not stopped from delivering as a result of constraints.

Obstacles and constraints are the best tools to cultivate an agile mind.

An agile team views obstacles as opportunities to try something new, to push limits, and most importantly, to learn.

When I started making soap, I didn’t want to waste expensive oils not being sure whether the recipe will work or not. I decided to start with a smaller batch, but this presented a new problem.

The molds I had was too large for the mixture, rendering them useless. The solution I came up with turned out to be so good that I am still using that rather than the original molds. As apposed to having to make a large batch of soap, not knowing whether people will like it or not, I now use old milk bottles which not only makes it much easier, but I’m also more flexible. I can try out different recipes and test them out before producing in bulk. Smaller is better. Always.

The constraint turned out to be a blessing. View it as an opportunity, not an obstacle.

The only difference between the two is your perspective. If you’re an optimist, it’s an opportunity. For pessimists, it’s a problem. Which would you rather deal with?

4. Respect your fear

I was surprised at how afraid I was to make my first batch of soap. I’ve jumped off a mountain paragliding, I’ve ski-dived, I’ve scuba dived to sub 40m on air and were nearly swallowed by a whale shark.

Yet, I was afraid of mixing sodium hydroxide with water!

Soap making requires safety goggles, protective gloves and good ventilation, as the chemical reaction between the sodium hydroxide and water is dangerous, emitting a poisonous gas as part of the chemical reaction. This is what stops a lot of people from making cold pressed soap.

This fear of the unknown made me realize the importance of this emotion, whether when making soap, or trying something new when developing software.

Fear is designed to keep you safe. Respect it, but don’t be a slave to it.

Growth only happens when you push yourself outside your comfort zones. Naturally, that means that you’ll be faced with fear. The difference between an agile and non-agile organization, is their reaction to this fear of the unknown. An agile organization doesn’t allow fear to stop them from changing, they respond to the change regardless of their fear of failure.

The purpose of fear is to warn you of danger in order to keep you safe, not to stop you from doing what you fear.

When fear faces you, don’t run away, rather look at it carefully and continue with focused attention.

5. There’s no such thing as a mistake

A lot of ground breaking inventions, including our much loved post-it notes, were considered to be “mistakes”. The glue on post-it notes was a failed attempt because it was supposed to stick, and it didn’t.

If they threw away the invention, discarding it as a mistake, we would not be able to effortlessly and easily visualize information, and change our minds without having to re-do the work. An agile organization allows for mistakes, and learns from it. They don’t discard results that didn’t meet expectations as faults, rather as feedback to allow them to improve.

Part of my soap making involves extracting the juice from a succulent and once, I accidentally broke the narrow, or “wrong”, end of the leaf. This mistake turned out to be an easier way to extract more juice from the leaf. If I didn’t make the mistake, I would never have discovered the easy way to do it.

An agile organization is at it’s heart a learning organization, and that means a lot of failures. In a non-agile organization, management views mistakes as that — something that should be avoided, something that is wrong, unwanted.

An agile organization, on the other hand, views a mistake as an opportunity for learning and growth, possibly even a ground breaking invention.

An agile organization allows teams and people to make mistakes, and they don’t discard mistakes without first critically evaluating how it can improve the process.


Training your mind to become agile, is training it to be more flexible. Similarly, an agile organization is a flexible organization. An organization that has rules, but allows for these rules to change dynamically. An organization that values learning and growth more than playing it safe. An organization that courageously acts and responds even when faced with fear.

And all of that, I learned from making soap…

Originally published on Medium: