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Integrating Mindfulness into Agile Practices.

After years of separating my daily mindfulness meditation practice from my

work with Agile software development teams, I realized that integrating
mindfulness practices in the course of an agile development team actually
makes sense. Why? Because mindfulness practices not only support the
values underlying the Agile approach, they allow practitioners to embody
Agile values.
This article will explore first how Agile and mindfulness practices overlap and
then highlight a few simple suggestions on how you can integrate
mindfulness practices in the flow of an Agile project.

How Agile and Mindfulness Practices Overlap

If you are familiar with Agile software development practices, you are
familiar with the four core values enabling high-performing teams presented
in the Agile Manifesto.
Agile values:

Individuals and their interactions over processes and tools

Delivering working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan.

These core values are supported by twelve Agile principles, which you can
find at the following Web site: Manifesto for Agile Software Development. The
overlap between Agile and mindfulness practices is concentrated in two of
the core Agile values, specifically:

Individuals and their interactions; and

Responding to change

Key Agile Values and Mindfulness

1. Individuals and interactions
Jeff Sutherland, one of the main authors of the Agile Manifesto, describes the
first Agile core value, as follows:

Individuals and interactions are essential to high-performing teams. Studies of communication

saturation during one project showed that when no communication problems exist, teams can
perform 50 times better than the industry average. To facilitate communication, agile methodologies
rely on frequent inspect-and-adapt cycles. These cycles can range from every few minutes with pair
programming, to every few hours with continuous integration, to every day with a daily standup
meeting, to every iteration with a review and retrospective.
Just increasing the frequency of feedback and communication, however, is not enough to eliminate
communication problems. These inspect-and-adapt cycles work well only when team members
exhibit several key behaviors:


respect for the worth of every person

truth in every communication
transparency of all data, actions, and decisions
trust that each person will support the team
commitment to the team and to the teams goals

For teams to achieve these types of behavior is more difficult than it might appear. Most teams avoid
truth, transparency, and trust because of cultural norms or past negative experiences from conflict
that was generated by honest communications. To combat these tendencies, leadership and team
members must facilitate positive conflict. When teams engage in positive conflict, they not only foster
more productive behavior, but also work to achieve several other benefits

Extract from Jeff Sutherland Agile Principles and Values

Seeking and Truth Telling are essential to software development
Requirement Gathering, Business Analysis, Specification Development,
Coding and Testing are steps in a process of distilling human language into
small nuggets of truth. So much so, that the objective of traceability
software tools and of Formal Development Methods is to validate that every
work-product created from UML design to code specifications actually meets
each requirement it attempts to satisfy: thus validating the truth of the
product requirements.
In this respect, truth telling and truth seeking are as close to a
spiritual practice as they are to a business process.

How do mindfulness practices support Agile?

The main obstacle to truth telling, trust between team members, and
commitment to project goals is fear. In order to increase safety, you need to
increase trust between team members and decrease or even eliminate fear
at work. (I chose not to emphasize transparency here, as it is a direct
consequence of trust and truth telling.) Mindfulness practices directly
support these key Agile values. Here is how:

Mindfulness meditation enhances a practitioners experience of what is

rather than his or her thoughts and beliefs about what is. This in turn
yields a growing understanding of how a practitioner interprets and
judges their experiences. Gaining this clarity on judgment helps remove
blame and improve communication. Judgments and blame both support a
fear-based environment rather than one based on trust.
Through mindfulness practice, team members make themselves
vulnerable. That moment of vulnerability is what contributes to building
trust among team members.
The mindfulness practice is a transition from whatever activity a team
member was doing before the meeting and the meeting itself. It is a tool
to help team member be present in the moment and therefore be open to
Mindfulness practice tunes the team together. That helps aligning the
team on shared goals and that in turn helps the team engage in positive
conflict that foster the productive behaviors identified by Jeff Sutherland
in Agile Principles and Values, such as:
o Innovation that occurs with the free interchange of conflicting
o Resolution of conflicting agendas occurs when teams align around
common goals.
o Commitment to work together happens only when people agree on
common goals

Thus, mindfulness practices support the Scrum Master whose role in

this paradigm is to move the project along by keeping the team and the
project integrity while maintaining a collaborative and trusting atmosphere.
2. Responding to Change
On Responding to Change, Jeff Sutherland says,

For teams to create products that will please customers and provide business value, teams must
respond to change. Industry data shows that over 60 percent of product or project requirements
change during the development of software. Even when traditional projects finish on time, on
budget, with all features in the plan, customers are often unhappy because what they find is not
exactly what they wanted. "Humphreys Law" says that customers never know what they want
until they see working software. If customers do not see working software until the end of a
project, it is too late to incorporate their feedback.
Agile methodologies are based on the knowledge that, in order to succeed, they must plan to
change. That is why they have established processes, such as reviews and retrospectives, that
are specifically designed to shift priorities regularly based on customer feedback and business

Extract from Jeff Sutherland Agile Principles and Values

Responding to change implies the ability to let go of attachment to how you
want things to be and live in the moment, which, for software developers
who spend their life in their mind, can be quite challenging. Focus and
creativity are also essential qualities software developers need to cultivate.
Programming is magical: something is created out of nothing. In this way,
programming is really an art form, similar in many ways to creative writing or
music composition. Programming simultaneously requires a strong analytical
mind, a high level of attention to details, and creativity. As there are multiple
ways to open a bottle, a software application can be designed and coded in
multiple ways. It is up to the software developer to design solutions and build
code that is practical and efficient, and creative power is needed to address
these qualities effectively.
These essential qualities for software development -- living in the moment,
letting go of attachment, focus and creativity -- are directly cultivated
through regular mindfulness practices. A number of West Coast corporations
have realized the value of offering mindfulness programs to their employees.
The Walt Disney Company, for example, has noticed a dramatic increase in
creativity after employees meditated on innovative solutions. Researchers
at the Institute for Psychological Research and Leiden Institute for Brain and
Cognition of Leiden University in the Netherlands found a tremendous impact
of focused-attention (mindfulness) and open-monitoring meditation
(observing without judging) on creativity. 1 See this Huffington Post article
for more information on how meditation improves creativity and innovation.

How can you use mindfulness practices as part of the flow of

an Agile team?
The essential building blocks of mindfulness practice and their benefits are in
line with Agile management values and have the potential to significantly

improve team performance and project outcome. So how can you use
mindfulness practices to enhance the outcome of your Agile team? I suggest
that you integrate short duration mindfulness practices at the beginning of 4
out of 5 daily stand-up meetings of the typical workweek. The goal of these
short practices is to get people out of their heads and get the blood moving.
Start your meeting with a short exercise such as:

Find your Feet on the Floor. Find your butt on the chair. Focus on the
sensations of your hands. Followed by taking 5 deep breaths.
The three-minute bodyscan: see this video for more details
A short yoga sequence such as a series of five Sun Salutations.
A brief Qi Gong exercise such as Wuji Wan Qifa (Bringing good energy

Once a week, start your Stand-up meeting or Sprint Planning meeting with a
longer mindfulness exercise. For this, I would suggest a seven to ten minutes
long meditation.
For more details please read the Mindfulness for Dummies Cheat Sheet, in
particular the paragraph entitled Trying a Short Mindfulness Meditation.
Follow the meditation with the usual three questions of a standup meeting:
1. What tasks have the team member completed since the last team
2. Has the team member encountered any obstacles?
3. What task does each team member commit to accomplishing by the
next team meeting?
Once a week, I suggest you add an individual check-in of each team
member -- in other words, how each person is feeling emotionally and
physically. This ensures that member no major life event of any team
members go unnoticed. The individual check-in can be followed by an
occasion to look at any negative emotions existing between team
members that would get in the way of the teams progress.
Here are some additional things to keep in mind as you do your weekly
o The one speaker at a time rule ensures that each individual is heard
and has a chance to speak his/her truth.
o Remind the teams you work with, that trust requires accountability
both ways.
o Keep the team meeting on task. I have noticed that software
developers love to dig and dwell into the nitty-gritty of a particularly
complex design issue and totally forget that the objective of the Team
Checkpoint meeting is to discuss PROCESS and not content.

None of these suggestions are expensive or complex to implement.

In the 12th Agile Principle, the authors of the Agile Manifesto make clear
that at regular intervals the project team reflects on how to become
more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly. This
principle is an invitation for Agile practitioners to experiment and tweak
the Agile approach to improve their team efficiency while staying true to
the core Agile values. As outlined above, mindfulness practices are
coherent and supportive of Agiles Core Values. I invite you to introduce a
few short mindfulness practices in the flow of your Agile Team, and please
do track before and after key metrics and report back your observations.
It is a low risk and minor change to the team routine with substantial
potential benefits for the team and the project.
Jacques Sapriel
I can be reached at