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Similarities between Agile and Stoicism

Stoicism & Agile ways of working

Whilst talking with my colleague Ben, we discovered a mutual interest in Stoicism and decided we'd do something with it. We prepared a presentation on Stoicism and the similarities we found with Agile ways of working.

At work we have quarterly 'Immersion' days where coaches share learnings and present on a wide variety of topics. Below some highlights of what we presented during the May 2021 Immersion Day.

Focus on continuous learning and improvement

At it's core Agile is all about ongoing growth and learning. The Retrospective is a great example of this. “You can’t learn that which you think you already know” (Epictetus). Be willing to change your mind. If you want to be a leader, you must be a reader.

Fail Fast

Related to the above is Agile's focus on reducing the delay in detecting errors or issues. It's ok to make mistakes, learn from them, and move on. “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.” (Confucius)

Working iteratively

Many Agile organisations work in Sprints. Start small, build from there. Zeno said that well-being is realised by small steps but it is no small thing. Marcus Aurelius said we assemble progress action by action.


I wrote a post about teams going through various development stages: storming, norming, forming. During these phases teams undoubtedly will clash. This is a good thing, as long as it is constructive and respectful. Don’t avoid difficulty (Seneca).

Backlog refinement, Sprint Planning

“Festina lente”. Make haste, slowly. Going slow with haste - preparing well, before getting started. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. This is what the above Scrum ceremonies are all about!

Giving benefit of the doubt to all

Norm Kerth's Retrospective prime directive states that "Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand."

It is to create a positive and result-oriented environment; to make the retro an effective team gathering to learn and find solutions to improve the way of working. There is no place for blame.

Seneca wrote: “The cause of anger is the sense of having been wronged, but one ought not trust this sense. Don’t make your move right away, even against what seems overt and plain; sometimes false things give the appearance of truth.”

Do meaningful, purposeful work

The Stoics used “Memento Mori” to invigorate life and create priority and meaning. Personally, this feels so central to what it means to be an Agile practitioner.

Servant Leadership

Turn to leaders with character. Character is fate, the Stoics believed. It’s not about favouring leaders that tell you what you want to hear or agree with. What's more important is: Are they honest? Are they competent?

TOFU: Take Ownership and Follow Up

"Don’t put off to tomorrow what can be finished today." (Seneca)

Embracing change

Everything’s destiny is to change, to be transformed, to perish. So that new things can be born.” Nothing is permanent. Not failure. Not pain. Not fame. Not fortune. Not you. Not anyone.

Do you see any other similarities between Stoicism and Agile? Please do let me know! I'd love to add them to this post.

If you want to learn more about Stoicism, there are many great resources online. I recommend the Daily Stoic, some of its content I've used for this article.


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