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What Marie Kondo taught me about agile project management

Understand how the KONMARI method created by Marie Kondo is correlated to agile project management methods more than you think.

If you enjoy organization tips, you’ve probably heard of her. If not, pay attention to that name: Marie Kondo. She is the woman of the moment and can teach you a lot about agile project management!

Cover image credit: Marie Kondo: @konmarimethod / Facebook

If you enjoy organization tips, you’ve probably heard of her. If not, pay attention to that name: Marie Kondo. She is the woman of the moment and can teach you a lot about agile project management!

That’s right. In this article, in besides knowing better the Japanese sensation of the present, you will see what lessons she can bring us about agile project management.

Keep reading to understand! 

Who is Marie Kondo?

Named by press and her fans as “sensible tidying up fairy”, “tidying up mage” and even “organization guru”, the Japanese Marie Kondo is revolutionizing the way people manage their homes organization.

She is the creator of the KONMARI method, which, in a nutshell, synthesizes the organizational philosophy of Japanese society, so accustomed to dealing with small spaces in everyday life – we will go into detail later. 

Lecturer and globally successful TV presenter, besides being best-selling writer, Marie Kondo has been promoting transformations not only in wardrobes, kitchens and bedrooms: her valuable tips are able to rearrange human behavior whether at home, with family and friends, and even in work environments. 

Born in 1984, Kondo wrote four books in her career. The most notably is her 2011 bestselling The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. This work was on the New York Times bestseller list for 86 weeks; later, it became a global phenomenon.

The visionary professional is not a phenomenon by chance. Her biography shows that when she was 19, still a sociology student, she founded her organization consulting company, KonMari Media Inc. 

Kondo is more relevant because of her methodology and content delivered than for her performance in front of the cameras. Her TV show began to be displayed by Netflix in 2018 and, since then, it has become one of the platform’s most talked about subjects. 

One thing is quite curious about all this: Marie Kondo is not a show-woman as we are accustomed to see; she can be considered even “monotonous” compared to other TV presenters and entertainers. In fact, she won the hearts, the drawers, the wardrobes and her fans e-mail box with the results of her methodology.

What is the KONMARI method and what is its relationship to agile project management methods?

In essence, the KONMARI method is a simple and practical guide to tidying up. It points out how to sort things at once into categories; the steps are clear. For example: the first category is clothes, the next is books etc. 

However, the KONMARI method is not only effective for tidying up homes. It can also increase spiritual awareness and improve overall decision making. It transforms individuals and enables them to awaken more autonomy and joy in their lives. 

The KONMARI method has premises that closely resemble lean thinking and agile mindset.

For example, the KONMARI method suggests that every time we start tidying up/organization, we must follow the CATEGORY criterion, not the LOCATION.

Attention to this example: I’ll start with the bathroom, then the bedroom and then the kitchen. 

That’s not how it works! 

Marie Kondo invites us to prioritize “what” will be arranged, not “where” the tidiness will be made.

This premise is very similar to the prioritization technique of a Product Backlog, in which there is a need to prioritize by the VALUE of deliveries, not by complexity or effort of what will be developed.

Another KONMARI method interesting point is the commitment rule: once tidiness is started, we can not give up, but persist until the end.

The sense of responsibility is crucial, just as disseminated by the Agile Development: commitment and responsibility with the product backlog deliveries. 

An agile team is self-manageable, has ownership and empowerment to be fully responsible for its activities, without the need to be micromanaged or supervised. Therefore, commitment to deliveries is critical. 

Still following the agile mindset line, KONMARI method advises that: first we must discard, then rearrange – step Marie calls “liberating detachment”!

And this is exactly the lean thinking heart: remove excesses, impediments and everything else that makes it impossible for us to be productive and assertive. Release the excesses and gain greater and better visibility of whole. 

Is it or isn’t it agility in the real value of the word?

The importance of an agile mindset in companies

All this brings us to the so-called agile mindset that has been gaining project management scholars attention in organizations in the last few years.

A mindset, as we know, is a belief in our own abilities. Psychology experts say there are two types of mindset: the fixed and the growth. Usually we are a combination of both depending on the context. 

In a fixed mindset, people believe that their personal attributes are static. Your talents and abilities are all they have; the “luxury” of being transformed is not allowed. A fixed mindset is ultimately a fear of making mistakes and a desire to be perfect. 

While a fixed mindset is about the end result, a growth mindset is about the journey. Our basic talents and personal attributes can be developed through learning, guidance and personal experience. Everyone can grow. Life is a learning experience and results are byproducts of learning and development. Results do not define who we are; they follow the journey. 

The principles of Agile software development are on how to cultivate an agile mindset. The agile organization fosters a culture of growth, creating equal opportunities to experiment and learn from fast and cheap failure. 

In a world of constant change, the ability to respond to uncertainty creatively and spontaneously is paramount. In the same way, the agile mindset also requires organization, prioritization of activities, etc. 

Now that you know how Marie Kondo’s success has a lot to do with Agile concepts, we invite you to download our e-book How to accelerate innovation using Design Thinking and Scrum to learn more about the advantages of adopting agile methodologies in your business.