What Sourdough has taught me

One thing that this lockdown has given me is more time in the kitchen! I am an avid baker/cook and really enjoy trying out new recipes. I’m lucky that my daughter loves it too and we’re often found together baking bread, cookies or meals together. I’m lucky enough to have also found a company that gives me a lot of ideas for healthy meals and foods. I started with fitnaturally in 2013 and have been a regular client off and on since.

One thing that I’ve been meaning to try is Sourdough bread. I know the numerous health benefits but never had the time to devote to baking it. Due to the lockdown, there were a lot of stores that had sold out of bread, so it seemed like the ideal time to try. I was also lucky that fitnaturally were running free sourdough workshops for their clients (and for a time anyone who was interested). This group was encouraging, supportive and gave so much information for getting started that there was no better time to start!

There’s been a lot of panic buying in the Netherlands and as a result: yeast, flour and pasta were the hardest things to come by. I was lucky enough to find bread flour at a supermarket near to our home so I had plenty to get me started.

I first experimented with baking Sourdough bread in 2018 but my starter failed miserably and I never seemed to get it “right”, so I was very apprehensive about trying again. I tried to learn from the mistakes of last time and decided to approach this differently. This time, I would:

  • Use an established starter from a friend and then build my own starter from there
  • Bake solidly for at least 2 weeks and try different variations of the same recipe to perfect it in my kitchen /oven
  • Try, try and try again
  • Learn from each failure
  • Ask friends for their feedback

My first bread resembled something of a large frisbee and no matter what I did, the dough was a very soggy mess, so I tried again and this time it was less frisbee, more bread shaped.

Frisbee #1

For the rest of the week, I tried adding yeast, baking at different time of day, leaving my leaven for shorter periods of time. All slight variations on the same good plan.

It’s getting better…

What’s this got to do with Project Management?

After the first week, it occurred to me that I was approaching this experiment very much like my projects when we’re working agile. We’re testing out the different variations and seeing what works and what doesn’t. Each iteration learning from the previous one and doing continuous improvement each time. I was holding my own “retrospective” with each slice of bread and looking for the best way to improve.

There’s also something incredibly therapeutic about working with your hands and seeing your efforts and hard work come to fruition.

Baking bread Vs. Project Management

You might think that the two have nothing to do with each other but here are some of my lessons learned from the past two weeks:

  • There’s no real failures… They all taste good.
    • I need to manage my own expectations for what’s acceptable and what is not.
    • Looking and understanding what is the real Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Is it an edible loaf? Or an edible loaf that looks good?
  • Ask for outside feedback if needed
    • I started giving loaves to friends and neighbours and asked them to be really critical so I could improve. They helped me become better.
  • Take your time
    • Creating a sourdough loaf takes time and waiting. You need to focus for each preparation step and then you have time to do other things. You need to focus though.
    • There are some ingredients you can’t mess with…. And this includes the amounts.
      • I started to play with how much flour/water I used and this gave me a few inedible loaves. Sometimes you need to realise the boundaries that are in front of you to understand the limitations that exist.
  • Get expert advice
    • I was very lucky to have a great guide in Sally and a lovely group of people who could help me when I needed advice. I used this a lot whilst I was learning.
  • Don’t be afraid
    • The sourdough knows your fear. Be confident and trust your abilities.
  • Self confidence
    • When you work with dough, you really start learning more about the feel, construction, smell. You get that gut feeling if something is working or not. The same is with projects. Through our experiences, we learn and gain a gut feeling for what works and what doesn’t.

The biggest learning factor for me was needing to give the dough time. Time management with bread making can be a little experimental so it was difficult for me to “let go” and not be strict about it. In projects we can also struggle with time management and it’s important to realise what is the true critical path of a project or in this case… Bread!

I’ve now been baking a few weeks and I am thoroughly enjoying it. I’ve experimenting with the dough, the contents of the bread and making sure that I’ve got the got the right consistency for the loaf and just like projects: there’s no end to seeking perfection!

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