“You’ve got to start with the customer experience.” Steve Jobs, guru of the user experience, was one of the first people to recognize the importance of a user-centric way of creating the user experience, and of course he created products that provided outstanding user experiences like never before. He is the person who told the industry how and what the user experience (UX) could look like if their products were successful.

Many industries started to recognize the importance of UX. But the challenge is to blend the UX process with their existing software processes. With many organizations transforming to Agile, and Agile being more user focused, with a lot of customer/user interaction and ease of usability, emphasis has shifted toward the user experience. In most cases, however, it has been a challenge for the UX to go along with Agile approach of developing software.

Here are few challenges that are commonly seen with UX in an Agile environment:

Consistency

Maintaining a consistent user interface across the product when there are multiple teams working on different features, without redesigning the user interface every iteration, is a challenge. Getting a uniform design for all the UX elements across all the features calls for a systematic approach for synchronizing the UX across all the features — in contrast to earlier working methods, where there was an ample time for up-front design before starting development.

Delivery

Delivering the UX within the same sprint, along with the development team, is also a challenge. Generally UX teams come up with initial mock-ups, take feedback from the end users, and then try to freeze the UI design. But in Agile, when we talk about a cycle of two to four weeks, it becomes difficult to get all this feedback and complete the user interface for that product increment within the same iteration.

Coordination

The UX and the development teams run their own iterations, so synchronizing and communicating and setting priority on the backlog items needs to be planned across the teams.

Overwhelming design

The practice of doing very detailed design by specifying every minute detail delays the design process. The challenge is doing, getting feedback, and validating the design in smaller cycles as quickly as possible. This calls for a different approach for documenting the UX design.

Mind-set

There is a difference in the thinking approaches of the UX designers versus development team members. Developers think from development mind-set, looking for easy-to-implement solutions. Designers think from the end-user perspective.

But as the old saying goes, there is always a learning opportunity with each and every challenge. An Agile approach brings both a challenge and equally an opportunity to the user experience. Since Agile emphasizes that teams be cross-functional and all functions be fulfilled by the team, this gives an opportunity for UX people to closely interact and work with the development team members, which also helps to inculcate the UX mind-set across the development team.

When we transitioned to Agile, we had similar issues as those cited above. Let me share few practices that helped us ease the integration of UX and Agile:

Clear vision

Having a clear vision of the product, why it is being developed, and who the target customers are helped us identify the personas and the high-level work flow, as well as how the system could be used by the end users.

Governance

There was central UX governance that came up with the basic UX guidelines for the organization. Teams would coordinate and check with the latest standards — the types of controls, styles, alignment, size of each and every UX element, etc. — before going ahead. This helped avoid a lot of rework and get a consistent user experience.

Mind-set change

The UX team members worked in close collaboration with the development teams during the design process. This helped bring UX thinking to the developers and helped them visualize from the end-user perspective how good and usable the design was. One practice I have seen is that each member from each team is designated a UX buddy who closely works with the central UX team members so that they can imbibe some of the UX thinking approach.

Creating awareness

The UX teams do a “UX drive/UX workshop” once in a quarter, where they share the challenges, upcoming trends in UX, any new initiatives/approaches, the way they work, and so on. This helped create an awareness of the importance of UX among the rest of the group.

Backlog and coordination

UX teams have their own backlog that consists of user story spikes, designs, creating wireframes, prototypes, etc. Their backlog will hold items that they work on independently; this is the work they get directly from the product owner even before they start working with the individual Scrum teams. Along with this, they work with the individual teams and participate in their planning and grooming sessions so that the needed artefacts in terms of mock-ups, controls, etc., are readily available to the teams by the time they start sprinting on those backlog items. During the development team sprints, the UX team offers support work as needed; this was reflected the backlog of the UX team members. The UX teams generally worked one or two sprints ahead of the development teams.

Eliminating waste

There’s a need to use best judgment regarding how much design can be captured. We used paper prototypes, sketches, and whiteboard notes to capture the designs. With the advent of Lean UX, there has been a paradigm shift in the way in which the UX design is approached. The UX designers make a prototype and validate it with the internal stakeholders, and then check with the end users. All this is done very quickly by collaborating closely with the users and team members. By eliminating long, detailed design cycles, and doing the design in small iterations, they are able to deliver the UX along with the required functionality within the same iteration — of course with a lag of maybe one or two iterations depending on the nature of the work.

Conclusion

Agile UX has a long way to go, and I am sure many variations and new discoveries will be seen in this area to make the integration of Agile and UX more beneficial and rewarding. UX professionals can consider some of the Agile and Lean UX processes that focus on eliminating waste, thus further speeding up the integration process.

Originally Posted by Madhavi Ledalla @ Scrum Alliance on 31 March 2015

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