Allaland

Agile in Plain English (Part 3)

Posted on: May 30, 2010

Working in Agile

So now that you have a definition of agile and some of the underlying principles, how do you actually do the work?

First, it is important to understand that you are not trying to squeeze UX into an agile process, but rather attempting to make the UX process more agile. This will mean being flexible, innovative, and nimble with established UX techniques.

The role of UX

UX practitioners are most successful in the customer role on an agile team. Remember, that customers mean something different in agile, a customer is not someone who is external to the product team who purchases or uses the product. A customer is a role filled by one or more members of the product team, whose duties include acting as the voice of the end-use for the development team, and helping to prioritize and plan.

The customer defines the software, and determines what stakeholders find valuable. The recommended ratio is 2 customers per 3 developers, this means that there are 2 designers for every developer. Designers can be of any combination: UX, Usability, IA, Visual, IxD – whatever is needed to accomplish the project. The customers most important job is release planning which includes:

  • Evangelizing the product vision
  • Identifyng features and stories
  • Grouping features into small, frequent releases
  • Managing risk
  • Creating an achievable plan

In order to be able to achieve the above, I would recommend starting with:

  • Small, clear, and achievable goals
  • Letting go of control, and allowing your team help with some of the activities
  • Get “good enough” information, and continue to learn throughout the entire project, rather than trying to figure out everything up font
  • Be honest with yourself and work towards continual improvement

The Process

The process that has worked best for me was first described by Desiree Sy

The structure basically asks you to:

  • Gain initial insights through a short up-front discovery stage
  • Get just far enough ahead of development that you are not a bottleneck
  • Continually talk to users every iteration to get feedback and more in-depth insights
  • Start rough and refine as you go along. utilizing lightweight techniques like sketching
  • Establish a clear vision that you are working towards and iterate on the vision as you learn more information

It is important to understand that none of these activities are happening in a bubble, you as the designer are not going off to complete the work and then presenting a finalized design. Rather, you are sketching, concepting, and getting feedback from your entire team along the way. The feedback can be informal or a design critique.

Also, working in this rhythm or cadence will feel uncomfortable at first, and you might have the urge to resist, but stick with it and allow this rhythm to become the “new normal”.

Here are some common objections/questions that I often hear from designers and quick answers:

1) How many projects should a UX designer be on if the company adheres to an agile process?
Answer: ONE. Agile is specifically designed around the team dynamics, and its difficult or impossible to create the proper rapport if you are not sitting and working with the team.

2) Agile methods do not provide enough time for UX practitioners to conduct necessary research and discovery.
Answer: Agile methods do not provide enough time upfront to conduct research, the methodology assumes that you are doing the research and discovery on a continual basis, in every iteration. This not only helps keep the information fresh in your mind, but also allows you to dig deep into questions that arise once you start really trying to solve the problem (later in the project), rather than identifying the problem (as in the beginning of the project)

3) If I break up my design into pieces that can be fit into an iteration, it is difficult for me to picture the holistic system
Answer: Sketch your initial understanding of the holistic system using a storyboard, then begin to dive deep into the parts of the system that are prioritized for the upcoming sprint. Your understanding of the system will change over time, so utilize a low-fidelity medium to capture your current understanding and then update as it – and your understanding – changes.

4) Some designs are too complex to fit within one iteration
Answer: Break large designs into small, cycle-size pieces called design chunks that incrementally add elements to the overall design over several iterations. Whenever you design, you have to start somewhere, start in one iteration and incrementally add complexity / layers in subsequent iterations.

5) There is not enough time to conduct formative usability testing and then create a usability report.
Answer: Employ light-weight usability techniques, and progressively engage in defining test protocols and recruitment.

6) Working software over comprehensive documentation means no more wireframes or mockups
Answer: Use the tools that will help you and your team produce good work. There is no set “way” to do thing, figure out how best to communicate with your team, and which tools help you produce great work in an efficient way, then just do it!

Advertisements
Tags: ,

4 Responses to "Agile in Plain English (Part 3)"

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Adam Dymitruk, David Whitney. David Whitney said: RT @adymitruk: Ux and agility, an excellent post: http://tinyurl.com/27fuz6a […]

Nice post Alla. Great advice, well communicated.

The only quibble I have is with point 2). In my experience, research and discovery activities can’t all fit into agile iterations.

Apart from the difficulty of chunking them on a per iteration basis, this also impacts the amount of time UX has available to support the implementer team. We just can’t be in two places at the same time.

IMO, UX needs its own iteration 0 (which may or may not be the same length as the implementer team’s iteration 0) to conduct the up-front research and conceptual design needed to have a solid design vision going into the iterations. Then we are well positioned to conduct continual activities during the iteration to augment and refine that vision.

Hi Dmitry,

I completely agree with you, I generally advocate for a discovery phase before iteration 0, where the designers attempt to get at the core of the problem, and also establish a solid foundation for both research and discovery (see my slides on Slideshare).

However, I do think that continual research throughout the project is really important to get uncover many of the deeper issues that are not immediately evident at the beginning of the project. The only way to be able to get this done without creating a bottle-neck for development is to make sure that there are enough design resources on the project, 2 designers per 3 developers. This way, some people can be researching while others continuing to design. If other design resources are not available, I would also recommend asking some of the developers to help you with the design or with the research aspect, as this is a team effort and everyone owns the design :)

Thanks for the reply, and let me know what has worked for you!

However, I do think that continual research throughout the project is really important to get uncover many of the deeper issues that are not immediately evident at the beginning of the project. The only way to be able to get this done without creating a bottle-neck for development is to make sure that there are enough design resources on the project, 2 designers per 3 developers. This way, some people can be researching while others continuing to design. If other design resources are not available, I would also recommend asking some of the developers to help you with the design or with the research aspect, as this is a team effort and everyone owns the design :)
+1

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Alla Zollers

I design products and services that just. make. sense.

When products make sense, customers are happy.

If customer are happy, they sign-up, stay on site, engage, share, and buy your product or service.

Happy customers allow companies to profit in both senses of the word.

I provide the following services:

• Heuristic Evaluations
• Discovery Research
• Strategy and Vision Development
• Information Architecture
• User Experience Design
• Usability Testing

You can find me on:
Twitter
LinkedIn

Twitter Updates

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

Archives

%d bloggers like this: