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UX and the Agile Process

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One of the questions asked is how UX fits into an Agile Methodology and the simple answer is that it does not automatically slot in. That is because Agile is not a design methodology, it is for development. It is not more useful for UX than it is a process for doing business strategy.

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How do you make room for innovation in a factory.


The Agile process clashes with the UX method to create the user experience before construction begins. To the Agile community this can sound like “Big Design Up Front (BDUF).

Jakob Nielsen suggests that the problem has its roots in the fact that Agile was conceived of by programmers as a way of improving the development process. He has said

“mainly addresses the implementation side of system development. As a result, it often overlooks interaction design and usability, which are left to happen as a side effect of the coding.”

Agile and UX can work together with the right planning

The values of working the Agile way:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

The values of Agile are not too dissimilar to UX. UX is fairly a collaborative approach with end uses and stakeholders to visually capture the requirements by producing mock-ups. The end result is usually a key screen prototype with design style guides. The principal is that these are are both lightweight and easily refined as new ideas are introduced.

There is significant differentiation between small incremental projects and large-scale web or software development projects.

UX and Agile in small incremental projects

In small incremental projects a lean UX can work by having smaller UCD orientated cycles a sprint ahead of build or in some cases working with each other to solve nitty problems. These would be aligned to the work stack with a planning meeting at the beginning of each sprint to align the teams.

UX and Agile in larger complex projects

In a larger more complex projects there needs to be a lot more planning with the UX and it is essential the conceptual design is done up front. Conceptual models are not iterative yet they under pin the entire user experience in order to support the mental models of the users.

The gap between what the solution delivers and what end users expect can have catastrophic consequences on a business or brand. The team there for has a duty to ensure they fully understand the needs of the business as well end users so that the end solution is not compromised.

Creating engaging and innovative user experiences requires creativity. We need to allow for creative sessions and thinking so that ideas can be generated to support the brand proposition. Using a divergent and convergent process gives the conceptual phase of design focus and structure.

 

Managing the divergence and convergence when  to find solutions as well ensuring there is a resolution. The conceptual design phase broken into 3 steps.

Trying to capture a complete, accurate and exhaustive list of requirements is impossible. This almost never creates a usable and desirable solution. Without a prototype or model to view people find it difficult to imaging the outcome in order to evaluate the solution. This requires several iterations to get the degree of fidelity and definition.

You cannot refactor the UI as easily as you refactor code. When you change the UI you are changing the way people interact with the program, and you need to think about the impact the changes will have. It’s easy to create confusion, annoyance, and what psychologists call proactive interference (the prior experience with the UI making it hard for the user to learn a new way of doing things). All in all, making UI changes after release is generally unadvisable, so it pays to get the conceptual design right at the beginning. – Dr. Charles B. Kreitzberg

UX Conceptual Design Process

Click to view full steps

Not having a conceptual design up front is a big risk. The end result may be a poor user experience that requires a complete rethink of the user interface after launch. This may also impact how the system functions as the processes may need to be re-engineered and additional functionality to be implemented in order to create a more holistic user experience. In a consumer facing web environment the  impact to users by having a poor product may adversely effect their perception of the brand and have a determental knock on effect to the business.

The good news is that the UX process of  using as UCD methodology is not a full recipe where all the steps must be followed. Not all UX tasks need to be done. It depends on the project and putting the outcome first. It is about getting enough of an understanding to make a start and then continuing to plan, analyse and design.

To avoid the trap of BDUF it is important in the planning to agree the level of what will be delivered in the first “cut” of the detailed design. This should be the key pages of the system and over all structure. Each area can be further broken into chunks by functional themes. On that should be avoided is a page by page approach as this can create inconsistencies as tasks get split.

Using the user stories and creating a map is very similar to the walking skeleton used by Agile. However it is more visual can be used as a base line as well.

An advantage of having a conceptual UX design up front is that with the UX/Design specifications  they can be given to offshore build teams or multiple and less expensive resources for production.  These detailed design can then be done in smaller light weight sprints and concurrently if required. Ideally they could still be working to a sprint ahead.

The trick to making UX and Agile work is to focus on the individuals and interactions and not the process.

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