Agile software developement is antithetical to UX design as I’ve practiced it. I keep bumping into developer-centric Agile companies where up front, deliberative UX thinking is instantly rejected as old school waterfall and document heavy.
The case against Agile SD
The questions I–and most experienced designers have–are this: How can you design a complex system by focusing solely on its individual parts? Will a useful and coherent vision magically emerge? How does Agile match up with integrative, system desgin approaches, like Tim Brown’s Design Thinking ?
Agile Experience Design
The book Agile Experience Design by Lindsay Ratcliffe and Marc McNeill addresses these questions. It is chock full of good ideas and practical advice. I’ve included some thoughts from the book below.
Agile breaks systems down into small pieces. And it has blind faith that pieces designed,
developed and iterated in isolation will, in the end, all fit together. UX architects and designers
don’t have much of a role in this new cosmology. In many cases, it’s “Thank you very much. We have your wireframes. We’ll take it from here.”
What’s needed is an up front vision of the end state, something Design Thinking can get
you. The picture below shows how one might map a set of “stories” into a user “journey.”
It helps everyone in a design workshop see how things fit together as well as determine
which stories are critical to defining the “minimum viable product.”
Agile Experience Design offers a toolbox of techniques to get to a vision. Bear in mind, however, that Agile shops
have little patience for anything that consumes time and resources that does not result in working
Anyone who knows me wouldn’t be surprised to learn that I am an advocate of making UX prototyping an integral part of Agile software development. I have been a prototyper for years. And I strongly believe that prototypes be built using the front end technology employed by the development team, whether that be HTML, .Net or anything else. The concept of a “living prototype”, wherein the front end prototype was coded using the target technology, iterated, and delivered along with the back end code as part of the Agile sprint process makes perfect sense.
The Agile Experience Design writers concur. This doesn’t work in all cases, but it does tend to promote developer/designer bonding on agile teams.
Incidentally, my old friend Narayan Reddy has started his own design/development company in Hyderabad, India. He uses the living prototype technique to great success. It is part of his company’s methodology, it differentiates
him in the marketplace, and it results in happy customers.
Integrating Design/Usability into the Sprint model
We are all familiar with this: Development starts, the design goes into a black hole, and it
emerges on the other side much different from the design that we worked so hard to create at
the start. Right now, there is no defined role or room in the methodology for design when agile
sprints/scrums are happening. The solution has two parts.
Equate “story definition” and sprint testing with design activities, interaction modeling and usability testing.
Adapt Sprints so the design folks lead in Week 1 with Analysis and Design.
And follow in Week 3 with (usability/user) test and deploy
Ideas worth trying
If you are working in a dev-centered agile environment, give these ideas a try.