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Insights / Agile Transformation / UX for an Agile World (Part I)

September 13, 2016

UX for an Agile World (Part I)

3 mins read

More and more organizations are recognizing User Experience (UX) as a cornerstone of the products and services they deliver. Beyond being a hot buzzword, there is real science, methodology, and process behind the UX services that Excella provides. UX is a key component for delivering real business and customer value with the software products we build. But more importantly, we have developed unique insights into using great UX design practices to make IT projects shine.

UX and Agile: Brothers from a Different Mother?

On the surface, UX and Agile, particularly Scrum, don’t necessarily integrate well with each other. A key component of the Scrum framework is about short development sprints that continuously bring business value. In contrast, UX is about gaining a complete understanding of the customer and their needs to improve the way they interact with a product over its full lifecycle. Yet, both UX and Agile are fundamentally collaborative undertakings. They hinge on the inclusiveness of the product owner, designers, and development team to mindfully build the best product for the client and their customers.

Integrating UX best practices into each sprint immediately brings usefulness and delight to the product because doing so enables the UX designers to address the highest impact issues first. As such, stakeholders quickly see how incremental improvements to the UX elicit positive feedback and ensures the team is building the “right” product that meets the customers needs. Furthermore, constraining UX improvements to short development sprints enables the team to design and test multiple solutions and determine which is the best path to follow without subjecting the development team to too much rework.

Finally, Agile development requires a steady feedback loop from the client and customer to ensure the product is solving the right business problems: Start with a hypothesis for solving the problem, identify the expected results, build the solution, then test. Good UX practices demand that this feedback loop is in force. Therefore, as client and customer needs change, the team continuously tests how well the software is working and whether or not it is still bringing the best value. Sounds too good to be true!

Balancing the Short and Long Terms

Nevertheless, it can be difficult to apply UX practices to Agile development (particularly Scrum) because there are two fundamental differences. First, an Scrum team will typically start developing as soon as there are enough stories prioritized in the backlog, but good UX practice requires a fair amount of upfront user research. Second, developers embrace minimum viable functionality that meet a story’s acceptance criteria, where UX designers aspire to a final, elegant solution.

To break this impasse, UX designers must first balance the desire to bring immediate value to the product with the need to perform proper, comprehensive user research. They must also shift their mindset and embrace the iterative development of their designs; strive for the minimum viable design that gives developers what they need while still aiming for the ultimate, pixel-perfect design.

The subsequent articles in this series cover how to do this in more depth. The next article examines the various roles on the team and how they interact. Later articles details how to actually take UX best practices and apply them to Agile development.

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