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

September 26, 2016

UX for an Agile World (Part II)

5 mins read

More and more, the development world is embracing Agile practices. Yet, as we learned in UX for an Agile World (Part I), UX doesn’t necessarily integrate well with Agile development. 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. Nevertheless, by adjusting how you schedule and perform the steps in your UX processes and align them across several sprints, you can absolutely gain the wisdom of proper UX practices.

The first step is to identify how the team embraces good UX practices on an ongoing basis.  Ideally, your goal is to foster a collaborative environment. The better the team members work together and share the vision of the project, the more success you’ll have. To that end, consider collocating and even embedding UX advocates within the development team.ux-for-an-agile-world-2

For our purposes there are four roles that bring keys skills for integrating UX into the project:

  1. The Product Owner
  2. The Business Analyst – there are often more than one
  3. The Software Developer – there are likely more than one.
  4. The ScrumMaster

Understanding the four players sets the stage for how to integrate UX practices within Agile development.

Relationships in the Integrated UX / Agile Team

The Product Owner
A healthy Agile project has a dedicated Product Owner (PO) who owns the vision and the development of the software product. First and foremost, she needs to have the support of senior leadership and must be accountable to them. This is important because that dynamic trickles down to how she integrates UX into the project. A strong PO advocates for proper UX practices and stands by UX-driven decisions. Your PO should define clear short-, medium-, and long-term goals that align with the organization’s overall business goals. By integrating these goals into the overall design of the product, the team helps the PO achieve immediate and sustainable wins.

Next, the PO ensures that UX is embedded into the development processes. She dictates that team members with development, UX, and/or analysis skills are collocated to cultivate ongoing collaboration. In doing so, she implicitly prioritizes user needs, so no development takes place without considering the voice of the customer. When the PO trusts in UX best practices, then the team does too. This is vitally important especially at the beginning of the project.

Finally, although the team strives to bring value to the project as early as possible, the PO must also see UX as a long-term investment. That means she must:

  • Show patience as the team does proper, ongoing customer research
  • Be committed to working with the team to continually refine requirements based on that research
  • Make the hard decisions when needed – not all improvements bring value to the customer or business.

The Business Analysts
The BAs should be one of the strongest advocates for good UX practices because they care about improving the product for both the business and the customer. They embrace the goal of building better software by improving workflow, customer retention, user satisfaction, and return on investment – what’s good for the customer should be good for the business. They then help test the hypotheses for making those improvements and evangelize the long term benefits that good UX can have on the product.

When prioritizing stories in the backlog, the BAs help ensure that the PO consistently considers both business and customer needs. They are responsible for fully understanding the business justifications for making certain improvements but they also participate in UX activities to ensure that customer needs are being considered too. BAs may not lead the UX activities, but as they become more involved in them they are better equipped to advocate for the customers.

Furthermore, while working with the PO to create, refine, and accept stories the BAs must ask:

  1. What stories in the upcoming sprints require UX work, such as customer research, wireframes, or interaction designs? Knowing this, the BAs help ensure that the developers get the assets they need well in advance of starting the work.
  2. What UX considerations must be discussed when creating the acceptance criteria for a story? The BAs and the PO need to know how to check that the story meets a particular facet of the customer’s experience.
  3. Do the designs meet the needs of the business and the customers as stated in the story?

We’ll get into the details of these a little more in the next articles.

The ScrumMasters and Developers
The team members doing the user research often act as the proxies for the PO and the customers. As such, the developers look to the researchers to understand how and why the customers work with the software. By enabling and reinforcing that vital feedback loop, they know that they are always building the right product.

In turn, the developers further the UX conversation by validating what they can feasibly build. They continually and immediately clarify the design and determine the best way to implement it. Often the developers suggest improvements to the design that are less complicated and easier to build, or that increase software performance. At the same time, they consider the long-term design when developing solutions for the current stories.

Finally, the team looks to the ScrumMaster to manage how UX improvements span the sprints as not all UX development can be accomplished in two weeks. Alongside the BAs, the team and the scrum master evaluate the improvements to the UX that are needed. They determine how to map that work across consecutive sprint and ensure the developers build working software with the most impactful UX value at the end of each sprint.

Next Step:  Incorporate UX into Agile

By understanding the various roles and relationships on the larger team, we now see the many touchpoints between UX and Agile. In the subsequent articles, we explore the Scrum ceremonies and identify actual processes for integrating UX into development. It’s becoming an Agile world – let’s make sure we keep those UX best practices.

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