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

October 05, 2016

UX for an Agile World (Part III)

6 mins read

More and more, the development world is embracing Agile practices.  As we learned in Part I of this series, the UX team must find a balance between gaining a complete understanding of the customer with bringing high-impact value to the product early and often. To do so, we need to know how to engage with the Agile team as described in Part II.

Keep in mind that one of the most important steps in an Agile process is gathering feedback from users to ensure your developers are building the right product.  The UX team is instrumental in building and maintaining that feedback loop.  Let’s get to the meat of the problem:  how does the UX team plan out their daily activities to coincide and complement each Agile sprint?  There are two sets of activities:

  • Building towards the minimum viable product (MVP)
  • Designing for iterative development

Building Towards the MVP

Preferably the UX team joins the development team before they have built the initial MVP.  In any case, they will have their work cut out for them.  To help build the right MVP and create the vital feedback loop th UX team must quickly get a full picture of:

  • What the customers need (stated or otherwise)
  • How the UX team shall engage with all of the players and customers
  • How UX shall be integrated into the development process

During “Sprint 0,” the time before developers start coding the first stories in the backlog, the UX team sets the foundation for the iterative development and feedback that’s to come.  Fortunately, one of the purposes of the MVP is to create and test hypotheses with the customers.  This gives the UX team a little bit of latitude to make suppositions about what customers value and to design the initial concepts.

To make the laundry list a little less overwhelming let’s organize the considerations into six sections:

  1. Learn About the Customers
  2. Review Heuristics and Metrics
  3. Gather and Build Assets
  4. Establish UX as Part of Development
  5. Set the Initial Design
  6. Plan for Testing

Learn About the Customers

As advocates for the customer, the UX team must learn all about them as quickly as possible.  The team must identify who the different customers are and understand the roles they take when interacting with the product.  The team ascertains this by interviewing the customers and reviewing any existing feedback.  By learning what customer problems need to be solved, the team gathers the material they need for creating user personas.  They use the personas to create empathy for the customers and give context and direction to the BAs and developers.

The UX team also develops a plan for engaging with the customers.  The team will need to use a suite of tools such usability tests, satisfaction surveys, and contextual inquiry to verify that the developers are building the right product.  This plan provides the framework for using these tools to gather customer feedback on an ongoing basis.

Review Heuristics and Metrics

As the UX team creates the feedback loop, they must measure how well the product is meeting business goals and customer needs.  They use qualitative assessments, like heuristics reviews and satisfactions surveys, alongside quantitative evaluations, like metrics analysis, to measure progress and success.

For example, the team prioritizes common design heuristics (such as how useful, credible, and valuable the experience is) to align with the business goals.  If possible the team uses the existing version of the product to perform a heuristic analysis.  Similarly, the team runs a satisfaction survey with current customers to establish an initial understanding of how well the product has been received.  Ideally, the MVP will improve upon several of the heuristics while increasing satisfaction.

The UX team must also evaluate the metrics that are currently available and determine if other metrics are needed.  The team must be able to measure how well the product is meeting business goals and customer needs.  If they don’t have access to the numbers they need, now is the time set up the means to get them.

Gather and Build Assets

If the product is based on an earlier version or a related product, then several design assets may already exist.  For example, the UX team should look for the following and assess whether or not they are still valid:

  • Style Guide: Coding standards for the look and feel of the (software) product such as layouts fonts, colors, buttons, etc
  • Design Pattern Library: Repeatable and reusable solutions for designing the user’s experience
  • Content Analysis: Assessment of the product’s existing content
  • Card Sorts: User generated information-hierarchy that forms the basis of the information architecture or navigation
  • Journey Maps: Diagrams that explore the multiple steps taken by customers as they engage with the product
  • Competitive / Comparative Analyses: Audit and comparison of similar or competing product

If any of these assets don’t yet exist, then the UX team has a good starting point for building the MVP’s foundation that’s driven by customer feedback.

Establish UX as Part of Development

To establish UX as an integral part of the iterative development loop, the UX team declares its design principles. Of course, these principles complement and advance the business goals and customer needs.  But they also determine how the team makes its decisions and they justify why the team approves the implementation of the design (or not).

The UX team then forms the processes it will use to communicate with the BAs and development team, to test design implementations, and to participate in the scrum ceremonies (more later).  Ultimately, the UX team establishes user experience as an integral part of the value chain ensuring vital customer feedback is accounted for.

Set the Initial Design

The UX team now establishes design solutions for the hypotheses that they will test with the MVP.  Based on discussions with the PO and the BAs the UX team starts with features at the top of the backlog that are of highest value to the customer.  The team uses assets such as the card sort, personas, and journey maps to layout the initial information architecture, interaction design, and visual design.

The UX team also confers with the developers to gain their insight into the feasibility of the design, technical constraints, and performance.  These form the framework for building the MVP and establish the initial hypotheses and direction of the UX design.

Plan for Testing

As the UX team starts to design the user experience for the MVP, they also need to create a plan for validating their hypotheses.  Before the working MVP is complete, they use the design mockups and prototypes to test their ideas with customers. It’s paramount that the UX team quickly stand up the feedback loop with the customers to ensure the team is bringing value early and often.  In addition to getting first impressions of the design, this also gives the UX team the opportunity to identify the next set of high-value functionality to prioritize in the subsequent sprints.  Once the MVP is in place, the UX team will continue to test.

Designing for Iterative Development

In the final article of this series we look at the various Agile ceremonies and where UX design fit in.  As the developers iterate, the UX team has to keep pace.  It’s becoming an Agile world – let’s make sure we keep those UX best practices.

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