Agile and UX are not natural bedfellows. Agile is fast-paced, focused on micro-processes and developer-driven. UX, on the other hand can be more time consuming, considers the big picture (i.e. what are users’ goals and can they achieve them) and is externally driven by users.
However, they can work together and, when they do, it can be remarkable. User-driven designs built to a high-quality on a short time frame. What’s not to like!
So how do you marry these two practices?
Get organisational buy-in
To combine UX with Agile, there must be genuine organisational buy-in to the benefits of UX and the value it can bring to development. Without someone high up in the organisation championing ‘the voice of the user’, priority may not be given to including research in development sprints or findings may be dismissed as irrelevant.
The team must understand and believe in the value of both qualitative and quantitative UX methods, so results are accepted and outcomes implemented. This requires a culture of continuous improvement and the courage to take constructive criticism and learn from users.
To truly merge UX with Agile, the user researchers must be embedded in the development team. Firstly, this gives them equal ownership of the project. Secondly, it allows them to constantly challenge the team’s mental models around user behaviours and goals.
We all have pre-existing ideas of how our customers use our digital services. Usually this reflects our own experience and usually we are wrong. If you work in IT or tech development, you are in the top percentile when it comes to your digital skills. You are not your average user and your expectation of how users interact online is not the norm. Without meaning to, you will make assumptions about your users and base developments on these.
User researchers, on the other hand, have spent hours watching people interact with websites and digital services and are used to being surprised. When assumptions about users are made, they will be quick to challenge them before it is too late.
Turn research into action quickly
To fit UX into the tight timescales Agile dictates, the process of turning research into action must be expedited. The best way to do this is by having your development team watch the research as it happens.
This has a number of advantages:
- It allows developers to see the issues for themselves. It’s very hard to ignore something that has just occurred in front of you and will help gain buy-in to the outcomes (see point 1).
- It allows real time changes to design. If something is clearly not working for users, you have a room full of developers so you can fix it straight away. All subsequent testers will see your updated version and can confirm if the problem has been resolved.
- It does away with lengthy reports and formal presentations (this is the time-consuming bit!). By discussing the issues as they occur and how they could be resolved, the team will leave with a list of actions to implement the very next day.
Remember the big picture
During agile development, teams are often focused on micro sections of the user journey. This is great for aligning the team and ensuring progress is made, however, this is not how users will engage with the end product and can cause the project to lose site of the overarching strategy i.e. what is the purpose of this service and how will it actually be used by your customers.
Again, here is where your user researcher is handy, as they will approach things from a high-level position and can provide the voice of the user when the rest of the team is deep in the details.
At the end of the day, for UX and Agile to really work together, user researchers, developers, designers and project managers must work cohesively as a team. Expertise need to be respected and the value of each process understood. This is where we look to senior management to develop a great culture of continuous improvement.
See Agile & UX in action: Read our discount supermarket case study