by Stuart Ridgway, Original Music for Film and Television. I originally wrote this article for Excella.com on September 26, 2016.
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: Agile is about short development sprints that continuously bring business value, where 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 Agile sprints, you can absolutely gain the wisdom of proper UX practices.
The first step is to identify how the UX team engages with the larger development team on an ongoing basis. Ideally, your goal is to foster a collaborative environment. The better the different 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 the UX team within the development team.
For our purposes there are four players with whom the UX team engages:
- The Product Owner
- The Business Analyst – there are often more than one
- The Software Developer – there are likely more than one
- The Scrum Master
Understanding the relationships between the UX team and each of the four key 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 her relationship with the UX team: 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 UX team helps the PO achieve immediate and sustainable wins.
Next, the PO ensures that UX is embedded into the development processes. She dictates that the UX team collocates with the development team and the business analysts (BAs) 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 the UX team and gives them authority and accountability to advocate for the customer, then the BAs and developers do too. This is vitally important especially at the beginning of the project.
Finally, although the UX 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 UX team does proper, ongoing customer research.
- Be committed to working with the UX 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 the UX team’s best friends. They each share the goal of building better software by improving workflow, customer retention, user satisfaction, and return on investment. Nevertheless, each team has their unique role: The UX team focuses on the overall experience of the customer while the BAs concentrate on how the software improves the business.
The BAs often have the strongest relationship and the most direct line to the PO. They understand the business processes that are affected by the new software and help the PO pinpoint the business justifications for making particular improvements. In turn, the BAs support the UX team as they advocate for the customers. For example, when prioritizing stories in the backlog, the BAs help ensure that the PO consistently considers both business and customer needs.
Furthermore, while working with the PO to create, refine, and accept stories the BAs must ask:
- Should the stories that address UX issues be combined with functional stories, or should they be separate? Do these stories accurately address the stated needs of the customer?
- What stories in the upcoming sprints require input from the UX team, such as customer research, wireframes, or interaction designs? The BAs use this information to help the UX team stay ahead of the developers and provide the assets they will need.
- What UX elements must be considered 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.
- Do the designs that the UX team has created 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 Scrum Master and the Developers
The UX team and the developers have a tightly knit collaborative relationship. The UX team often acts as the proxy for the PO and the customers. As such, the developers look to the UX team to verify that they are always building the right product. Also, the UX team may be the only means by which the developers get feedback on the product, so they rely on the UX team to understand how and why the customers work with the software. As the UX team continually voices the needs of the customer, the developers also become advocates for them and for good UX practices.
In turn, the UX team relies on the developers to validate what they can feasibly build. When the UX team is collocated with the developers, they create feedback processes for immediately clarifying how the user experience should work and for determining the best way to implement the design. 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, both the UX team and the development team look to the scrum master to manage how UX is aligned with the sprints. Not all UX development can be accomplished in two weeks. Alongside the BAs, the UX team and the scrum master evaluate the UX-related stories. They determine how to map the stories 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 Agile 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.
Stuart Ridgway composes original music for film and television. You can find out more about his music and the Emmy Award winning television shows he works on at Pyramid Digital Productions, Inc.
5 thoughts on “UX for an Agile World (Part II)”
Stuart, What UX activities can/should be conducted during the identification of User Stories, should the opportunity be available?
So sorry for my slow reply – I did not get a message that you left a comment and just stumbled upon it.
In answer to your question: I’m assuming that you’re talking about a Sprint 0 situation so I recommend doing as much user research as possible (not a surprise). That includes contextual inquiry (on site interviews), heuristic reviews, satisfaction surveys, competitive/comparative analysis, and metrics assessments. At the same time you should be gathering as many assets as you can find such as previous research, past surveys and interviews, and analytics that you can lay your hands on.
I cover these ideas more in depth in Article III: https://stuartridgway.com/2016/10/05/ux-for-an-agile-world-part-iii/
Hope that helps!