User Experience Design in an Agile Environment: An Introduction

This post addresses some of the aspects of working Agile within a UX team, covering topics such as product vision and the benefits of Agile development over Waterfall.

The design process has previously been driven by a deadline, a date whereby a product will be published / set live, and the process will be declared done. This process was first created within a print environment and was adopted by website designers and developers. Given the recent years’ vast technological progression within the web, this process is now regarded by many to be a dated and constraining way to handle a website design project.

Drawing on the information I have read and Agile discussions I have been a part of, I have put together this post in the hope that we, as a user experience design team, can confidently make decisions on our Agile process and ultimately provide the customer with a better and more collaborative experience with Jadu.

Projects in Agile are not based on contractual agreements or a launch date, instead a project is defined primarily by three dimensions - time, scope and budget. An understanding is reached on which of these is the most critical.

By using the Agile process, we are acknowledging that we do not know all the details up front and we accept that aspects of the project may change. Elements of the design process, such as user stories, are not set in stone at the beginning of the project and instead are allowed to develop as designs develop and then be fed back into the design process.

“Digital product success is no longer about meeting the project deadline, or being the first to market. It’s about creating the right product, at the right time, for the right market, and continuously evolving.”

Jez Humble, Continuous Delivery: The Value Proposition

Also defined at the start of a project is the product vision. This is created to communicate how your product will support the clients’ strategies, this can either be through design goals, or a written statement that sets targets for the product. The vision must be collaborative and should be continuously measured and referred back to throughout the project, but shouldn’t be altered unless the life of the project makes the vision irrelevant (e.g a change in market or to the client’s needs).

So why make the change from Waterfall to Agile?

Waterfall projects are only designed to go forwards - a waterfall process assumes that projects are stable and finite. It is becoming clearer that within a digital environment this process is no longer ideal. By using an Agile process the team can maintain interaction throughout the design process; this helps to ensure that the project stays true to the product vision. Working in an Agile way also gives us the opportunity to reflect on our processes, so that we can tune and adjust to become a more effective team.

Agile uses test-driven development, meaning that the testing is integrated into the build process and is not added on afterwards. By using an Agile process we can provide internal testing on an iterative basis to ensure we retain a high level of quality, and that software functionality is operating as it should be.

If we cannot carry out external user-testing on a per-release basis we must encourage our customers to, ensuring that if something changes unexpectedly, we can resolve this earlier rather than later. The results of internal testing should be included in the applicable release. External testing results should be integrated into the next release of the design process.

Our aim, using Agile, should be to to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software. Iterating on a product means that we can preserve a product’s critical market relevance as we continuously replan the releases to optimise value throughout development.

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