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Agile user experience design. Is it possible?

LAST UPDATED: May 10, 2021

Emamuzo Okerri

The term agile user experience design can be tedious as working in an agile environment as a UX designer is one heck of a job, especially when there is a vague understanding, within the team, of what UX design is. 

It takes patience, consistency, and the ability to fine-tune your processes in a way that enables both parties to achieve their goals efficiently.

Of course, there are tons of articles out there on the internet about incorporating UX in agile environments – talking about Lean UX, Design Sprints, and whatnot – and yes, they seem to get the job done. Still, from my perspective, these approaches, as practiced, take away the actual value UX design brings to the table.

To decide if agile UX is possible, we need to understand User Experience Design, Agile methodology, underlying philosophies, and benefits.

What is Agile Methodology, and why is it so important?

The foundational idea behind Agile is about the focus on providing users with a minor possible working product – hence the term MVP (Minimum viable product) – to get feedback which in turn enables the product team to improve the product to meet user needs continually. 

Though there are different Agile methodologies – Scrum and Kanban to mention a few – all of them follow the same foundational idea (as stated earlier), which is embedded in the Agile Manifesto.

Over the past two decades, Agile Methodology has gained a strong reputation for software development success and extensive acceptance within the software industry due to its ability to improve software development efficiency, thereby reducing development waste.

What is Agile User Experience Design, and why is it so important?

User experience design is rooted in the idea of providing people (users) with excellent experiences while interacting with a product or service. And being able to offer such excellent experiences successfully is a function of understanding human behavioral patterns – how these people respond to what they see, hear or feel while interacting with a product or service.

User experience design gives product and service design teams the information they need to build the right product or service for the right audience, thereby eliminating the risks of product failure. 

In this case, knowledge on what is obtainable – in terms of what the target audience needs – is gained long before a line of code is written and before a product or service hits the market.

What then is the problem?

The problem lies in Agile Methodology and UX design (which relies on User-Centered Design – UCD). Both processes have the same goal: to reduce the risk of product failure, but they go about it in different ways. 

The agile methodology says “launch an MVP then get feedback from customers” while UCD says “gather feedback through research and prototype testing before development.” to offer such excellent experiences successfully. 

As always, everything that exists in life has its pros and cons. Though UCD provides a less costly way to ensure product and service success, it tends to defeat the whole idea of incrementally improving a product, which is the foundation of Agile methodology.

How do we solve this problem?

Knowing that both Agile and UCD have significant benefits to product success, it is critical to find common ground for operations that takes full advantage of all the benefits of both product and service design and development approaches.

Here at Sprinthub, we try to approach projects using a two-phase process that seamlessly integrates both Agile and UCD, eliminating the challenges of Big Design Upfront (BDUF), product and service design based on speculations and assumptions, and the reactive nature of agile.

This approach is divided into a Discover phase and a Development phase. 

The Discover phase focuses on gathering as much information as possible on the idea, target audience, and business viability through market research and user research, taking advantage of the principal value of UCD. 

The insights gotten from this phase are then used to formulate the product features, requirements, scope, and timeline of the design & development phase.

The second phase – The development phase – takes advantage of the entire spectrum of Agile methodology and the later part of UCD, which is user testing or usability testing. 

Here Initiatives, Epics, and User Stories are created based on the decisions of phase 1. Each epic is then kicked off with the Interaction design process that involves flow design, information architecture, usability testing, and visual design.

This is then followed by the development, comprising the back-end and front-end development.

The trick to success with this approach is to set up epics and stories in the smallest possible chunks that eliminate any chance of BDUF (Big design up front).

Conclusion

Yes, Agile User Experience Design is possible. Everything has its pros and cons. The way to succeed is to find common ground for operations. 

We found a way to align both processes to achieve results in Sprinthub so that you can do the same. All you need to do is know what you want to achieve and the underlying principles of the available ways to accomplish those goals, Understand them, apply them, and iterate on the ideas for continuous growth.

Also, have this in mind, Systems and Processes are systematic ideas designed to guide people to achieve their goals and not some set of laws or rules that must be followed. No one method or process is the ultimate solution. 

Being able to compromise for the benefit of your team’s success is the best way to achieve success in all your endeavors.

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