Integrating UX into Agile Initiatives

I frequently get asked about how to best integrate UX / UI teams into Agile initiatives, to have them work in a more iterative, incremental manner.  It is frequently reported from UX folks coming from a more sequential development environment that Agile compromises their creativity and their ability to provide a more well thought out user experience.  In my experience feedback in this vein tends to more a reaction to change.  The habit of doing big up front UX design at higher fidelity is not a required required behavior for producing a winning UX. 

The transition for many UX folks can be a struggle, but it’s like any significant change, you can choose to try to do it all at once, big bang change, which is almost certain to be reacted to out of the amygdala in our mammal brain or you can undertake the change in more of a kaizen approach, small changes, measuring effect as you go. The small changes are more likely to keep the person being asked to change rationally involved rather than fighting or fleeing the situation.

UX is frequently a limited resource on teams and shared between project / Sprint teams.  Because of this it’s important to keep in mind flow and the demand for service from their product development team. I’ve used an approach like the RITE (Rapid Iteration Testing and Evaluation, originated at Microsoft) model, where the UX Team works collaboratively with the rest of the team but they divide their time up between the different demands for their service, designing for upcoming sprints, collaborating with other roles on the team during the current sprint and testing UX deliverables of the previous sprint with users. This cycle helps to balance flow and allocation of UX capacity across these 3 essential areas of their contribution to the team effort.

Image From article “Adapting Usability Investigations for Agile User-centered Design” – Desirée Sy

The amount of time spent in each of the areas depends on the team and domain context and can be tuned from observing execution from Sprint to Sprint. I suggest involving the greater team when having this tuning discussion.  This can be an excellent topic to visit during the team’s retrospectives.

Recently I’ve been considering tracking UX efforts in multi team contexts as a separate ‘sub-system’ on a Kanban board to help visualize better the flow and available capacity of this frequently constrained resource. So while there would be a backlog and story board / task board for the overall team working in a, say, Scrum manner, the UX function would track their overall work function demand and provide visualization of it to the organization on more of a kanban board.   I think this could assist in balancing flow by enabling teams to better manage resource dependencies and of couse to enable them to see when they could pitch in to help with some of the design process work where they have interest and or skill when UX becomes the bottleneck (In my experience, not all work UX folks do can only be done by UX folks).

Bottom line, big change is nearly always a challenge with human beings, it’s just the way our brain has evolved and what as kept us alive as a species.  Consider making changes in small increments, measuring the effect and adjusting as necessary.  Also, consider utlizing something like the RITE model to balance the flow of UX service type demand for your context. And lastly, consider using a Kanban board to help better visualize UX work across teams and the available capacity and timing dependencies to optimize flow.

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About Mike DePaoli

Mike DePaoli has been contributing to the IT community for over two decades and practicing agile and lean approaches to software development since 1996 in roles from programmer to CTO. His evolved approach to crafting successful lean-agile software development organizations was forged by the meaningful challenges he undertook at prior employers and as an Agile Coach at companies such as eBay, Adobe Systems, AOL, NetApp, Disney, Boeing, EMC, and Trizetto. Mike’s area of expertise is helping organizations craft strategic change initiatives that educate on and establish agile and lean values, principles and practices at every tier of the organization. Mike applies systematic thinking with a multi-discipline approach to his work. Mike is a Certified SAFe Agilist, Certified Scrum Professional, Certified Scrum Master (CSM) and Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO). He is a highly-regarded speaker in the Agile community having spoken at Agile conferences in North America, South America and Europe. He is currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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