Agile Development that Incorporates User Experience, Part 5

Chapter: Integrating UX into Agile teams

As I’m reading through the Nielsen Norman Group’s lengthy report Agile Development that Incorporates User Experience, I will be sharing notes & key quotes chapter by chapter. I will not be sharing case study information.

Key Takeaways

  • Keep work simple, iterative and within scale.
  • UX should work a sprint ahead, and if possible, in a parallel track.
  • UX designers must make good use of their time, especially at the beginning of a project.
  • There should be a Sprint 0 for UX designers to get a sprint ahead and set some expectations for developers.
  • Good communication and working side-by-side are absolutely necessary.

Key Quotes

“What is the right way to do usability work on an Agile team? The quick answer is to do whatever is needed. Don’t get caught up in Agile process dogma — just do the UX work that will help the product succeed.”

“By making your UX work predictive rather than reactive, you will have the answers to user experience questions before the team asks.”

“UX involvement early in the project can ensure that the correct tone is set, focus is placed on the right users and their important tasks, and that stories are written with a true understanding of the user’s goals.”

“UX professionals must support their teams as interfaces are being coded, but it is essential to also be looking forward to subsequent sprints to be sure that difficult design decisions are addressed before the team gets to them.”

Five Key Themes That Demonstrate Good UX Integration

UX people are bridges

“Every sprint provides an opportunity for reflection and improvement — and often that improvement can come from an increased understanding of user behavior; a role that you are more than able to fill.”

“By being the person who sets user experience based exit criteria for stories, you encourage developers to come to you for UX guidance.”

UX work is early, flexible

“Fight for up-front design time, but use it wisely. There is no point in trying to design the whole system up front, as that task falls to the whole team as part of the Agile process. Instead, your role is to produce guidance on how the interaction should take place.”

Low-fi prototype is the ongoing spec

“At the time an interface is being coded, face-to-face communication (preferably at a whiteboard) is seen as more effective than documentation, so the main place that specifications are captured is on the back of story cards in the form of story/QA metrics.”

UX work happens in a parallel track

“…along with working side-by-side with the team on their current tasks, UX must work on a separate but parallel track which looks ahead one or two sprints in order to provide answers to difficult design questions before the team is ready to code those stories.”

“Spikes allow developers, user experience people, or both groups to spend time within a sprint on a specific piece of research, but it makes no sense for UX to be constantly spiking. Instead, UX will typically have to work out which areas of the interface are likely to be developed next by looking at the highest priority stories in the backlog and then work ahead in a separate “track” to the developers.”

“Research happens two cycles ahead, design happens one cycle ahead and validation happens one cycle in arrears. During this time, the UX team must also be available to answer developers’ questions about designs being built in the current sprint.”

Guerilla style UX validation

“User Experience practitioners have to adapt their techniques to the constraints of the Agile world by thinking in an Agile way. That means finding ways of providing user input — being “the voice of the user” — which are fast but effective at each point in the Agile process.”

Top Tips for UX success in an Agile environment

  • Make Mistakes Faster (Iterate)
  • Do It With Less (Scale)
  • Keep It “Good Enough” (Simplify)


  1. Executive Summary
  2. Agile — theory and history
  3. Agile in practice
  4. Challenges for UX practitioners
  5. Integrating UX into Agile teams
  6. Guerilla Usability — Quick & Dirty Techniques
  7. Making it Happen

Be sure to follow me for the following parts to this series.