Agile + UX: An Overview

We’re adopting an Agile approach to development at work finally. I’m really excited about the possibilities it brings. However while setting up a recent project, I realized the UX work I wanted to do didn’t quite “fit” with the Agile development sprints. So, naturally, I did some research. Below are some key findings & list of articles I found useful.


UX Must Work at Least One Step Ahead of the Sprint

  • “Effective UX professionals incorporate themselves in the Agile process by actively contributing ideas…”
  • “UX designers must plan activities before the sprint occurs…”
  • “Design a little ahead of development…”

Source: Doing UX in an Agile World: Case Study Findings

Use design spikes.

  • Sprint Zero may not be enough.
  • Use design spikes to avoid wasting effort.
  • Design spikes let you zoom out and then right back in.

Source: Smashing Magazine // “Each design spike may contain one or more design sprints, which work very much like normal scrum sprints but are focused simply on design.”

Prioritize work to resolve the biggest unknowns.

Source: Fitting Big-Picture UX Into Agile Development

Agile poses threats to usability that must be overcome.

For a project to take interaction design and usability seriously, it must assign them “story points” (i.e., resources) on an equal footing with the coding.

Follow these three steps to integrate UX into Agile:

  1. Perform usability activities (like user testing) in a few days. Weekly tests are totally feasible.
  2. Adopt a parallel track approach. UX = One Step Ahead
  3. Need foundational user research conducted before development begins.
To avoid spending too much time up front, teams can design low-fidelity prototypes — such as paper prototypes — that don’t require coding.

Source: Agile Development Projects and Usability

Work as a team.

  • Be transparent and have good relationships.
  • Don’t bring design into the project too late.
  • Have clear role expectations & work as a team.

Source: The UX Professionals’ Guide to Working with Agile Scrum Teams

Work through the chaos by prioritizing.

When a UX designer must work across product teams and juggle multiple sprints and priorities, an agile development process can seem both chaotic and rigid at the same time.
  • Solution: Use Kanban. It’s simple, elegant and helps prioritize tasks as a team.
  • Remember the reason Agile exists is to facilitate communication & collaboration — which are also UX values.

Source: Agile UX

Always know the most valuable thing you can do.

Design’s only purpose should not be feeding the dev team with designs.
  • Embed designers into development teams.
  • Map out whole customer journey with whole team.
  • Create an ongoing research process.
  • Visualize design tasks for everyone to see.
Involve the whole team — including developers — in brainstorming ideas for the work ahead.

Source: How Envato’s Agile UX Team Works

Create a hybrid “distributed but governed” model.

Source: Scaled Agile Framework // Distributed, governed UX development

  • UX designers have the responsibility to provide the Agile team with the next increment of design.
  • In Agile, UX design is incremental, fast, low-fi prototyping & highly collaborative.
  • Use a hybrid model of UX implementation & governance. (“Distributed but governed”)

Source: User Experience (UX) Abstract

UX is the Gatekeeper role.

  • Perform paper prototyping & discount user testing.
  • Separate design & development.
  • Create initial vision during a “sprint zero” period & maintain it.

Source: Agile User Experience Projects


Main Takeaway

Honestly, my main takeaway is that UX design doesn’t fit into an Agile development environment unless you make room for it intentionally. Which is a disappointing conclusion that I’m still trying to convince myself of otherwise. But until then, I’m looking forward to following the principles above to try to make it fit with my team the best way we can. At the end of the day, it’s all about what works best for the team.

This was originally published on my personal blog.

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