The Agile UX process

Nowadays is very important to have people in charge of UX in a development team. An emphasis on UX allows product teams to be truly collaborative, self-organizing and focused on the customer experience. For those teams that want to move fast, UX has to be at the heart of the process. This means we need to reserve some time for UX during each sprint.

We’ll look at the five stages of every Agile product development lifecycle:

  • Research & Investigation
  • Ideation and Backlog Refinement
  • Design and Development
  • Testing & Validation
  • Product Launch

Research & Investigation

At this stage we will collect answers for these questions:

  • Who is my target user?
  • What issues is my user facing?
  • How is my user currently managing those issues?
  • What tools and processes (manual or automated) is my user currently using to manage the issues?
  • Is the user creating any custom workarounds to issues?
  • What sort of market/industry landscape am I facing?
  • Who are my competitors and how do they position themselves in the market?
  • What type of functionalities and UX do my competitors provide?
  • What is my competitor’s pricing model?
  • What are my business goals and objectives?
  • What will be my key differentiator(s)?

At this stage is important to keep an open mind. Useful collaborative activities include stakeholder interviews, user interviews, user surveys, and heuristic analysis of competitors. The UX designer will definitely want to share the results of this stage with the entire team.

It’s important to understand the type of UX users will be comfortable with. This information will be helpful to enrich user personas.


Ideation and backlog refinement

There are some sub-phases here:

  • Solution ideation: This is generally high level and can be as basic as deciding whether the solution will be a digital product or a service. Your team will discuss whether the solution is an entirely new product, feature updates, or perhaps even a new service.
  • Functional ideation: This discussion will focus on the high-level actions that users can take when interacting with the product. You’ll also discuss the product form factor (e.g. whether the product will be web-based, mobile, or both).
  • Design and UI ideation: You’ll discuss the overall design vibe. For example:
  1. Will the app be 100% gesture-driven?
  2. We want the app to be responsive?
  3. (…)

All possibilities can be explored before trying to close down on one singular solution. At this stage, nothing is off the table. You need to “think broad to get narrow”.

  • Marketing and Positioning ideation: This is an opportunity to figure out what makes the product, feature or service different. Understand the key talking points at this point and how the product addresses the target users.

There are some things that is important to take into account:

  • Include core team members in all discussions.
  • Don’t underestimate SEO requirements: if you do it, we may need changes here and there that can have significant impact.
  • Sketch, Sketch, Sketch: describe the design problem, encourage people to draw as roughly and quickly as possible, then present and decide on the best ideas.

Design and development

Let’s look at some steps we need to take into account for better Agile UX design and development:

  • Include the UX designers in the sprint planning.

Each sprint planning session is an opportunity for all team members to dig into not just what should be done, but why.

  • Plan ahead for design needs.

Iteration is at the heart of Agile and designers also need to work iteratively, ensuring that developers have designs ahead of each sprint. However, you may run into situations where full iteration isn’t a pragmatic solution and all screens must be designed prior to the start of the project.

Even the roughest wireframe can explain a concept to designers better than the most detailed specs document. More importantly, wireframes and lo-fi prototypes serve as a collaborative rallying point for the whole team (regardless of who first created them).

  • Always prototype.

Once you’re finished with the design studio exercise we discussed in the last section, the design team can flesh out the best ideas into a prototype for quick user validation.

If you’re using a tool like UXPin, you can create a flat wireframe, then add some interactions to quickly create a lo-fi prototype. Once you’ve gathered team feedback and tested the lo-fi prototype with at least 5 users, you can move to Photoshop or Sketch to improve the visual design. When you’re satisfied, import the file back into UXPin to add interactions to any layer. Test the hi-fi prototype you just created, iterate based on results, and repeat as much as needed.

UXPin

During each step of the process from sketch to hi-fi prototype, make sure you get feedback from stakeholders and developers.

  • If UX resources are overwhelmed, go for “bare bones” design. Everybody can collaborate!
  • Include a front-end gatekeeper in the development team.

Every Agile product team needs to invest in a strong front-end dev who will make sure that everything is pixel perfect. A strong front-end dev will not only be the gatekeeper of the UX designer’s work, but they will also end up being the UX designer’s best sanity check on the technical side.

When deciding which member of the development team should serve as the front-end gatekeeper, the Product Manager and UX Designer should keep the following in mind:

  • If the Product Manager is very familiar with all the developers in the Scrum team, then he or she can let the Scrum Master (the person facilitating the Agile process, e.g. a Project Manager) know who would best serve as gatekeeper.
  • During the first sprint planning session, the Product Manager or Scrum Master should inform the entire team that there is a designated front-end gatekeeper.
  • Clarify to the team that the gatekeeper will help avoid double work (no one wants that!). The team should understand that the gatekeeper will speed things up, so if they get stuck, they have someone to lean on for help. By presenting it this way, developers can feel that they’re still in an autonomous position, and that they have the freedom to go to the gatekeeper (or to the UX Designer) as needed.

Testing and Validation

A few things to keep in mind regarding testing:

  • Always make time for personal UX walkthroughs: The UX designer should reserve time during each sprint to walk through the overall design and experience to ensure that it matches their original designs.
  • Don’t forget about User Acceptance Testing.
  • Once a project is completed, it is again worthwhile having the UX designer go through the entire workflow to make sure that the entire workflow does indeed work and that each screen follows the intended style guide.
  • While we’ve described internal tests above, you must also run usability tests with at least 5 users.

Product launch

A few things to keep in mind after a product launch:

  • All feedback is valuable. So what sort of information and insights can other team members provide?
  1. Industry-specific needs: Account and sales managers can explain in great detail the needs of different industries.
  2. Competitor information: Account and sales managers can also provide insights into real and fake competitors on the market.
  3. Bug statistics: The Customer Support team can help take the guesswork out of the bug and new feature prioritization process.
  4. User categories: Just like account managers, support teams can also provide insights into the needs of specific user types.
  • Keep personas and user journeys updated. Every new product release or product enhancement is an opportunity to acquire new users and move existing users further along the customer lifecycle.
  • With new features come new workflows and ways of using your product. Before you launch new features, make sure you create events in your product analytics tool so you can monitor feature usage and flows.

Conclusion

We’ve seen how important is to make sure that UX is part of every Agile team. There are five stages of every Agile product development lifecycle and having a UX designer is important for each one of them:

  • Research & Investigation
  • Ideation and Backlog Refinement
  • Design and Development
  • Testing & Validation
  • Product Launch