Incorporating agile UX design into your DevOps process

More and more, DevOPs teams are adopting the agile methodology to increase collaboration, flexibility and speed of design and development teams. The workflow of design has traditionally been to Discover — Plan — Create — Review then iterate in a series of handoffs from one department to the other. Documenting requirements and annotating wireframes slows down the team as client sign-off on deliverables grinds production down and inhibits the teams ability to make changes along the way. Conversely, the general idea behind the agile methodology is that long-ago signed off documentation does not provide a line of sight into the project being built now and that is much more cost effective to focus on an iterative, flexible process that prioritizes the people and product over planning. Many design leaders may struggle with evolving their design team into agile, and while it’s important to know that not all companies are a fit for agile, adopting agile for design can allow your team to embrace digital transformation and bring your UX practice to the next level. In this article I’ll discuss ways leaders can integrate design into an agile team.

The ultimate goal of agile UX is to unify DevOps and designers in the Agile process of development. At K2, working in Agile is about people, be it client or internal teams, to collaborate and respond to change so that improvement can occur with each iteration.

Our “get-shit-done” mindset loves the gratification of the Agile build cycles and measurable progress that’s made. I love the comradery within an interdisciplinary team that includes client teams, and knowing that when we work closely together from the beginning we can develop a shared understanding and common vision for their projects. So when I understand the perspective of my team and client requirements, I can design experiences both on the interface and during the sprint with greater efficacy as a result of that integration of effort and emotion.

So what’s the best way to keep the UX team aligned during agile sprints?

There has been a lot written recently about the misalignment between UX and Agile, and the lack of integration between UX and Agile, and the pain points that teams have around successful integration of UX into Agile. You see these issues particularly in teams that have formed before there was any thought or consideration to integrate UX. It’s always better to start planning a project and sprints WITH UX instead of grafting on our team like an afterthought. If you have to do it that way, invest in the team dynamic to ensure you have a good gel set with UX and developers. It also means you need humans that need to be flexible during the sprint and so that both disciplines can operate with the same level of priority.

To make UX activities visible, break user stories into UX and development subtasks. Add UX to Kanban boards, and include UX acceptance criteria and the measurement for velocity — which can be in either story points or estimation of hours. We use this time discipline in estimation in the UX practice outside of agile because it helps us ensure accuracy during the production phase.

There is a fundamental concept of Sprint O ,or an UX sprint in Agile, and how this can help with UX integration. On this point, I would say that it’s a good strategy if the project lends itself to that method. But again, your teams are going to need to be flexible. UX sprints should not be included in a practice where designers feel like their work cannot be changed mid-stream, or if they don’t have the ability to shift gears from sprint to sprint.

If UX cannot shift, then they run the risk of becoming disconnected from the sprint, which would result in additional resource and project costs. Likewise, developers should be brought into the design process in Sprint 0 early and often. This tight integration is good for both the people and the interaction side — people agree, align and get on board which make the interactions better.

What should product owners do before they start a project to ensure that they can get the best out of the UX process and keep the agile process agile?

Start with the team dynamic and human relationships. In Agile, individuals and interactions are valued over processes and tools. Good communication is essential in any development, and can be the catalyst for good collaboration by involving team members in activities such as group design ideation and brainstorming. To encourage this kind of work environment, allow your UX practice and the dev team to sit together, have them attend stand ups daily to bond and really work on having them empathize and understand one another’s work.

There is a misnomer that devs don’t fully understand UX. Nothing is further from the truth. Devs are users too and so their real world use cases can be leveraged into the product. I really like the way that ideas get stress tested in a multi-disciplinary environment, and more so when the eventual solution is able to withstand the “red team” treatment.

Next, disrupt your office seating plan by putting your UX team next to the development team. Close proximity will help with human-to- human communication and with allowing teams to get into the routine of asking one another questions or opinions. Remember that for agile as in UX, communication is key.

Finally, if you end up working on a design sprint — then UX would be wise to remember words of Leonard Cohen “forget your perfect offering” — by making sure they can pivot mid sprint. Think iterative improvement, not perfection.

Developer also need to be willing to collaborate and contribute to the design process. All of this takes leadership from both design and development. Having a strong leadership will helps teams adapt to a new process and style of working

In the long term, how will the industry going to address and adapt to the gaps between the demands for thoughtfulness in UX design and the need for speed of Agile?

Grant Gudgel wrote that the industry will ignore users and user experience design at its own peril. He also said, if Content is God then UX is the Messenger. I fully subscribe to these ideas.

We’ve never been more focused as an industry on user need and customer experience. In agile there is room for UX, but some human behaviour needs to iterate in order for it to work properly with speed and efficiency. But there will always be challenges to find ways and means for both.

If you’d like to learn more, I’d love to take you out for a drink or a cup of coffee, or chat over phone or email. Please contact me directly at: LTepperman@k2digital.com

Authors’ Note: This article was written by Jane Motz Hayes, Director, User Experience, and posted by Lawrence Tepperman, K2 Digital’s Founder & Managing Director.

About Lawrence Tepperman: Lawrence is the Founder and Managing Director of K2 Digital, a leading Digital Transformation services and solutions firm. He brings more than 20 years of experience building companies through marketing, software solutions, and management consulting. He founded K2 Digital in 2012 in order to help companies realize the tremendous benefits of digital transformation before they are disrupted.