Agile Isn’t Supposed To Be UX Hostile

Design teams frequently struggle when their development organizations adopt an Agile process like Scrum. These processes seem to leave no opening for design to influence the product, creating poor user experiences when the team delivers its products.

It’s easy to blame the way Agile works. Yet, if we look back at Agile’s roots, we see that it embodies design’s core philosophies.

In 2001, 17 leaders of what became the Agile movement met in Utah and produced what is now known as the Agile Manifesto. The Manifesto boiled down the essence of good software development practice.

What we see is a strong influence of good design practice here, too. Everything in the Agile Manifesto applies to smart design.

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.

Design leaders know the way they interact with their teams that affect the designs their teams produce. Everyone, including developers and product managers, work best when they collectively understand what the user needs and how the design can meet those needs.

As designers, we’re guilty when we’re mired in tools and processes. We forget real design happens when we work and share together. We must focus on our interactions with each other, instead of insisting our tools dictate our work.

Working software over comprehensive documentation.

This Manifesto principle embodies the show, don’t tell ethic behind great design collaboration. Sitting together and demonstrating a working idea can push a design forward much faster than any amount of specifications or non-interactive diagrams.

Having something that works is essential to getting feedback from our users. All too often we see that showing the user a screenshot doesn’t come close to learning what happens when they have a product to use, even in prototype form.

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.

The pressure to deliver on time focuses our efforts into the negotiation of what-by-when. Delivering something our customers will use and get value from can take second priority if we let those negotiations push the wrong priorities.

Design leaders bring customers to the forefront by employing smart design research practices throughout the project. When everyone views the users and customers as a partner in the design and delivery process, everybody wins.

Responding to change over following a plan.

As we put our thinking in front of our users, we learn where we made the wrong assumptions. Solid design practice teaches us to respond to an improved understanding, keeping our practice flexible.

As the old saying goes, planning is essential, but plans are useless. We must be ready to adapt to change.

Agile and Design are Kindred Spirits

We share common principles. Agile processes and the way we design don’t need to be adversaries. We can work together.

Integrated practices, like Lean UX, can help us drive the Agile process, fulfilling the manifesto while producing products that our customers love. We can use these practices to deliver better designs throughout our organization.


Make Agile and Design work together in your organization. In Jeff Gothelf’s full-day UI23 workshop, Leveraging Lean UX to Lead Successful Agile Design Teams, you’ll get a deep dive in the techniques and practices for making your design team Agile. Read through the detailed workshop description to see how you’ll deliver better products.