UX in an Agile World – Interviews from Four Top Minds in the Industry

In a traditional waterfall work flow, User Experience (UX) specialists have plenty of time up front to research and incorporate important user insight into the planning stages. After the software is released, more feedback comes from the trenches as customer service gets complaints or compliments on how easy and intuitive the application is to the uninitiated.

But as part of an Agile work flow, that upfront time is cut down, the entire design and development process becomes much more collaborative, and, unfortunately, UX sometimes gets the short shrift. As stories are completed and sprints move forward, the speed of iterations sometimes precludes spending adequate time and effort on fine tuning the user experience.

And the result can be perfectly functioning code that no one wants to use.

We decided to interview four UX experts from various industries and disciplines that have all experienced the transition from traditional to Agile development methodologies to discuss how UX can be successful in an Agile world.

Below is a brief excerpt of their responses to several interesting questions. At the end, you’ll have an opportunity to download the entire interview if you’d like a more in-depth and well-rounded picture.

Meet Our Panel of Experts

1. Jon, a 20-year veteran of Silicon Valley who was an early Agile adopter, he currently works as a consultant and adviser to early stage startups and large teams who are new to Agile to help them design products.

2. Steve, a UX consultant and expert in product strategy, design, and research. He started out over 20 years ago as an engineer and moved through several technical roles, project and product management, before focusing on UX.

3. Anna, a UX professional with varied experience in non-profit, education, community service, and eCommerce. Combining her expertise in UX design and education, she has landed at a leading online educational program offering virtual classes to students worldwide.

4. Richie, who has more than 8 years of experience in UX, and a Masters in Human Computer Interaction. He is currently a senior UX designer at a major online retailer heading up Agile design projects for both customer-facing and internal staff-facing applications.

UX in Agile vs. Waterfall

Our first question had to do with how UX functions differently in an Agile environment as compared to a more traditional waterfall environment.

The consensus was that an Agile work flow does wonders for improving the efficiency and speed of development. However, there have been some significant challenges in “fitting” UX into the Agile process effectively.

“In the waterfall model, UX took traditional marketing requirements, refined them into detailed user-centered requirements (user stories), and delivered high-fidelity mockups and interactive prototypes to development to assist them in building the UI of the product,” Jon said. “With the introduction of Agile, there is a compression in the time between the definition of requirements and delivery of the working software. This confuses designers who are used to working in a large or distributed team (including agencies) where they defined their roles largely as creating elaborate design documentation well ahead of development work.”

Steve identified four major hurdles an Agile UX designer needs to jump, including this one: “The designer is still the owner, but their role has changed from a controller making decisions alone to one of collaborative facilitator. I think this is a great thing, but this is often seen by designers as a loss of power. More importantly, it requires a very different disposition and personality than many designers possess and the transition is painful for some, impossible for others.”

Agile UX in B2B vs. B2C

While there are certainly differences in specific use cases, our experts agreed that both B2B and B2C applications definitely benefit from the incorporation of strong UX design.

Anna noted, “For every product there are users regardless if it’s B2B or B2C. In order to create a successful product, it’s important to understand the needs and pain points of the user before moving forward with any type of development. This could be done with user research which includes interviewing users, concept testing, and beta testing. In the end, I see this saving a company time and money because research is more affordable than having a team of developers build something that might not be a viable product.”

In regards to applications made specifically for in-house sales staff, Richie commented, “We enhance those apps, or come up with new apps to empower people who are on the ground to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently. It doesn’t just affect the bottom line, it also results in satisfied workers because the software they are being asked to use is friendly and not cumbersome like it used to be before.”

Additional Topics

In addition, we grilled our panel on which tools they use to effectively collaborate with their Agile team mates. (Hint: there are a lot of tools for various circumstances, and UX pros have to be careful about just waiving around their “UX hammer”, i.e. wireframes.)

We also tried to pin down which UX specialties are most important to an Agile project and were appropriately chastened for insinuating that one specialty may be more important than another. Instead, as Richie stated, “All the specialties exist for a reason. It depends on the nature of the project. What does the person want to achieve by involving UX?”

As a UX professional yourself, or as an Agile developer who understands the value of UX in creating a better overall product, we think you’ll really enjoy diving into the full interviews with our panel of four UX experts. Download the complete white paper below.

Download the FULL WHITE PAPER here