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Where UX & Agile Meet

Where UX & Agile Meet

If you’ve ever invested a lot of time and money into launching a new product only to see user adoption rates far below where you anticipated, you could probably benefit from unifying your user experience (UX) and Agile development practices.

Understanding the big-picture organizational benefits of aligning these two practices can help you understand what kinds of changes you can make to de-risk the projects you undertake in the future.

Background: Agile, UX, and the Tension between Them

Agile is a set of principles used to build software. One key principle of Agile is that quality is defined as creating working code. Because of that, many popular Agile frameworks push UX (which defines quality in terms of how something affects the end user) to the back burner.

That’s a problem because UX is part of every piece of software that gets built, whether or not Agile teams are paying attention to it.

My favorite working definition of UX is from designer and design thinking educator Jon Kolko:

“While ‘experience’ has no intrinsic relationship to digital technology, the proliferation of small, inexpensive computers created a focus on the relationship people have with designed things over time. These relationships – often emotionally charged – are behavioral and phase-based. We change, and the things we use and live with should change with us.”

In other words: the rise of tech has led to the rise of UX as a field. And those who ignore UX do so at their own – and their users’ – peril. Let’s look at an example.

Agile vs. UX: The Dangerous Consequences of Bad Design

In 2012, the Wall Street Journal published the story of Bobbi Duncan, which design thinker Mike Monteiro retells in this video. It perfectly encapsulates the kind of horrible outcomes that are possible when Agile and UX are divorced from each other.

Briefly, what happened to Duncan was that, because Facebook’s group page feature was designed such that posts from a group page could override the privacy settings of any individual user, she was unintentionally outed as gay to her homophobic father, despite her careful and deliberate efforts to hide that information from him.

The results were deeply damaging to Duncan and her family relationships.

Those results were possible because, at some point, Facebook developers pushed functional code without considering how those functions might affect its users’ lives.

If Facebook had prioritized UX and paid attention to user research during the development process, I like to believe that the feature that allowed the privacy override would never have made it live, and Duncan and countless others would have been spared serious trauma.

Read more: Toward More Ethical KPIs

How and Why to Bring Bring Agile and UX Together

Done right, these two practices can do far more than prevent harm, though. They can complement each other in really meaningful ways.

The UX discipline ensures that the organization tests its assumptions at every step, meaning that, when it’s done by qualified professionals, it’s nearly impossible to build something that users don’t want. With a strong UX practice, you ensure you deliver the right product, even if it’s not the one you initially planned on building.

Agile forces a disciplined cadence of tight feedback loops. You build, test, commit, review. You learn and apply what you learned to the next build.

When UX and Agile teams work in tandem and in parallel, they’re able to produce products that users actually want and need and that make those users’ lives better. Crucially, they’re also able to maintain and iterate these products as users’ needs change.

As Kolko said: “We change, and the things we use and live with should change with us.” UX makes it possible to recognize the need for change; Agile makes it possible to make the change in a timely manner.

How Apexon Helps Organizations Unify UX and Agile

One of our main operating principles at Apexon is meeting our clients where they are and helping them take incremental and impactful steps forward so they can consistently achieve better outcomes.

We help organizations unify their UX and Agile practices by doing three things:

  1. Defining quality: For UX and Agile teams to align, they have to have shared definitions of quality. We help organizations have this conversation. Regardless of the organization, though, quality is defined by end users: how does what you’re building impact their life?

    Worth noting: we’ll never counsel an organization to define quality as speedy output. If a restaurant served its customers half-cooked cold soup in less than a minute, would they be considered successful because they did it fast? Would their product be considered high quality? Would their customers be happy? No.

  2. Collaborating: Agile development is already very cross-functional. Software architects, front-end developers, back-end developers, and QA testers must work together to develop functioning code. UX should be included in the collaborative process. Unfortunately, that’s a hotly debated statement in the world of Agile development.

    But the reality is that every decision affects the user experience; a back-end architectural decision might take page load speed from two seconds to 10 seconds. That has a huge user impact. We help teams recognize this and develop ongoing collaboration between UX and Agile.

    It’s worth noting, too, that there’s a difference between stepping on each other’s feet and learning to speak each other’s language. The latter helps organizations improve their decisions so they can reach a higher level of UX maturity.

  3. Conducting user research: This goes way beyond the tactical usability testing most people are familiar with. Strategic user research helps discover the problem space – that is, it helps make sure a team is solving the right problem. Without UX-led research of this nature, it’s possible to build great software that solves the wrong problem – which is one reason organizations see low adoption rates and other problems.

    By incorporating UX from the beginning, organizations can help ensure they eliminate the risk of unmet customer expectations. Returning to Kolko’s definition of UX, it’s worth noting that it’s impossible to understand users’ relationships to and experiences with products via rushed, disorganized research.

    When research is continuous, it doesn’t have to fit into a two-week sprint or happen right before the sprint. That’s why user research should be continuous, on a track separate from development. This is what the Dual Track model (introduced by Desirée Sy in 2007) recommends.

Agile principles positions organizations to maintain dynamic products that adapt to changing conditions. UX practices help ensure that organizations can consistently improve their users’ lives, whatever work they’re undertaking.

Let Us Help De-Risk Your Next Project

Any organization can benefit from adopting the principles I outline here. De-risking new projects via shared definitions, collaboration, and user research can help organizations at any point on the UX maturity scale save time and money and drive outcomes that have a more positive impact on their users’ lives.

If you’re curious to hear more, get in touch. I’d love to hear where you are and where you’d like to be.

Interested in our Digital Experience Services?

Contact Apexon +1 408-727-1100

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By submitting this form, you agree that you have read and understand Apexon’s Terms and Conditions. You can opt-out of communications at any time. We respect your privacy.