Agile Methodology – a flexible, more adaptable way of working
What is Agile development and how does it fit in with designing user experience? The Agile methodology is a kind of methodology in software development that puts emphasis on a flexible and adaptable way of working in contrast to a rigid, structured or planned method of working. The Agile methodology allows you to pivot as situations arise, allowing you to move forward in a much faster manner.
The key concepts behind the Agile methodology are;
- A focus on user-centric design and an emphasis on individuals and interactions
- An emphasis on collaboration with customers rather than negotiating contracts
- Responding to challenges and changes as they arise over following a structured plan
- Creating working software over detailed documentation
In Agile Methodology, more emphasis is put on aspects that will allow the team to deliver the product more quickly and they can act more flexibly.
Usually the more time you have, the better and more creative solutions the team is likely to devise but most small firms do not have the time or budgets for optimally designed projects. In these projects with shorter deadlines and smaller budgets, agile methodology can prove to be very useful to make quick design decisions and complete the projects in time.
What are the four factors that can assist in the Agile methodology for UX design?
1. Involve a designer who has knowledge of the project domain and can quickly solve any questions and problems that can arise in the design process.
Usually designers would have plenty of time to make carefully weighted design decisions, after considering all of the product’s goals, functions, tasks and information that needs to factor into designing the product. Ignoring any of these could lead to the wrong decision being made that would impact the entire design process moving forward.
However, when there is a paucity of time, it is important to involve designers, or team members that have a detailed understanding of the users needs in the entire design process. They already have the required knowledge about creating products in the domain and the best methods of working from past experience. They will be in the best position to answer any questions that may arise in the design stage, make quick decisions and assist the team.
2. On a project with limited time, some processes and phases are more important than others to achieve a more efficient design. All activities in user-centred design are equally important, but in an agile project it is important to know which processes and activities to place emphasis on, and concentrate your efforts on, to be able to save time and create a more efficient design.
This is only possible based on the team’s know-how. Based on their experience, they will be able to identify which activities matter more than the others and concentrate their efforts on these activities to achieve 70-80% of usability of the product while the remaining activities are only there to add polish to the design.
3. It is useful to create minimally designed prototypes that can be quickly tested out, so that mistakes in the design process can be identified. Once these mistakes are revealed, more simpler, elegant solutions can be designed.
Usually the design process would involve long drawn out usability tests with focused target groups. This is certainly very useful but if time is of the utmost importance, the team doesn’t have the space and time needed to do the in-depth preparation needed for these usability tests. So teams must perform tests with whoever is available rather than waiting to select users from a targeted demographic, and use these tests to make design decisions rather than identifying usability problems.
4. Communicating clearly and efficiently with the client team is of the utmost importance to the success of the project.
Agile UX needs a more collaborative approach when it comes to achieving the goals identified by the entire team. Misunderstanding or lack of communication will result in glitches and mistakes that will impact the entire implementation of the product.
Product managers and UX designers need to work together to track every aspect of the project and schedule and manage design and implementation tasks side by side.
It is helpful at the beginning stages of the project to create a detailed design on paper and create a common understanding between all members of the team so that each and every member can contribute and continuously refine the design at every stage. This way everyone on the team will be involved at every stage and feel responsible and committed towards the project.
The primary goal of Agile UX is to quickly implement user-centric solutions, and deliver the design as quickly as possible. This is possible by collaborations, quick decision making, continuous usability tests, rapid prototyping and constant iterations. These form a repetitive loop of thinking, designing and validation.
Agile UX design is an interesting methodology to frame user experience design within the Agile Development Framework. Agile views product development as an iterative process. It embraces the unknown as part of building and shipping a product. When we look deep, though Agile UX is very different from conventional design and development methods – combing the two can be an efficient way of building great things.
Designers, developers, managers and stakeholders will need to collaborate throughout the design and development process as this is the key to effective Agile UX. They should anticipate and embrace feedback and constant product changes as a catalyst for progress rather than a roadblock or hindrance.
Finally, Agile UX is not a one-size-fits-all methodology. In the real world, specifics and needs vary by organisation. Once you have mastered the fundamentals of Agile, you should tweak and fine-tune processes to suit your needs. For example, your company’s culture may not be naturally collaborative in nature (i.e. a lot of work is done in silos). Or perhaps your team includes members who work remotely (distributed teams), which means some tweaking to the process is needed to be effective. Both these cases will present unique challenges and require adjustments.