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Iterative design, product team alignment and UX debt: how to make your user experience workflow agile with 5 helpful tips

Iterative design, product team alignment and UX debt: how to make your user experience workflow agile with 5 helpful tips

Having made its mark as a method for teams to get projects completed quickly and continuously through production increments and iterations, it looks like Agile is here to stay.

Aside from its success in software development, the agile process has been making the rounds in legal, marketing and other enterprise industries. Now, the iterative workflow is being integrated into the user experience process – with good reason. Despite some teething issues, Agile UX teams agree that agile helps to identify issues sooner, predict timelines more efficiently, minimize last-minute surprises and deliver features faster – according to a Lean UX and Agile study by Hoa Loranger.

Here we define what it means to be Agile in UX and identify 5 ways UX teams can make their workflow design agile – from ideation to development handoff. So read on and find out why 69% of UX practitioners are using an Agile UX workflow.

What is a UX workflow?

A UX workflow outlines all the steps within your UX process, from doing UX research and gathering user feedback, defining design specifications, to low-fidelity wireframing and high-fidelity prototyping, ui ux design, and performing user and usability testing prior to development.

What does transitioning to an Agile UX workflow involve?

  • No one works in a vacuum – designers, developers, UX researches and product managers workas a team, or cross-functional teams, to make sure everyone is working towards building a cohesive product as efficiently as possible
  • Product discovery is a partnership of product management, UX and software architecture, with a focus on user activities
  • UX projects are completed in increments. Software design evolves in tandem with subsequent iterations and responds to changes based on user testing and feedback

Chunk your UX design work to make Agile planning easier

Aligning UX with Agile is not always easy. Agile involves quick Product Design sprints and fast iterations, whilst UX requires intense bouts of user research and long design hours. In order to make the two see eye to eye, UX practitioners need to make sure that the project’s UX activities are made clear to everyone from the start. UX activities need to be broken down so that agile teams can efficiently plan, measure and deploy project goals without neglecting the user experience.

Chunking your design work is a great place to start. As Leslie Kraemer has it, chunking refers to the concept of ‘breaking down information into bite-sized pieces so the brain can more easily digest new information’. The term was coined by George Miller in 1956, who found that people could typically remember about 7 chunks of information in their short-term memory. The technique is ideal for planning the design portion of a software project where there are several features for the teams to address and stimuli for the end user to negotiate – such as for a car navigation system, mobile device, or sports tracking app.

The first step to chunking is to figure out what you want the user to take away from your design (the end goal). Then you can start to define your UX activities around that goal. Once you have defined your UX activities, you should start to break them down into subtasks, or user stories.

User stories are collected in the product backlog and then prioritized by the Scrum master. Justinmind’s Product VP, Victor Conesa, suggests color-coding your user stories for improved visibility and easy access.

By breaking down UX activities into subtasks, there is less chance of repetition of work and task overload for the design team and fewer misunderstandings between agile teams in project planning and production.

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Respect time management and task analysis

Time management and task analysis are both common pain point for product teams. This is especially true of UX teams who often develop a sort of tunnel-vision that doesn’t let time get in the way, as IDF has it. Luckily, the Agile process aims to improve productivity and streamline workflows:

Time track to set accurate estimates

In Agile, setting estimates (measuring the size of a backlog and calculating velocity) is essential to knowing how long product teams need to deliver a feature. The most common way to set estimates is to track time.

As Atlassian describes here, a common way to set accurate estimates is by tracking tasks in a sprint, using the number of hours needed per task and estimating tasks in user story points. From sprint to sprint as they work through the user stories, the product team will develop a cadence of completing <x> units of work they had estimated.

Time box your UX activities to prevent idea fatigue

Setting time limits for each of your UX activities will help ensure that your goals are realized on time, ideas won’t be overworked and the bad ones will be thrown away early.

Start time boxing during the daily scrum meeting. These meetings encourage team members to make a commitment to their colleagues and project, as well as keep the team informed. However, having creatives go through their day’s activities can take some time. Actively limiting these meetings – for example to 30 mins – can help keep items discussed to just the essentials.

Assess the value of tasks

Consider evaluating which tasks add value and which weigh you down. For instance, design review meetings are important for mitigating knowledge gaps, but you need to set a limit to the time spent discussing the work. These meetings need to keep in sync with iterations and both need to work alongside each other.

Other areas where you should be measuring your time include UX research: remember, you should be putting around 10% of your project budget into user research. Time boxing your sprints will help you make time management a best practice.

Align design and development teams and tasks

Collaboration is key for agile teams to deliver great software. If design and development do not have an open-door policy, misunderstandings will brew and issues won’t be identified until it’s too late.

Teams not used to working a certain way – e.g. designers working head down for long stretches of time, as well as developers cranking away –  often have to make comprises on quality or risk being outdated. But is there a workaround? Yes.

Use the right tools to align agile team

Having the right collaboration tools in your design arsenal can streamline handoff between to development, centralize assets centralized and make mistakes are a thing of the past because creative and tech teams will be sharing the driving.

With Justinmind’s developer-friendly prototyping UI, the developer team can grab CSS assets and styles without reading lengthy specs documents and designers have the peace of mind knowing that their designs are pixel perfect each time.

And with Justinmind’s new integration, the Jira app means that agile teams can sync their tasks with the actual work quickly and easily.

Use a parallel track approach to ease the design-development hop

It’s not always possible to complete all UX work in an agile sprint timeframe (usually around two weeks). UX must work ahead of sprints to avoid production delays.

Using a collaborative, parallel work process will help to keep UX efforts both ahead as well as behind development efforts – according to Give Good UX. Consider having at least one of your designers work one sprint ahead of their team to ensure that designs are ready for the developers.

Learn when to accept UX debt

When working within an agile workflow, UX designers sometimes need to compromise on the ideal solution to get something built – UX can’t be an island in agile.

Iterations in agile are planned to create a steady development velocity and design must keep up with this. Setting design estimates at the beginning of every sprint can help the design team keep pace with the rest of production. Additionally, limiting the fidelity of the design that will be handed off to the developers is also important. This starts with the wireframing and prototyping phase of the UX design process.

Don’t waste time on details that could be worked out further down the line. As Sophie Paxton explains, “prototypes are, by their very nature, disposable” – they need to be just good enough. When creating your wireframes and prototypes, you just need to produce consumable but not necessarily deliverable-worthy designs so that you can communicate them quickly and effectively to the developers.

The takeaway

Integrating the Agile methodology into your UX workflow can help you organize your design and research activities around the product, streamline design processes for improved productivity and encourage cross-functional collaboration among product teams.

However, transitioning to an Agile UX workflow is not a one-size-fits-all methodology. Allow your team to adjust to the changes and adapt details to fit your organization. It’s better to recognize bad habits and overcome them than to impose agile principles that don’t necessarily align with your organization’s business goals, or capacity.

Softly, softly, catchee monkey.

Emily is Marketing Content Editor at Justinmind

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