Agile Development

The Ultimate Guide for UX Designers to Thrive in Agile Development

Renuka Savant | 6 min read

It’s incremental. It’s flexible. It takes customer feedback into account at every stage. For a minute there, you’d think of these to be attributes of the design process. But no, it’s the agile development methodology that is being described here.

Agile development has quite a few things in common with the UX design process, in that it’s iterative, collaborative, adaptable to change, and thrives on feedback. Despite that, however, designers have struggled to fit design practices into their framework.

Here’s what Agile development is like –

Workflows are broken down into user stories and one or multiple stories are taken up into sprints lasting 2 to 4 weeks with incremental work.

Daily stand-up meetings lasting 5 to 15 minutes earmarked for follow-up conversations.

Regular prototyping and user testing to help adapt to changes and focus on quality and efficiency.

Agile development methodology, with its iterative principle, is focused on developing a releasable product at the end of each sprint. In doing so, it leaves the designers to focus on microscopic questions that can feel detached from a cohesive design vision or the “whole picture”, manifesting in some sort of design tunnel vision. For designers, it’s akin to being tasked with designing a random room, without really knowing if it is to be an office, or a part of an apartment, a hotel, or a cruise ship.

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5 Tips To Integrate UX in Agile Development

The struggle to fit the UX process of research, ideation, prototyping, user testing, and iteration into Agile sprints is real. However, there are a few ways for designers to successfully integrate their practices seamlessly into the fast-paced Agile sprints, and here’s how –

Have a Sprint Zero before the first sprint

It isn’t practically feasible to accommodate research work, wireframe creation, and design along with development in 2 weeks, which is the average duration of an Agile sprint. And this is especially true in the case of new projects. Therefore, the consensus is that the design team complete the research, ideation, and wireframing prior to the commencement of the first sprint. In the case of ongoing projects, Agile teams keep separate backlogs of design and development in order to keep the project running smoothly.

In the real-world scenario, however, it is often impossible to fit all the necessary design work in Sprint Zero. So, there will be times when design and development run alongside each other, and it is up to the teams to ensure that it functions smoothly.

Working in Agile development does not mean you have to skimp on user research. By working ahead of the development sprint, the design team can test assumptions with actual users. This time can also be utilized to review mockups and identify potential issues before it moves to design.

No handoffs

no handoffs in agile environment

Having the design of the feature ready before it moves to the development sprint does not mean that the designer’s job is done. The designer has to be in sync with the development team throughout the sprint to see the design through and provide support whenever required.

Collaborating with stakeholders from the start helps in creating a shared understanding and a common vision for the projects. This shared vision can also help the designers to gain a more holistic view of the project and thereby prioritize user stories and make the right trade-offs.

Look no further than the Agile Manifesto – it values individuals and interactions over processes and tools. The Agile culture is essentially collaborative, and both design and development have to follow it. Sharpen your soft skills and ensure that communication is healthy and regular – the UX team can lead the way by involving team members in activities such as usability testing, field studies, and ideation and brainstorming sessions. Effective and timely communication helps in avoiding unnecessary delays and arguments, especially in Agile where losing time can prove costly.

Involving developers in the design process early on can work well for both sides to understand design feasibility as well as technical limitations. It helps developers feel involved and know upfront what’s to be built, whereas the designers can monitor how their designs manifest in the development phase.

Moving on, designers should be a part of daily standups to ensure the project is on track from the design perspective as well.

Involve developers and product owners in

User testing need not be time consuming or expensive, and the design team needs to demonstrate this to the development team and the product owners. Earmark a day for user research sessions and have everyone attend them. By turning usability testing into a team event, both sides can participate in the sessions and understand its value, first-hand. By giving them a ringside view of these sessions, developers and product owners can be more receptive to design decisions, as it’s difficult to refute hard data. Making design decisions based on user data as a unified team helps the project move forward smoothly, as opposed to trying out untested assumptions. Reinforce the mindset that the designers, developers, and product owners are part of the same team and harbor common goals.

Iterate often and test often

Test in agile environment

The ‘fail fast, fail often’ mindset works seamlessly in Agile environments. So, start working on low-fidelity prototypes and iterate based on user feedback. Frequently test design ideas without investing too much effort and time. This helps in catching design flaws caught early and correcting them, instead of discovering them in the development phase.

Be iterative with not just the project, but the process too

The most important takeaway from Agile is that it is fluid and flexible. While it does provide a process framework, it is certainly not ironclad. It encourages introspection to devise ways of working more effectively and adapting to better processes. As Agile teams continue to grow and mature, they can mix and match UX and development processes that are tailored to meet the demands of respective projects. Post-sprint reviews are important as they help in fine-tuning processes and bettering them over time.

The successful amalgamation of UX design into Agile development hinges on the UX maturity of the said organization. Business leaders have to believe that UX is not the top coat of paint on the building, but the architecture. Second, it also relies on designers to be proactively involved in the process from end-to-end, and for the developers to readily accommodate their involvement. To sum it up, integrating UX into Agile requires trust and mutual respect from all parties concerned.

About Author:

Sr. Content Writer at Koru UX Design, Renuka loves to write, discuss, research, and read up on the latest in user experience design. When she’s not doing that, she spends her days watching crime thrillers and sports.

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