Typically, each organization implements agile in their own image, and this has caused a feeling of unease for everyone involved in agile projects. So, of course, this made agile a hot topic during the mapping session. We also saw the “How do I fit User Experience into agile” theme throughout our survey responses. (In true UX fashion, we made sure that everyone filled out a survey before the workshop adjourned, so we could measure the success of the workshop.)
To address the concerns that arose during the workshop, we suggested an approach that involved keeping UX-focused activities, including prototyping and guerrilla usability testing—within two-week sprints, and conducting foundational, cross-product research outside the agile model. Major usability studies and generative user research for products can occur either for an entire release or for an individual epic, complementing the discovery and development tracks.
Once we discussed the thorny issue of process, we moved on to accountability and responsibility. This was not a new problem for this organization. Within the organization, ownership philosophies fell into one of two camps: either one person owned everything or no one owned anything. This false dichotomy led to major questions about the UX activities that we described. Was it up to a team to execute them or a product owner without a UX background? One participant believed that product owners were already doing all of these activities, so wasn’t sure why User Experience should be involved. Needless to say, there was a communication gap.
During our workshop, we demonstrated why these activities are necessary because of the clear business value that they provide, but the question of how to execute them remained unresolved.
What we saw as a result of the workshop was a desire to take decisive action—but at a management and organizational level. The key idea that people took away from the workshop was that user experience is something that everyone owns.
A couple of months after the workshop, the company disbanded the UX team. Overnight, the former members of the UX team transitioned to unicorn status—and became responsible for all UX activities for an individual product. Each of the three most profitable and visible products had a unicorn who was responsible for the product, but the company abandoned large-scale user research and usability testing—particularly cross-product user research. This reflected the statement that we had heard during the workshop that teams run better with UX people, but never addressed the reasons why.
Later still, the company reformed the UX team, but designers remained dedicated to individual product teams, and there were fewer initiatives devoted to strategy and more projects devoted purely to execution.
Because the discussions during our workshop had focused so much on execution and process, the company’s short-term response was to attempt to improve execution, not strategy. This suggests that our workshop participants were simply more interested in how these UX activities would impact their day-to-day work lives rather than how they could bring business value to the organization.