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Integrating UX Design into a Continuous-Delivery Environment

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A column by Janet M. Six
June 17, 2019

In this edition of Ask UXmatters, our experts discuss how to integrate UX practices with a continuous-delivery approach. First, our expert panel considers the company’s goal: continuous delivery or delivering meaningful outcomes? They then discuss how advances in DesignOps can help in this situation. Finally, our experts provide several tips on working within a continuous-delivery pipeline.

Every month in Ask UXmatters, our panel of UX experts answers our readers’ questions about a broad range of user experience matters. To get answers to your own questions about UX strategy, design, user research, or any other topic of interest to UX professionals in an upcoming edition of Ask UXmatters, please send your questions to: [email protected].

The following experts have contributed answers to this month’s edition of Ask UXmatters:

  • Joel Grossman—Chief Technology Officer at Legacy.com
  • Adrian Howard—Generalizing Specialist in Agile/UX
  • Daniel Szuc—Principal and Cofounder of Apogee Usability Asia Ltd.
  • Jo Wong—Principal and Cofounder of Apogee Usability Asia Ltd.

Q: How do you integrate User Experience into a company that is using a continuous-delivery production approach?—from a UXmatters reader

“When you’re considering integrating User Experience into a continuous-delivery production approach,” say Dan and Jo, “we suggest that you ask questions such as the following:

  • What UX activities are you currently considering adopting?
  • How do you break up software delivery, and what implications does this have on time?
  • Are you considering activities such as user-interface (UI) reviews, design and iteration of functions, and the voice of the customer?
  • Who is leading or championing the UX effort, and what plan is in place to sustain it?
  • Is your focus currently on meaningful work and play, and what process improvements do you need to consider?

“The snapshot the answers to these questions provide helps us gain a better understanding of the current environment, how an organization is thinking about User Experience, and what that means going forward. It also implies that we are not imposing a template on the environment because each project and its people can have its own style. We welcome readers to try answering these questions and see what you come up with.

“We also suggest that you consider the word continuous in terms of whether you’re just continuously delivering or delivering meaningful outcomes for the organization, as well as for people outside the organization—for example, customers or citizens. The goal should be to help people within the organization look outside instead of doing what we often see: looking inward to the detriment of people both inside and outside the organization.”

DesignOps

“I’m in the process of trying to accomplish a holistic integration of continuous-delivery practices and thoughtful UX design,” replies Joel. “The simple answer to the question is: DesignOps, an approach that has emerged in larger companies, but is applicable anywhere.

Dave Malouf, one of the most important contributors to the DesignOps movement, describes it as Tri-Track Agile, in which an Understanding track layers on top of the Discovery and Delivery tracks of agile approaches. This allows the design and research folks to inform and be informed by the software development and delivery folks. The focus is on improving overall operational efficiency through thoughtful process engineering and frequent releases of product designs. This approach often employs tools for continuous delivery—such as version control—or tools that bridge design and code deliverables—such as design systems that match up to front-end components.”

Joel recommends that you read the DesignOps Handbook for much more detail. You can also read more in the Ask UXmatters column “DesignOps.”

Working Within the Continuous-Delivery Pipeline

“The flippant answer: continuously!” exclaims Adrian. “The serious answer is book length. But here is a random list of tips that can help:

  • Continual-delivery pipelines usually use feature flags—a mechanism for allowing the deployment of features either without making them visible to users or making them visible only to certain user groups. This can be a great resource for usability testing. You can do things such as setting up a user council that sees certain features first, so you can get feedback and observe their behavior before rolling a feature out to everybody.
  • Get involved in determining how those feature flags are implemented. For example, make sure that there are categories for different kinds of personas. This lets you do interesting things such as release specific features to certain user groups for testing.
  • Align your UX work with the delivery pipeline. For example, work with development so they can be working on a bunch of back-end functionality while you’re making sure those changes you made to the shopping basket don’t have a detrimental effect on sales. Find batches of features that make sense to test together so you don’t have to test each individual release.
  • Continual-delivery pipelines often focus primarily on the incremental delivery of features. So you may need to spend more design time on several slightly different, incremental releases rather than on one big-bang release. This is normal and good because it cuts down the risks of doing a big-bang release.
  • Continual-release pipelines should be much better at letting you quickly roll back features that don’t work well. You may have to dial down your sensitivity to risk because you can eliminate the effects of a bad release so quickly.
  • Not everything that comes out of a continual-delivery pipeline affects the user’s experience. Try to find ways to categorize the changes that get released so you can easily focus your efforts on things that users care about.
  • This doesn’t mean you need not worry about changes that don’t directly touch the UI. For example, consider performance-related changes. Making a fast thing slower or a slow thing faster can make such a difference to a user’s experience.
  • Monitoring and analytics are your friends. Endeavor to get monitoring built up around key user behaviors for your product, as well as the more technical aspects of the service.
  • Operationalize things such as participant recruiting so you can get quick responses to research questions and learn from the feedback that the continual-delivery pipeline can provide.” 

Product Manager at Tom Sawyer Software

Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, USA

Janet M. SixDr. Janet M. Six helps companies design easier-to-use products within their financial, time, and technical constraints. For her research in information visualization, Janet was awarded the University of Texas at Dallas Jonsson School of Engineering Computer Science Dissertation of the Year Award. She was also awarded the prestigious IEEE Dallas Section 2003 Outstanding Young Engineer Award. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Graph Algorithms and Applications and the Kluwer International Series in Engineering and Computer Science. The proceedings of conferences on Graph Drawing, Information Visualization, and Algorithm Engineering and Experiments have also included the results of her research. Janet is the Managing Editor of UXmatters.  Read More

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