Each month in my column 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:
- Leo Frishberg—Director of User Experience at athenahealth and Principal at Phase II
- Jordan Julien—Founder and Design Strategist at Hostile Sheep
- Yilmaz Kulahoglu—UX Lead at Saggezza
- Cory Lebson—Principal Consultant at Lebsontech; Past President, User Experience Professionals’ Association (UXPA); author of The UX Careers Handbook
- Andrew Wirtanen—Principal Product Designer at Citrix
Q: Is agile still a frequent request for UX designers or have other requests—such as spiral, Lean, or DevOps—replaced those for agile? How have changes in these requests affected the designs you create?—from a UXmatters reader
“The challenge of answering this question is agreeing on what the inquirer means by agile, request, and, I suppose, even frequent—not to mention affected the designs,” replies Leo. “I’ll break down my answer accordingly, as follows:
- Agile—The challenge with this term is that we don’t agree on what it means. There are aspects of agile that we might identify as generally accepted: short, two-week, three-week, or four-week iterations, or sprints, during which development teams are on the hook to complete some quantized bit of work; collections of these sprints for a release—and similarly, collections of these bits into epics. But development teams have consumed untold pints in arguing not only this broad-brush sketch of agile, but the details within it. In the almost 30 years I’ve been developing software, there has been a general drift toward the agile approach. The irony is that, from my perspective as a designer, not much has really changed. I still expect to do my design work in rapid, iterative explorations that improve my confidence in the approach I’m taking—whether identifying the problem space accurately or honing a solution that makes sense to the business, the development team, and our users. Does it matter to me what flavor of iteration the organization chooses to use when developing and releasing a design solution? Not so much. All of the alternatives the inquirer has mentioned are variants of delivery methods. I suggest that you review Alan Cooper’s keynote address to the Agile Summit in 2008 for his excellent summary of the problem and his suggestion that agile is an umbrella approach for all aspects of product discovery, definition, design, and delivery.
- Request—This is an interesting word. I’m wondering what it actually means in our reader’s context. I’m going to assume that it means, ‘as part of a job posting, the candidate has experience in and knowledge of [the agile, DevOps, or Lean] development process.’ Assuming this is true—and, based on my decomposition of agile, there is little cause for concern—UX design is orthogonal to the mode of delivery. We still need to do discovery and definition and that often takes far longer than a two-week sprint. In the context of Kanban, for example, it doesn’t matter how long an iteration takes and dependent tasks can’t proceed until you’ve completed the necessary preliminaries. Agile expects Product—and User Experience—to craft a Northstar and epics before work can begin, but remains silent on how that should happen. DevOps is all about continuous release, not about continuous discovery and definition.
“So, with these clarifications in place, I hope it becomes clear that, no matter what the organization defines as their release process, its relationship to User Experience remains relatively unchanged.”