Having worked as an Experience Designer in-house, and for both creative agencies and consultancies, I’ve been exposed to the different ways in which Agile can be adopted within organisations, along with the common factors that help UX and Agile/Scrum not only co-exist, but thrive as well.
Agile has fundamentally changed the way we work. Not only in terms of the way we develop software, but increasingly how we organise and structure entire organisations. In Australia, the appetite and demand for Enterprise Agility has generated interest on a global scale, with ANZ publicly declaring themselves an Agile organisation and rolling out Scaled Agile to 13,000 employees across their run and change business units.
Growth of Agile is strongly correlated to the rapid rise of digital technology, which has evolved customer needs and expectations while destabilising markets and fuelling competition. Large and established industries have been disrupted by smaller, more nimble customer-centric startups focusing on developing the more profitable segments in their value chain. These disruptors have forced larger, established organisations to rethink their operating models to become more flexible and adaptive in order to react quickly and frequently to meet the ever evolving needs of their digital customers.
Agile is at the core of this new operating model, due to its ability to react quickly and deliver frequent and continuous value to customers through a number of factors such as, heightened team and stakeholder engagement, early and predictable delivery, ability to change course or direction in a project, and increased collaboration and quality, to name a few.
However despite its successes, I often feel that it could be more accomodating for UX designers. The reality is that Agile was designed with a sole focus on developers (as seen in the detailed Agile Manifesto), meaning UX was never considered and fundamental processes required to create great user-centric designs, such as research and usability testing, are non-existent within the Agile paradigm. There are 2 main consistent pressures I have found when observing organisations trying to shoehorn UX into a traditional Agile/Scrum structured team;
1. Sprint timings
One of the main focuses of Scrum is the sprint timing structure. Having a team work towards task completion within a 1 or 2-week sprint cycle does not always fare well for us UX designers. Applying a short sprint timing structure from the beginning of a project puts UX designers under an enormous pressure to create, test, refine, and deliver their outputs unrealistically fast.
2. Unified sprint Goals
The Agile paradigm focuses on the entire team working on the same features and objectives simultaneously throughout a (commonly) 2 week sprint (cycle). Having this sprint goal focus in a team poses two main concerns;
i) As UX designers, we are to pave the road forwards for our team, with our research, wireframes, testing and designs. Having to complete these tasks ahead of development means that UX designers will often have different goals to that of the rest of the team, which typically causes issues in grooming and planning stages; given teams like to focus on their immediate tasks rather than what lies ahead.
ii) As UX designers we consistently strive to create seamless and holistic experiences. Having a team focus on a singular sprint goal, makes it easy to miss potential large-scale design implications, such as integration or omni-channel consistency within a project.