Putting Agile UX into practice

Thinking of taking the plunge into Agile? Experience Planner Jon Somerscales explains how Dare West made Agile UX a reality at our Bristol-based digital agency.
 

Here at Dare West, we’re always keen to adopt and adapt to new ideas. After our development team successfully embraced an Agile approach, we decided to roll it out agency-wide. In terms of user experience planning, this meant fusing Lean UX methods with our Agile software delivery – so now we can build better products, reduce project risk, and deliver live solutions faster.

We’ve already learned a lot, and are still discovering new ways to make Agile work for us. Hopefully, our story will give you some hints and ideas you can use on your own Agile journey.

We often work with enterprise clients that are unable to work in a truly Agile way for whatever reason, even if they wanted to. Lean UX is all about developing your product or service to fit your users and business model. So as an agency, we have to make sure the service we provide adapts to fit the needs of our clients, but at the same time we need to ensure that clients understand our process and come along on the journey with us.

Every client is different and each relationship will change over time as they become more familiar with the process. We can be Agile inside even if the client generally isn’t – we just need to give them the understanding, tools and training they need. Clients from more traditional and non-digital-first industries must be able to recognise the importance of a strong digital strategy for the current and future success of their business. If not, they won’t place enough importance on the project or invest enough time in building the right solution.

We work with the client to help them align their strategic and digital goals. On a day-to-day basis, having a single point of contact with the client (the client-side product owner) who is empowered to make decisions is vital for clear communication and building a quality product. We hope to have the necessary contact time with key stakeholders at critical points in the project because we know this usually means building the right thing first time. For larger clients, the inside agency model can offer significant benefits in communication and understanding of the problem domain.

We often get an incomplete set of upfront requirements that don’t reflect real user needs. Or sometimes the client has a large set of requirements benchmarked by the functionality of their current system, so the minimum-viable-product quickly becomes unwieldy. Frequently, clients will want to know upfront how much work their software project will take. We find the best solution currently is to break a project estimate down into smaller phases and run an ‘Experience Architecture’ phase to further drill down on requirements, build up the project backlog and create an experience strategy.

In the Experience Architecture phase, we set the initial course by identifying the key problems to solve. We consult with domain experts (usually the client themselves) and ideally real users. We identify and map out the most critical user flows. We build a prioritised backlog of requirements and lo-fi prototypes. And we coordinate with the team on how to approach the project. 

From the Experience Architecture phase, we’ll have a set of requirements captured as ‘user stories’ – this is our project backlog. Once we know the priority stories, we can run design/UX Sprints where the aim is to take each user story (or problem) and build a solution that’s ready for development. Our design/UX Sprints are two weeks long. A development Sprint follows straight after. We can also stack Sprints so they both run at the same time.

Dare_West_Agile_process


These design/UX Sprints are a chance for us to do detailed work on a high priority user flow (or set of related user stories) and arrive at a solution that’s fit for purpose and suitable for the user operating within all intended contexts – taking into account all criteria captured from the various stakeholders. Ideally, the solution prototype will go from low to high resolution, get signed-off by the client and, along with the supporting user story, be ready for test cases to be written. 

We involve core team members in the UX process as early as possible – the earlier you can get dev and design involved and collaborating, the earlier problems are identified and the more elegant the final solution because you can have more chances at iterating to get it right. The daily standup is a great way to communicate project developments on a day-to-day basis. We schedule front-end review sessions to get timely feedback, encourage communication and keep up project visibility.

In our cross-discipline team, we strive to work in a highly collaborative, user-centred way – designing for real needs, using real evidence and data whenever available. We use rapid prototyping to learn quickly and test potential solutions. We use and select from a wide range of UX methods and prototyping techniques, always choosing those best suited to the task at hand.

Implementing Agile in an agency has its challenges but can transform your ability to build the right solution and adapt to changes. Agile should be implemented in a way that works for the individual needs of your organisation. It’s really a process of trial, feedback and adjustment.

If you’d like to talk to us about our Agile UX process, or how we can help you with your own, get in touch at darewest.com.