Agile UX is gaining momentum in the marketplace – and with good reason. Companies who adopt an agile strategy for site user experience are seeing the benefits of building small and testing small – then using the learnings to inform the next steps in the process. This is more than making a case for user testing. Agile customer validation – early and often – can save organizations costly mistakes and improve resource management throughout a project lifecycle.
Agile Development is not a new game — developing within established timeboxes (“sprints”) and frequent code releases help to reveal potential problems up front, saving product teams from costly throwaway efforts and improving go-to-market efficiencies down the road. The adoption process has been more difficult in some industries than others – those cultures that adapt more readily to change have found making the shift from more traditional development methodologies less painful than organizations with long-standing commitments to ‘the way we’ve always done things.’ For followers, however, the Agile development process can be a bit addictive – fruits of the development labor can be appreciated sooner and more often – invigorating teams and inspiring product owners.
Unfortunately, the race toward the frequent finish lines can tempt teams to skip user testing – a crucial step in the validation of these sprints. Testing at the same, or nearly the same, velocity as development delivers the ‘proof’ needed to move forward with a concept or tool – proof that such a concept has value, is understood by users, and solves a problem or user need. Skipping user testing means development progresses based on a set of assumptions about what matters to a user and/or what will deliver results in the most optimal way. Few organizations these days are willing or capable of banking on that kind of risk. Last, Agile UX helps organizations make a case for continuing to develop and deliver in an Agile environment. As consultants, we have an opportunity to ride the curve ahead of wide-scale adoption, ease the transition, and guide the process.
What, exactly, is Agile UX and why should you consider it? In a phrase, it is the process of designing and testing user interfaces in rapid iterations and using the findings to inform ongoing functional development. Ideally, teams should test more frequently – perhaps weekly – with fewer users on a shorter set of tasks. For designers and architects used to fleshing out fully-vetted concepts for usability testing, working Agile can be a bit of a challenge. Adoptees of Agile UX initially find themselves feeling like they are in a ‘time warp’ – relying on sketches, illustrations and low-resolution wireframes and prototypes to test user understanding and engagement within a limited time sprint.
Hoa Loranger of the Nielsen Norman Group puts it this way: “UX designers must plan activities before the sprint occurs, which means being proactive and testing assumptions and tackling designs ahead of the rest of the team. They conduct “show-and-tell” activities ahead of sprints to introduce concepts to users and team members so that, when development is ready to begin, the team has the designs that they need.”
The advantage is that testing more frequently during rapid sprints informs difficult design puzzles and pushes designers forward into high-resolution design, and handoff to the dev team with fewer ‘what-ifs’ on the table – a win-win all around. Want to learn more about the Agile process? I recommend these resources to get you started:
Agile Methodology: http://agilemethodology.org/
Agile Community: http://www.agilealliance.org/resources/