Finding the right balance between Agile Development and UX Development


Finding the perfect combo. Some stuff just goes well with each other. Peanut butter and jelly, pizza and beer, Batman and Robin, we can go on and on. But what about Nutella and fries? Gin and raspberries? And here’s one that is one of the most debatable in our field – Agile Development and UX Development.

It may sound wrong and make you feel uncomfortable if you mix them together, but eventually it can turn out pretty well!

Okay, Nutella and fries may still sound pretty fine because let’s face it, Nutella goes best with anything! Let’s take gin and raspberries as an example. I may not be an expert in the world of mixology, but the presence of juniper berries and other natural botanicals already provides the herby qualities in gin. Adding raspberries (which contains woody notes) may seem off because it has the possibility to lose its capacity to extract its natural flavour. But by muddling just a few raspberries into a gin and tonic to liven up its flavour, you can get the right fruity taste in your drink. Not so different with Agile Development and UX Development. Upon reading articles online, several books, attending seminars and conferences, I found out that these two methodologies can have a perfect balance when you apply them together in a development process.

Here’s the ‘but’, not everyone agrees on it

In this fast-moving industry where developers, designers, researchers, analysts, copywriters and product managers continuously bring in lots of new practices on improving processes and the way we work, this is a HOT debate. Realizing how these two terms were always present during chats and discussions, I had the privilege to hold an open space discussion during UXSG 2016 by raising up this question: How to find the right balance between Agile Development and UX Development? Apparently most people there were also interested on how to deal with this because they are either also facing the same issue or they hope to contribute and debate on the topic as well.

The rationale behind my question was to find out how other companies do it, not so much to compare with the way we do it, but to collect insights on how industry experts and others practice these two methodologies together. Just like how our motto goes: Never Stop Improving!

We started off with brainstorming. Using post-its, we gathered everyone’s input on their stand between the pros and cons of Agile Development and UX Development. Then one-by-one, the participants explained and posted whatever they have written on their post-its which then flowed to a short discussion.

Initially, there was a debate on when to use UX Development and when to use Agile Development. But as the discussion went on, we reached a conclusion that the process (Agile development or UX development) depends on the product a company or team wants to produce.

UXSG Conference 2016 : Day 2 Unconference

UX dovetails to Agile

One great thing about UX Development: it helps us on anticipating and envisioning how the product will look like. It gives us an idea about everything that’s relevant upfront. Envisioning the product holistically as soon as possible. Identifying the real problem in the initial stage by doing a User Flow and User Research, followed by planning items in the sprint for Agile development which will be based on the research done in Sprint 0 and also for the data to support the importance of the item.

Sprint 0 also works where the designers must be at least one step ahead to lay the tracks for the development team to focus on less vague concepts.

Funny because the word Sprint 0 keeps popping up during the discussion. Think about it: Sprint 0 in an Agile Development process is when you define the backlog—to do UX design, which then feeds into the backlog. From there on, we can see that the two are slowly becoming a process, not something to be compared.

UXSG Conference 2016 : Day 2 Unconference

Refine it until you find the perfect* combination

Who knew that muddling with just a few raspberries can spike up the fruitiness of gin and tonic? It’s the same as Agile and UX. One of the common patterns you’ll see in successful agile/UX combinations is having the UX designer sit in with the rest of the product development team. Once that is in place, other issues you encounter are much easier to address.

It has been said that incorporating UX professionals into the Agile Development process is an effective way to groom the backlog, refine it and have more research in order for teams to be more proactive in planning before the sprint occurs.

However, it doesn’t mean that this doesn’t come without its challenges. How do you constantly keep UX goals in mind while also focusing on providing results? We also need to take in consideration that collaboration is key. The process always revolves on the fact that we should not allow user research to be neglected during the compressed timeline of the Agile process.

This discussion resulted to a fruitful and insightful exchange of experiences and suggestions on how to deal with the misconceptions of what is more effective. We all learned something: Agile Development should not be compared to UX Development. Agile Development is a development methodology and UX Development is a design methodology made me realize that the way we work is probably on a good track.

I have also realized that upon application, it all boils down to delivering a quality product faster. Whereas ‘on time’ is defined as following the Sprint deadline, functional product, customer’s expectations are met, etc.

*Perfect combos do not really need to be the same to be defined as perfect. They can also be complimentary in a way that they are more effective together than on their own.

 “Agile does not at all require individuals to be generalists, but individuals are expected to work together as a team.”
— Mike Cohn

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