Making the most of the agile user experience approach

An effective user experience increases platform adoption, builds affinity for the brand and helps the user prevent mistakes through fault tolerance.

A great example of strong UX is the “kill engine” button typically found on heavy machinery. Granted, it’s not software, but its size, shape and bright red color imply that even a panicking pencil pusher can smack the machine into full stop when his tie gets sucked into the contraption.

Additionally, the enterprise is starting to recognise the benefits of UX as a practice for software. With shorter training and adoption times come massive cost savings. In fact, several enterprises have made strategic acquisitions: Capital One purchased Adaptive Path and Facebook absorbed Teehan & Lax.

So how does the enterprise leverage UX design together with product implementation? What’s the best way to combine UX with research, engineering, QA and User Testing? And what does this article have to do with social networking for cats?

Let’s humour an actual idea from a startup that ventured through our doors. Pretend you want to build a social networking website for cats and no other good site exists. And, by the way, the owners will be networking, not the cats.

The software industry uses several project management frameworks to build digital products: namely Waterfall and Agile. Selection is based on scale of project. If the project is less than 1,500 hours, waterfall is safe to use. You can collect all requirements and design the UX up front, then wrap your User Interface on the prototype, implement and launch.

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However, applying waterfall to innovative products is a little like debating politics with your cat. It is implied that no one has ever built something like your product before, so there’s scarce data to base research on and requirements are fuzzy. The user experience also needs testing because we can’t just build on top of available products.

With projects over 1,500 hours Agile is preferred. Agile, however, was invented in the fluorescent-lit software engineering world and the manifesto does not establish how to handle UX and UI design throughout the rituals.

If you have identified an arsenal of features that will make the website (PlayingWithHairballs.com) a raging success and pave your way to retirement on a cat‐friendly island, chances are the project will be over 1,500 hours. The only set back is money. You could use waterfall, which involves designing everything from the ground up and hoping your investment is actually what cat-lovers want. Or you could use Agile, which does not establish UX and UI design guidelines.

The best option is Dual‐Track Scrum, which combines the benefits of continuous development found in Scrum with continuous discovery used to create a product backlog. The approach is called Dual‐Track because it uses two continuous delivery tracks.

The discovery track determines what goes into the product backlog - business value, usability and technical feasibility of features. This is accomplished through research, experimentation and rapid prototyping. Usually, the outcome is a set of mockups, working prototype, or series of backlog requirements and the team consists of a Product Owner, UX Designer and Architect.

This track operates 1 or 2 sprints ahead of the development track to provide enough lead-time for development to learn and plan new requirements. Meanwhile, the development track is responsible for creating the iteration of the product and shipping to market.

Once a functional iteration of PlayingWithHairballs.com goes live, user testing is carried out in a lab. Here, you look for hesitations around clicks, eye scanning, patterns on the screen, the amount of backtracking while navigating and so on. Based on insights captured through multiple testing sessions, the discovery team pounces on refining the experience for the implementation track that will soon follow.

Using dual-track Scrum the Product Team can afford to make mistakes. User Testing validates the assumptions made and catches issues unforeseen by the team and the engineering investment is minimal. At worst, the re-work needed to adjust functionality may cost a sprint, however the product will have ability to pivot.

If all design work was done ahead of time, it would require months of invested work. If initial user tests show that pet owners really want a social networking website for all pets, not just cats, than dual-track Scrum helps you figure this out early. There is still a chance to pivot and capture a larger target audience.

Dual‐Track Scrum allows organisations to ideate, prototype and rapidly deliver digital products to market for testing. This approach combines UX, UI, engineering and QA processes for larger scope, low-definition initiatives.

Spend can be strategically throttled, allowing for just‐in‐time pivots of product strategy and functionality. Plus, Mittens will love it.

Aurimas Adomavicius is president of Devbridge Group.