Articles

Why the Best Agile Development Practices Require UX Research

Posted by Ben Froese on Nov 1, 2016 8:47:54 AM
Ben Froese

In the realm of software and product development it has always been the goal to create solutions which solve problems, and make life easier for the intended audience. In order to produce these results we need to focus on the users, and this approach is referred to as user centered design (UCD).

The contemporary philosophy of agile development relies on user centered design because ultimately the users determine the degree of success of your product, and so best practice utilizes the discipline of User Experience (UX). User Experience is often misunderstood to be synonymous with User Experience Design, or even User Interface Design. In fact, UX is closest in definition to UCD: it is concerned with “… understanding user behaviors, needs and attitudes using different observation and feedback collection methods.” [1] 

In this article, I want to address the question of what value UX injects to the Agile Development Process (ADP), and specifically how it fits in.

What is the value?

While it is difficult to quantify the exact value UX brings to any individual ADP, we can still point to very obvious advantages and features. Initially, it acts as a conduit between the business goals of product, and the people who are meant to use it. “It’s not influenced by someone’s own opinion or authority. It simply speaks user’s thoughts.” [1] It incorporates unbiased feedback into the core features of a product, and uses that information to anticipate true use-behavior, which ultimately leads to a successful product. While it should seem obvious that this important I have personally witnessed multiple products developed in a myopic, business-needs vacuum that ignored the real user audience needs. 

Where does it fit in?

Agile Development is a process of development in iterative cycles which allows for constant feedback and collaboration, and allows project teams to react quickly to changes; this is where the work of UX research and design provides crucial resources. The following sections provide high-level detail about the methods, and deliverables we utilize to establish a high-quality User Experience.

 

Before we kick off development on a project, we conduct the UX discovery and research process which consists of 2 phases (Planning and Design), each phase contributing specific deliverables and resources.

Planning

We use the Planning phase to get to know the target users and their needs, by engaging in user interviews, developing user personas and user stories, as well as journey maps, value propositions and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Each of these informs the product design at a deeply foundational level. 

User Interviews

User Interviews and Questionnaires are used for interviewing key stakeholders and users in a project, both internal and external, to gather insights about their goals. This helps prioritize features and define KPIs.

Personas 

Personas are a relatable snapshot of the target audience that highlights demographics, behaviors, needs and motivations through the creation of a fictional character. Personas make it easier for designers to create empathy with consumers throughout the design process.

User Stories

User Stories describe something that the user wants to accomplish by using the software product. They originated as part of the Agile and Scrum development strategies, but for designers they mainly serve as reminders of user goals and a way to organize and prioritize how each screen is designed.

Site Maps

One of the most iconic Information Architecture deliverables, consists of a diagram of the website's pages organized hierarchically. It makes it easy to visualize the basic structure and navigation of a website.

Design

We utilize best-in-class design and prototyping software and programs.

Treejack: Know why and where people get lost in your content with tree testing.

OptimalSort: Discovery how other people organize your content with card sorting.

Chalkmark: Reveal first impressions of designs and screenshots with first click analysis.

Wireframes 

A visual guide that represents the page structure, as well as its hierarchy and key elements. Useful to discuss ideas with team members and clients, and to assist the work of designers and developers.

Mockups

These visual documents are real world representations of the product, typically an evolved and refined version of the wireframes.

Prototypes

A prototype is a simulation of the website navigation and features, commonly using clickable wireframes or layouts. It's a quick and dirty way to test and validate a product before fully developing it.

C/D/H frequently employs interactive prototypes that provide interaction, animation, and feedback to simulate near-real product experiences.

Pattern Libraries

A hands-on library that provides examples (and code) of interaction design patterns to be used across the website. It not only promotes consistency, but also makes it easier improve elements as needed.

 

Agile Development

Once the Planning and Discovery phases conclude, the project moves into the development phase, at which point UX is incorporated into the iterative development cycle, where it is responsible for facilitating validation, and assist in determining systems design.

The validation process offers an opportunity to ensure the research and discovery that initiated the project, resulted in a product that meets the expectations of your users. Some of the best validation tools are low-fi, and in-person such as Focus Groups and Card Sorting, while there are other hi-fi tools such as Usability Test, Heat Maps, and First Click Tests. The iterative changes and edits to the product will be more refined and sophisticated in direct correlation to the amount of validation information you are able to retrieve.

 

Conclusion

Good interface design, and information architecture play significant parts in successful product experiences, but truly effective and long-lasting solutions only come about when built on a foundation of real user-centered information. Where would you even know to begin, if it weren’t for the guiding aspects of user needs? If you’re going to implement an Agile Development Practice, do not ignore the guaranteed advantages off UX Research.

 

Citations

1 http://designmodo.com/ux-research/

The Value of UX Research in Product Development

Armen Ghazarian

May 15, 2015

 

2 http://www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2010/01/embedding-user-experience-in-the-product-development-lifecycle.php

Embedding User Experience in the Product Development

Mike Hughes

January 18, 2010

Topics: UX, Agile Development