I was a technology Director in a large web design company 6 years ago, and they failed to adopt Scrum. There were numerous management dysfunctions, however the Creative managers were the most resistant. Primarily it was a case of not wanting reality to hinder the pretty designs they were making in Photoshop or Illustrator with the reality of building enterprise software. Of course there were huge issues when these artifacts met the reality of enterprise architectures on the development floor. This dysfunction resulted in missed deadlines, high stress, low code quality, and 40% annual turnover in IT staff (and pretty graphics). Being at this company spurred my interest in UX and Agile, and I have since found basic solutions that work when people want to do Agile. To date I would say that of all the disciplines in creating software and especially web sites, UX people are the slowest and most resistant to adopting Agile principles and practices.
Here is the way I work with UI Designers and Information Architects who want to work Agile:
1. Product backlog and its priorities drives all the work. So we work from business priorities not UI priorities.
2. Sketch the highest level level UI for the site. No drill downs into buy flows, just top level.
3. Look at the backlog and start thinking about what the team will need for UI 1/2 an iteration ahead.
4. Make paper prototypes (sketches, paper menus, paper buttons) to support upcoming user stories for next sprint. Don’t embellish with new features UX thinks would be cool. KISS. Include validation and other acceptance criteria for fields. Reference style guide as required. Reference page templates as required. I call this a 1 page design spec.
5. Review prototypes with PO, QA and lead dev a few days before sprint planning, ensure they think it is good enough and it is testable. Keep notes regarding potential trade offs.
5a. Check in design docs, version them.
6. Participate in sprint planing with rest of team.
7. Work with team on implementation, clarify details of design (dimensions, locations, behavior, etc.). Work with QA on test plans for new UI. Help build UI (HMTL/CSS/PHP/etc) in dev IDE, pair with dev as they wire it up. Pair with QA to run test cases and implement automated UI testing (Ruby/WATIR, etc).
8. repeat for every sprint.
To recap the UI designer starts 1/2 sprint ahead of the team, helps the Product Owner with UI issues, and creates very lightweight and flexible prototypes as input to sprint planning. The rest of the work is done within the sprint. I have found this is “just enough” lead time to have thought through UI issues without creating solutions in a vacuum away from the team.
Additional tactics to include:
- Create a style guide for the team and have them read it, listen to their feedback and improve it.
- Create templates: every page is not a unique creation. Refer to those templates in prototypes and design spec.
- Break dependencies between UI/layout and business logic at beginning of the iteration. Agree on data/fields/controls at beginning so business logic can be rendered to a very simple layout free page.
- Test your paper prototypes with users by asking them to do certain operations and then observing the resulting actions. Don’t worry about big usability testing at end, do it often and informally with people who are easy to access and know enough about that business.
- AVOID COMPLEX HIGH FIDELITY USER INTERFACE DESIGN TOOLS. They really slow you down and lock in decisions far too early. These decision are often wrong.
The root cause of an unstable UI design is usually a lack of detailed knowledge about the customer requirements and technical limitations. The product backlog and its user stories and acceptance criteria are probably not in very good shape. To cover these gaps the UI person has to go find out a lot of detail to create the design, which slows them down and results in numerous design changes during the sprint. The UI designer is likely having to make up for lack of knowledge or lack of effort on the part of the Product Owner. Fix this root cause by getting the Product Owner to improve the product backlog so the designer and the team have better user stories and acceptance criteria coming into the sprint. User Interface work is simply another form of software requirement, as are software architecture, features, and test plans. All of these activities can be done in a “just in time” and emergent fashion and result in consistent architectures and usable interfaces. Many are doing it today. However it does require people to change their behavior, and that is likely the hardest thing to do.