agile ux design process with SCRUM

I worked for Microsoft Azure Mobile Engagement (Capptain) as UX designer and helped the teams integrate UX in their Scrum process. That led me to specialise in the application of UX practice with my teams in agile environements.
Here's a guide to that process.

a scary first impression

At first Scrum UX design seems impossible. It feels like UX cannot fit into SCRUM picture. Why? Mainly for 3 reasons:

  1. Scrum describes 3 roles: Product Owner - Development team - Scrum Master. There is no specific role for a designer. How to fit in then?
  2. Scrum implies describing your work in very small items, which is hard to do as a designer: imagine you need to work on personas. This will require user research, interviews, analysis... How could you easily quantify how much time each item will take? Besides, while you are working on user research for personas (or while thinking of it under your morning shower), you are also processing insights for the product into a big picture. How to quantify or cut that into small separated tasks?
  3. The waterfall model fits perfectly with UX process: after an analysis phase, comes the conception phase, then the development phase. So if UX process forces you to go back to waterfall methodology... you might think agile UX design is just a non sense right?

But if you go back to what each method describes as fundamental, you can see new perspectives. What waterfall describes as the key to success is not the sequence of steps, but the documentation of each one of them. And while waterfall focus on documentation, agile methodologies focus on collaboration. Collaboration is the key to success. If you keep that in mind, as a UX designer, you will be able to fit in without falling back to the waterfall.

Stick to Scrum principles

There are different ways to make UX design fit into a Scrum team. There is not one single approach. Some teams choose to make designers work one or two sprints ahead of developers. Some use special sprints for design matters. At Capptain we decided to stick to Scrum principles:

Cherish collaboration

The sooner designers and developers collaborate, the better: developers who participate in design workshops get a better view of the product they are working on. They get a chance to look at the big picture, not only a vision restricted to the feature they have in progress. In return, they will give technical insights to designers that will help the conception. Team collaborating this way focus on what is important to users and manage to keep things simple

Find a way to give meaning to the "done" definition in your design work

The definition of "done" is specific to each team. Designers joining a Scrum team will have to follow the team working rules. What is the "done" definition? How can it be applied to design work? At Capptain, "done" means some functional feature you can demonstrate to the team during sprint review, or some presentation documented on the wiki platform. For the design work, it meant then presentations of short resumes of the user research, quantitive data we could collect or benchmarks we did... then low-fi prototypes or drafts. Anything that could be shared with the team.

Now that you can make UX design fit into Scrum, how to make it successful? Here are a few tips you could use to help the process.

Take advantage of Scrum

Enjoy sharing a common goal: deliver value to users

Such as others agile methodologies, Scrum targets one goal: release a product that is valuable to the users. Well, UX designers work with that goal in mind too. It is part of their job...

Enjoy unities of time and locations

because you are going to join a Scrum team, you are going to work with the team on close bases. Add that to the diversity of people... you will have a good environment to be even more creative.

Introspection is gold

Because Scrum teams are used to ask themselves how they work together at each sprint, how they could improve their work, why they failed on some tasks... they are used to make a step back and will be willing to challenge with you new hypothesis, discuss insights, accept different points of view.

Choose the correct number of resources

A Scrum team is one Product Owner, one Scrum master, and a development team of 6 developers (plus or minus 3), including designers. On small teams, working with only one Scrum team, i will recommend 2 designers. On bigger projects involving several Scrum teams, the number of designers may be adjusted to be able to deliver the design work where it is needed. Not every Scrum team will need to include designers full time.

be ready to change

Design is not about knowing the truth. It is about exploring creative options to find the best you can. And good ideas come with sharing. Designers should forget about nice and beautiful deliverables and stay focussed on the goal: share drafts, incomplete thoughts and accept imperfection. In other words, do the best you can in the time you have, you will have plenty opportunities to get users feedback (real users) and improve at the next sprints.

Managers should also take in consideration that adding a designer to their Scrum team is not going to be as easy as adding a new developer to it ; specially if developers have no idea of what UX is and how different it is from graphic design or interaction design. That implies driving change management.

adopt agile UX

At first, agile UX design seems impossible to practice. But if you get passed that first impression, what seemed impossible soon turns into your best asset in a world in perpetual need of innovation.

contact me

I am based in Amsterdam.
I also spend time in Paris and in Aix-en-Provence.

Do you need me for a talk, a training, a project or a job?
Download my resume and drop me a line!