UX Design in the Agile Stories

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I was hired at Intel some years ago on a contract BA position, I wrote endless requirements documents and drew use cases and swim lanes. it was very helpful to see an entire system put together on paper — but it took forever. As the UX/IA for an Interactive Design Agency back in the late 90s, I remember drawing and working with the IA to draw very detailed wire frames of an application for a web-based freight forwarding system we were building for an airline. It was an 11X17 book with 200 pages. At the end of the project, the client insisted that we go back in and update all the drawings to match the application.

I still kind of hate MS Visio.

What I love about Agile: We jump right in and start doing stuff. A strong UX team member on an Agile project can add tons of value — while working in the Agile framework.

It takes work.  Let’s face it:  Agile is a method designed by developers, for developers dude.  Interaction design and usability can be easily overlooked and left to happen as a side-effect of the coding.    Even though I shudder when I say it, it is perfectly feasible for developers to do interaction design and usability — joking— some of my best friends are developers.

I believe that for interaction design and usability to be taken seriously — and even RECOGNIZED by program managers in many cases, activities and deliverables must be assigned story points on equal footing with the coding. This is not always easy to sell to a team.

UX activities need to be recognized as explicit components of the methodology .    We haven’t really figured out how to do it as a team yet. As you know, with Agile, the development of a product is broken down into smaller parts that are completed one at a time. This works really well for programming functional components, but is tricky when it comes to designing an integrated user experience.

What we really want is a product where different features work consistently and help users build a coherent conceptual model of the system. With 6 developers each working on different stories — that first build can look like a scary mash-up patchwork of craziness. (We don’t have UI designers at my company — developers do the design individually as they attack a story.)

The opportunity that this situation has presented to me, as the first UX person to be integrated into the team, has been to take it one step at a time. Working with the BA who has been here a long time and knows the users and system really well, we’ve decided to draw sketches that embed the UI protoype into the story. In Mingle we do this by creating a wiki that holds details on our story cards in the form of sketches.


Here is where we link to Wiki Pages that have links to prototype sketches done in Balsamiq

The BA — who is a developer with a mad design streak — draws awesome sketches using Balsamiq, a tool I turned him onto when I got here. Once they are posted in Mingle, I do a review and post my notes as you can see in this picture.

This is a prototype associated with a story.  We use Balsamiq to do quick and dirty mock ups.

This is a prototype associated with a story. We use Balsamiq to do quick and dirty mockups.

After he gets the notes, we tweak the screens a little, and then take them to the developers during a story review. That’s where they tell us if we are crazy and how many points its going to take to make that thing.

The next thing we do is show these prototypes to the business owner during story sign-off. One thing that we’ve done that makes the process a bit easier, is to use the click through feature in Balsamiq so that we can show the “Customer” how we’ve interpreted what they’ve told us they want.

At this point, I can do some guerrilla UX testing by putting together several stories into one that is a complete user story.   We have a team of second tier support folks who are on the revolving door calendar. Thursday is test day. Everyone on the team knows this. We’ve worked into a nice rhythm there that I will talk about at another time. Right now, however, I have to get out to the loading docks!

Published by JB

@uxsuccess Lean User Experience; Agile software development @Tellagence, I believe user success = business success. I talk about that here: uxsuccess.com Personal blog - http://staticpoetboy.com

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