How can UX Design be incorporated within agile ceremonies (Scrum)?

This is a difficult question because everyone has a different interpretation of what exactly constitutes an agile methodology and of the UX Designer’s role.

What is UX Design?

The question may seem a bit basic, but it needs to be covered just make sure that we’re all on the same wavelength.

UX = user experience and Design = well… design!

UX Design is a discipline which involves measuring and analysing a person’s behaviour when they interact with a value proposition in order to ensure that the overall experience from the user’s viewpoint is optimal.

The UX Designer’s task is to fully understand by whom, why, how and in which context the value proposition will be “consumed”, to guarantee the quality of the experience accompanying this value proposition.

And just so we agree, a value proposition is the sum of everything you present to your client. It’s your “shopfront”. This means your main product, but also everything accompanying it (services, distribution, etc.).

Let’s imagine that we’re in the process of developing an extranet for a company. The extranet in question is the product. Everything which influences the perceived value of using this product falls within the scope of the “user experience”. Here are just a few examples, illustrated by the diagram below:

In the present case, the UX Designer will seek to understand:

  • For which reasons the user will be connecting to the extranet.
  • In which contexts he does so.
  • The results he expects from his use of the extranet.
  • The obstacles which could prevent him from using it under optimal conditions.

It’s vital to understand that the key factor in any so-called UX project is the user.

So we don’t say: “This is the product we want to develop, let’s find out how it can meet the needs of this client segment”. But rather: “We’ve identified these requirements among this client segment. What do we need to develop to precisely meet these needs?”

To always be able to ensure a perfect match between the value proposition and the expressed requirements, a UX project should involve the user in the major development phases of the product to reduce any risks and uncertainty. When you begin examining the different hypotheses concerning this match, you should take the time to have a few meetings with the users to check that you’re going in the right direction.

That doesn’t mean asking them to do our work for us. It means simply having an accurate knowledge of their needs in order to be able to propose a suitable solution.

A good UX Designer must assume the following responsibilities:

  • He must be able to understand and express the users’ needs in as far as possible.
  • He must be able to convey the strategic vision of the product advocated by the Product Owner.
  • He must contribute to the overall value proposition, which goes over and above the product.
  • He must ensure that the solutions developed perfectly match those the users are expecting.

At what stage is UX Design involved during the development of an IT project?

This question depends on the key stages involved in the development of an IT project. In the example shown below, let’s imagine that we’ve decided to launch a new project from scratch.

As you can see, if the UX Designer does his job properly he has the possibility to create value at every stage in the development of a product. If we (rightly) consider that it’s his job to ensure that all decisions taken concerning the value proposition meet the needs of the user, then he must work closely with all of the teams.

How can UX Design be incorporated within agile ceremonies / SCRUM?

Now that we’re aware of the role that the UX Designer can/should play as part of an IT project, we can move on to examine the question of management and the organisation of roles. How can these skills be effectively incorporated within agile ceremonies and particularly SCRUM organisations?

The UX Designer has two types of responsibilities. The first is to scrutinise everything going on to ensure strict observance of the users’ needs. The second is purely operational, to provide the teams with the best possible tools to enable them to be more productive.

To answer the question, let’s examine the diagram below, which many of you will almost certainly have already seen.

Before the creation of an initial Product Backlog by the Product Owner, the UX Designer should have completed a number of tasks:

  • The identification of requirements: To achieve this, he performs a qualitative study to precisely identify the users’ needs. In practice, this means identifying all information necessary to the design and development of the overall value proposition. He doesn’t focus on the demographic and marketing aspects, which seek to identify “who” the client is, but rather on the reasons for which the client would use the proposition in a given context. The documents to be supplied are a complete and detailed study report + a persona, which will serve as a point of reference for all the teams.
  • The persona: Why is the persona, which is ultimately just a document, so important in the above-mentioned process? Quite simply because what matters isn’t necessarily the document itself but what you do with it afterwards. The persona’s value lies in the fact that it enables all the teams to have an identical bedrock of information about each client segment. At this stage, the UX Designer’s role is therefore to circulate this persona and more generally the results of his work on the identification of requirements.
  • The release plan: Even if the release plan is the responsibility of the Product Owner, it’s vital that these two people work together to come up with a meaningful result. With the Release Strategy, the goal is to define and specify exactly what is to be developed over the coming months. To ensure a job well done, this plan must identify the most important needs expressed by the users and must be in keeping with the company’s overall strategic vision. Please note: there are no particular UX deliverables at this stage. This is the Product Owner’s responsibility. The UX Designer should simply use his knowledge and skills to assist the PO.

Once the release work has been completed, we come to the preparation of the first “Product Backlog” which should logically concern the first release.

  • The product Backlog: During his fieldwork, the UX Designer should not limit himself to only finding out exactly what the users’ needs are, but also and above all should try to identify the best way to satisfy them. At a practical level, he should help the PO transform each need into a solution. If for example the expressed need is to be able to contact after sales service department, the UX Designer needs to know whether this should be by telephone, chat, or e-mail, etc. To take things further, if chat is the most appropriate solution, the UX Designer should be able to find out which chat system the users like or hate when using this type of resource.

We now move on to the Sprint Planning stage.

  • Sprint Planning: When we reach the Sprint Planning stage, the UX Designer must be able to help the PO and possibly the technical teams to define detailed functional specifications and precise acceptance conditions. This document can take several forms:

Next, for the other ceremonies including the grooming, the stand-up meeting, the review and the retrospective, I feel that the UX Designer should always be present.

As you are doubtless aware, SCRUM isn’t really a specific methodology which must be applied to the letter, but more a state of mind and a production approach. It’s therefore impossible for me to be able to say “you need to include the UX Designer in this particular way, at this particular time and no other”.

All the more so as each UX Designer has a different profile and can contribute more value for certain matters than others.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that regardless of his favourite subjects and his specialities, the UX Designer’s main role is to guarantee that the product you’re in the process of developing perfectly meets the users’ requirements. Adopting a user-centric approach means displaying humility and saying “I’m not certain this is the best solution, let’s try out these hypotheses with the client”.

A lack of humility when developing a product (whether digital or otherwise) could see you become the new “Juicero”…

Antoine Devaux

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