Sooner or later, everyone who works in the tech industry comes across the term agile.
But what does this buzzword mean exactly and how does it matter for your as a Product Designer? These and more questions we will go through in this blog post.
What means agile?
The word agile means to move with ease and speed. So basically, the word occurs in many different contexts and areas of our lives.
In recent years, however, it has become a buzzword in software development. Agile methods are used for project management and mainly in software development to enable a collaborative approach in cross-functional teams.
What are agile frameworks?
Agile frameworks provide processes to plan and execute work or projects according to certain procedures. Especially in the software area, agile methods are widely used.
Meanwhile, there are many different frameworks, such as Scrum, Kanban or Extreme Programming (XP). They all have in common that they are based on the principles of the agile manifesto, which states:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
Using agile frameworks provides a certain structure and regular processes for the actual work to be done, with the goal of being more efficient and effective, improving communication, and breaking tedious and deadlocked processes.
Each framework has its own set of rules with benefits and drawbacks, but every company and every team works a little differently. That’s why it’s usually a good idea to not strictly follow a set of rules, but to try out which elements of a framework fit your needs best and combine them with each other.
What are cross-functional teams?
In the context of companies or teams working in an agile manner, the term cross-functional team is often used. But what make a team cross-functional?
Basically, cross-functional teams consist of several people who all have different expertise and work in diverse areas of a company.
Depending on the requirements of a project, a cross-functional team may include software developers, product owners, product designers, but also people from sales or marketing. The composition depends on the requirements of a project and can change over time.
What are sprints?
Many frameworks, for instance, include repetitive cycles, so-called sprints, which happen at regular intervals of 1-4 weeks. It is best for a team to decide for itself which length is suitable.
During the sprints, the entire team works on tasks that it has previously assessed with sprint points. The sum of the sprint points results in the so-called scope. The scope within a sprint should remain constant. Distributing sprint points correctly and keeping the scope constant is not that easy and often there are deviations that disturb the planned sprint. Over time, you can learn from the sprint iterations how many sprint points a team can usually handle in a sprint.
Sprints are an attempt to plan work as accurately as possible, but that just doesn’t always work out. Everyone who decides to plan tasks with sprints should be aware of this.
If you want to know more about agile working methods, I recommend The Agile Samuari by Jonathan Rasmusson.
How do UX designers work within sprints?
UX designers are part of cross-functional teams, as they contribute to a better user experience with their expertise. Their work therefore often takes place in collaboration with software developers, who in turn work in sprints.
However, putting UX work into sprints is not really a smart way to do it. Estimating design work can be tricky and it will be much easier for the developer team, if they can start right away with work instead of switching tasks during a sprint from design to development. So how to handle this?
Using the backlog
The backlog is the collection of tasks that need to be completed some day. It contains uncompleted tasks that can potentially be included in a sprint. Which tasks are processed first is usually decided by developers and product owners together. On the one hand, this decision is influenced by technical requirements, but also from the business side, there are usually certain priorities.
For you as a designer, the prioritized tasks that are still in the backlog are interesting. Your work regarding research, ideation, wireframing and design should therefore take place before the task is processed in a sprint.
Usually, you will communicate with developers or other people during your work to get necessary information and clarify any questions. However, it is important that you discuss your designs again afterwards, before the developers start their work.
Since there is a sprint planning meeting before each sprint, this is the optimal time to hand-off your designs to the developers. So, as a designer, always attend sprint meetings and use this opportunity to present your designs. Explain specific details and answer questions directly.
It’s also helpful to provide designs that are ready for development along with important information for the developers. Color codes, font sizes, corner radius, margin and padding etc. can be easily prepared and made available to developers by using Figma plugins, like Measure. This way you make it much easier for the developers to implement your designs exactly the same way.
Sometimes it is also worthwhile to place written notes with the designs in addition to the clickable prototype, so that nothing is forgotten.
Discussions and testing
However, your responsibility for the design doesn’t end with the handoff. Cross-functional teams are known to support each other through the entire development process. Just as you previously needed input from development or business on your design, there will likely be further queries from developers as well coming to you.
So don’t put things off because the main task now lies with other people. Always stay open for input, adjustments, feedback or critical questions and help your teammates, for example by testing developed tasks and checking again if design and development still match. More eyes simply see more and everyone pays attention to different details. Agile teams can benefit a lot from each other.
Agile frameworks provide a certain structure to everyday work and create processes. However, they should not be seen as a strict set of rules, but rather as a pool of methods that can and should be mixed and matched to individual needs.
Sprints are time-boxed development cycles to organize the work in software teams. Before tasks are processed in a sprint, they are in the backlog. For UX and UI designers, it makes sense to work on tasks that are at the top of the backlog. In cross-functional teams, there is already a lively exchange during the design work. In the sprint planning meeting, the design can be discussed in depth and then move into the development phase.
Stay in touch, even if your designs are already in development. Follow the process, answer questions and help with testing. That’s the best way to combine UX and agile.
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