This post was made possible by having insightful conversations with a few great Toronto designers: Ricardo Vazquez, UI/UX Designer at Mozilla (@iamrvazquez), Alex M. Chong, Product Designer at Pivotal Labs (@alexmchong) and Huda Idrees, Director of Design at Wealthsimple (@hidrees).
The workflow of an agile software company can present challenging timelines to UX Designers. The consistent, repeatable work cycle of sprints is great at pushing regularly improved, working products through the door. UX Designers, however, need to navigate these tight timelines while collaborating across different parts of the product team. While truly agile workflows ideally entail choosing between completing a list of deliverables with a flexible deadline or prioritizing a deadline and getting as much done as possible, feeling time-poor is a pain point that agile designers at startup or growth-stage software companies have cited to me as a key challenge in their work.
What do UX pros do to make efficient use of their time on agile teams ? Here are some proven tips that emerged when I recently spoke with three local designers.
1. Communicate, a lot!
In a startup, a UX designer may be doing the work that multiple people in a larger company do: user research, rapid prototyping, customer interviews, all the high-fidelity mockups, talking to developers, and pushing all the way to production. Any little miscommunication between the Business Lead, Scrum Master, Development and Design during any of this work can result in not delivering on time or not having your priorities in the right order. Being on the same page is crucial.
Outside of daily standups, regular one-on-one catch-ups can be a life-saver. A daily 15 minute conversation with at least one person from your team (from the Product Owner to developers) can help you stay in sync. These conversations can reveal more detailed information than what is shared at daily stand-ups. For example, you can gain insights that result in integrating feedback into your product, avoiding issues with technical limitations later on (like the fact that the product uses an older version of jQuery than you thought) and stop you from wasting your time working on something unnecessary (like an animation you worked hard on but can’t implement because of technology requirements).
2. Integrate UX into the structure of your teams
The structure of a team can make a big difference for UX Designers navigating a time crunch. Does your company have the resources to have one UX Designer per product team? The ability to focus on a single product, collaborate and communicate quickly and informally with others, the tendency for increased buy-in into the importance of UX in collaborative teams, the opportunities for informal learning and improving each other’s work flow – these can all help maximize a UX Designer’s time during a sprint.
3. Start at Sprint Zero
Design work that starts at sprint zero (i.e., before your first sprint) can really help UX designers in a fast-paced agile environment. Use this time to execute design research, gather user requirements, do comparative analysis, start brainstorming and sketching, and come up with an overall vision for the product. When sprints start, keep design work one step ahead of development as much as possible. Being involved from concept through to execution can also make the feedback loop smaller, allowing your team to ship faster.
4. Communicate using code & rapid prototypes
While not all UX Designers can write code, being technical can be helpful when fighting a time crunch. By using the medium itself, a designer reduces the need to communicate between a theoretical mockup and actual implementation, and saves effort and time trying to retain product integrity. For instance, one designer I spoke with pointed out that writing code has been especially helpful when giving feedback or communicating changes to developer colleagues; writing a snippet of code with styling changes and send it to a developer over HipChat to commit it is time-efficient and avoids a great deal of confusion under pressure.
The designers I’ve spoken with also find that rapid prototyping that requires writing code (like CodePen, JS Fiddle or sometimes Bootstrap) often leads to developers producing an end-result that more closely mirrors the desired outcome, since less is lost in translation during development.
Do you have any other helpful hints to add? Leave it in a comment below.