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Agile UX Toolkit

Skills & tactics for UX practitioners to successfully integrate user-centered design practices into an agile team

As more organizations adopt agile development practices, UX practitioners want to ensure that the resulting products are still designed with users in mind. This tutorial teaches basic, proven methods to integrate user-centered design practices into agile teams.

The tutorial is for experienced UX practitioners and managers who work on agile teams, or who will be transitioning to agile. Prior experience with agile methods is not needed, and the course does not focus on a particular agile methodology.

The morning teaches new skills for planning design on agile teams, and the afternoon focuses on agile adaptations to usability testing and research methods. Research methods covered in this tutorial focus on eliciting observed user behavior (such as contextual inquiry, and formative usability testing).

Tutorial by Desiree Sy (Autodesk, Media + Entertainment), Lynn Miller (Autodesk), John Schrag (Autodesk)
9:00am to 5:00pm on Tuesday, June 21, 2011

About the Tutorial

Introduction (20 min)

  • Background of the presenters, to provide context for the presented course material.
  • Agile 101. Introduce audience to the basic concepts of agile, and ensure everyone is using terminology the same way.

Structured discussion about transitioning problems: The facilitators describe common problems that UX teams face while transitioning from waterfall to agile, and get feedback from the tutorial participants about what particular problems they are experiencing in their own work. This will help focus later discussion.

Sprint Zero (30 minutes)

  • Pre-sprint zero
  • Sprint Zero: why? who? when? how long?
  • What are the deliverables, and how are they used subsequently?
  • Product vision
  • Release goals (Project Objective Statement)
  • Project data sheet
  • Operational model

Exercise: Participants will be given a specific product vision, and then asked to elicit a better release goal. (Facilitators will role-play the Product Manager). Subsequent tutorial exercises will follow an example project through the process.

Exercise: Participants will be given the project background and enough other information to be able to complete a Project Data Sheet.

Initial agile planning (40 minutes)

  • Initial planning meeting
  • Sprint planning: why? who? when? how long?
  • What are the deliverables, and how are they used subsequently?
  • Planning board
  • Story cards
  • Feature cards
  • Using the trade-off matrix
  • Placing stories on the timeline (timing)
  • Placing features within timeboxes (phrasing)

Exercise: Participants will be given a backlog of story cards with some background information, and then asked to work in groups to plan sprints 1 and 2, and do a rough placement of other story cards.


Parallel-track workflow (15 minutes)

This is also sometimes called “staggered sprints workflow.” * How designers work with developers during sprints

Incremental implementation (45 minutes)

  • How to place feature cards within sprints to incrementally expose functionality
  • How to determine the minimum subset of functionality you can start with
  • Finding the minimum increments – how to know what is enough
  • Facilitators illustrate with a detailed example.

Exercise: Participants will be given a story card that is bigger than one sprint and some background information, and then asked break it down into a series of feature cards, and place them on the planning board in the best order.

Planning to change (30 minutes)

  • UX contributions and activities during sprint planning.
  • How to incorporate user feedback.
  • UX fit and finish.

Exercise: Facilitators will update the project information, and the group will participate in the sprint planning between sprint 1 and 2. They will re-plan feature cards for sprints 2 and 3, and “break” stories for sprints 4-6.

Break (LUNCH)

Agile usability testing (45 minutes)

  • What makes agile usability testing hard?
  • What makes agile usability testing better than waterfall?
  • Managing frequent testing – keep ‘em coming back
  • Agile test planning – looking forwards and backwards
  • Fix it before they build it: Low-fidelity prototyping and formative testing
  • Defining when to stop: Understanding when to move on
  • Prioritizing test results – it’s not about the report
  • Fast/light reporting
  • Strategies for getting usability fixes into the agile plan

Exercise: Participants create a point-form test plan for Sprint 2, based on their agile board.

Agile user feedback (45 minutes)

  • What makes agile user feedback hard?
  • What makes agile user feedback better than waterfall?
  • User contact plan
  • Combine user investigations
  • Recurring user studies
  • Bring context in-house
  • User proxies
  • Longitudinal studies
  • Role of UX practitioner on agile team

Exercise: Facilitators will describe: * design goals for 2 different user stories on the planning board * what the available user resources are during several sprints. Participants will create plans for user research activities for 3 specified sprints.


Design chunking (50 minutes)

  • Dealing with stories that have high design risk (are impossible to estimate)
  • Multi-sprint design planning. How to “break” design activities over more than one sprint.
  • How to write incremental mini-specifications.
  • Creating UX acceptance criteria to incorporate into test-driven development.

Exercise: Facilitators will describe a Design Spike story and provide some background information. (Information from previous exercises, such as what the available user resources are during several sprints, will still apply.) Participants will break this Spike into design chunks over 2-3 sprints.

Exercise: Facilitators will then provide data that describe the results of these design investigations. Participants will: * break the resulting multi-sprint design into 2-3 story cards * break the story cards into feature cards * define UX acceptance criteria for some feature cards * arrange them on the planning board.

Agile communication (20 minutes)

  • What’s the purpose of reporting?
  • What makes agile user communication better than waterfall?
  • Leading and trailing communication
  • Motivating the team
  • Use the team’s language
  • Communicating during design activities
  • Communicating during implementation
  • Distributed agile teams

Structured discussion.

Wrap up (20 minutes)

  • Summary