“The success of a product depends on how much users are loving and using it.”
Says Don Norman, who is often credited as the father of UX (user experience). And to achieve such success, user research (or UX research) is critical to inform the UX design strategy and decisions at every step of the design process.
User research is a systematic process to understand users’ needs, behavior, motivations, and goals to create the best possible experience and product for them. When combined with Agile, it breeds even better products with informed teams.
However, there are some misconceptions persistent about the approach to UX research and design when working in an agile environment. For instance, it raises the question of whether quality designs will be produced while working with a lot of iterations and frequent deliverables, which are the hallmarks of Agile.
Yet, some teams are successfully incorporating UX research into the Agile framework. This post debunks some common myths about Agile development and user research that may hinder its success.
The importance of Agile in user experience & research
As IT professionals increasingly dip their toes into Agile waters, they agree that it facilitates transparency and efficient iterations. As a result, they can identify issues sooner and deliver features faster, unlike the traditional ways where they spent months working on a product only to identify issues after it went live.
Findings from research conducted by the Nielsen Norman Group (leading pioneers in the UX field) indicate that when applied thoughtfully, Agile development methods and UX processes can improve UX and business value. Many research respondents also reported that combining Agile and UX practices have minimized last-minute surprises and allowed teams to make modifications as required after each iteration.
But where there is smoke, there is fire. So let’s debunk a few common myths around UX with Agile.
6 myths about Agile and UX research debunked
Myth 1: Agile is a software development methodology.
That Agile is a software development methodology is the most important myth to debunk. However, Agile is more of a philosophy or a set of principles/values coined in the Agile Manifesto to uncover better ways of developing.
Yes, it was initially conceived to solve the common problems experienced in software development projects. But it is not restricted to the development stage or developers as software projects and their success rely on more skillsets than purely programming. Thus, to successfully incorporate Agile values, it is essential to involve all stakeholders, including business people and UX professionals.
This myth gets in the way of success when user research is one of the first things to be dropped when budgets or timelines get tighter.
But with time, Agile UX has evolved, and so has the role of UX expanded to leadership and enhanced communication. UX professionals in Agile are proactive, involve other members early in UX-related activities, and effectively communicate user needs to stakeholders.
So if you think it is challenging to embed user research into Agile environments, it is time to bust that myth next.
Myth 2: It is challenging to fit user research well in Agile.
User research and Agile are not always the best of friends. While Agile breaks down work into bite-sized sprints, user research is not always tied to a single feature. This makes it hard to fit perfectly into 2 or 3-week increments and tunnel the vision of design teams.
But UX and Agile can work well together when:
- Management and leadership values UX
- UX practitioners show leadership
- The process isn’t strict
- UX professionals and developers are part of the same team
Also, there is nothing wrong with good UX professionals having trouble working in Agile. Moving at breakneck speed, leaving behind the familiar rhythm, adjusting to the new cadence, design activities occurring more frequently– all feel daunting while trying to fit user research into the mix.
But isn’t it a good thing that Agile teams can fit in user feedback more frequently? And that long-term, deeper research activities and design validation can fit in Agile cycles?
However, there is no playbook for thriving user research in Agile environments. But below are a few factors to consider for successfully embracing UX and user research in Agile.
- Research efforts may span multiple sprints.
- Communicating often and transparently will build buy-in and common ground.
- Funnel research findings and continuous discovery into the backlog.
Myth 3: There is only one way to do Agile UX.
As we discussed above, there is no one way to do Agile UX. Some ideas or formulas may work for a team but are not one-size-fits-all solutions. However, you can take inspiration from the examples of fellow UX practitioners in Agile to succeed.
You can also consider what your situation has in common with theirs and what not, especially in terms of:
- Organization of the UX team
- Company size
- Relative maturity with Agile
- Cultural cues
- Whether they are dealing with new functionality in an isolated codebase or complex legacy code with downstream and upstream dependencies
Myth 4: UX research has no rightful place in the sprint backlog.
It is often a common misconception that user research is extraneous as development is the key undertaking. And team members worry that research can cause hold-ups when teams do not work with a truly agile mindset. But that’s no reason to think UX research has no rightful place in the backlog.
Agile often means working in parallel so no one needs to wait. Hold-ups can be remedied if there is a high degree of communication and collaboration.
Finally, it is essential to encapsulate user research in backlog items– user stories, tasks, or epics– so teams complete the highest-priority work irrespective of research, design, or development.
Myth 5: Having more UX professionals in Agile teams will automatically guarantee success.
Another significant finding in the Nielsen Norman research was that organizations that practiced Agile for over 3 years usually had highly effective projects. And the % of UX professionals was about the same in successful and unsuccessful Agile teams.
This misconception might lead me to think that UX folks don’t need to have Agile training. But Agile UX maturity levels, along with factors like company culture and structure, highly impact success. Agile can take years to perfect. Thus, it takes a ton of experience to build scalable Agile teams.
Myth 6: Agile is faster
Another pervasive myth about Agile is that it is faster. And due to this misconception, teams often end up devoting little time to user research, especially later in the cycle.
Patchy, rapid, and informal UX research in an attempt to cope with an agile environment results in unreliable or misleading research outcomes. Granted, some research is better than no research at all. But sloppy does not align with Agile values. And as we have discussed at length above, user research can thrive in an Agile environment with the right efforts.
Today, building a successful product requires an amalgamation of research, business, and technical capabilities. Thus, it is essential to debunk myths to enable seamless and effective cooperation between user research and other cross-functional teams in Agile.
What other myths would you like to debunk that you or your team have encountered?