User-Centred Agile Methods – book review


At around 55 pages, Hugh Beyer’s book is a slim, little tome. It appears to be part of a series that supports a lecture at Penn State University. You can find out more about Hugh Beyer, and how to obtain the book/PDF, at his company’s website.

I read this book as it’s being covered by the book group section of UX Melbourne. The meeting is tonight, but unfortunately I can no longer make it. So here’s a few things that I noticed while reading through it.

The brief introduction talks about a few different flavours of agile such as FDD, Crystal, XP, and Scrum. It emphasises that a developing agile culture is important, but that understanding of how to work in new or emerging agile cultures can make it difficult when designing user experience.

A brief summary of Scrum, and of XP is given, that would help novices. Then several pages (a whole chapter) are devoted to describing agile culture. In each section, a “UX leverage point” is provided, giving advice to where a UX designer can contribute, at various points of an agile project.

It’s good that Beyer also provides some indication of pain points at the end of this chapter. He paints a typical “agile in name only” scenario. Pointing out, for example, that constraints within the business, such as lack of a real user presence on a team can cause assumptions to be made. He also points out that often, planning takes place from a traditional Product Requirements document, that is merely broken down into smaller “user stories”, there is little opportunity to validate the value of the product. Also that engineering discipline such as test first, and test automation etc. may not be followed

In the Best practices chapter, some tactics are presented that can be used to avoid or alleviate the issues identified. Most of the suggestions are familiar, such as, making sure real feedback is gathered from real users, having a “Phase 0”, working an iteration ahead and an iteration behind (for validation), and that UX should be treated as a full part of the team, not an adjunct.

The author maps out how and when it might be useful to introduce UX techniques in Phase 0, like the Affinity Diagram, contextual inquiry methods, mapping and modeling, personas, storyboarding, and paper prototypes. He does this for the planning sessions, as well as during iterations/Sprints, and also

Finally, there are a few examples about how to join an already started project, working on updating product, and also working on an all new product.

In the Conclusion, the author states:

…fads come and go, but each one leaves behind a valuable residue that becomes part of the permanent toolkit…when the agile boom passes, we can expect that software projects will still organize development in short, well-defined sprints each delivering testable user value…agile, iterative development is probably here to stay.

I don’t know if you agree about the use of the word fad (considering the author’s long experience, it’s perhaps understandable that he views agile develoment, as such), however I do agree with this statement:

Agile development and user-centred design are a natural fit…To the extent that there is a disconnect between the two, it has more to do with the widely different history and provenance of the two methods rather than any inherent incompatibility…what is needed is an understanding on both sides of the attitudes, values, and skills of the other.

It’s a pretty pithy book, focused at the UX professional, and as such is a good place to start for anyone who wants to gain an understanding in this area.

PS – you might also like the presentation about User Experience and Agile that I recently wrote about.



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