Problem Solving with agile UX – Part 2

6 up 1 up exercise

6 up 1 up exercise

In Part 1, I talked about the motivation behind the “Problem Solving with agile UX” session at the recent LAST (Lean, Agile, and Systems Thinking) conference. Here, I’ll describe what happened on the day.

Back in May, Pete Grierson, a User Experience consultant at, agreed to present at a meeting of the Melbourne Agile and Scrum Meetup Group. He’s got solid experience at realestate, and in previous roles with agile UX, so I was pleased that he agreed to present that night.  Here’s my writeup of that event.

Originally, one of the options for that meetup, was to have a workshop section. However, the number of people, the size of the venue, and time limitations, meant that it wasn’t practical to do this. Instead, I decided to team up with Pete at LAST conference, and it was great to have a full house for our session.

You can see Pete’s slides used to support the workshop, in the Slideshare deck, below. As I wanted to avoid “death by Powerpoint”, at all costs, most of the time was spent doing a series of exercises, rather than dwelling on the slides.

We also had a video camera setup in the room, and if the video turns out any good, I’ll link to it here.

The session and the exercises had the goals of:

  • demonstrating how UX practices can increase shared understanding by supporting user stories and user story backlogs.
  • showing that UX can be a valuable weapon in your armoury; helping a team build something that is really useful, and valuable to a customer.
  • demonstrating that it’s most valuable to have the whole team involved in UX style activities, in order to collect latent knowledge about the issues, goals, and possible solutions. It’s not just the job of a UX person, all team members (product owners, business analysts, developers, testers), can and should be involved.
  • Showing that it need not take huge amounts of time to include UX practices in agile projects.
One thing I didn’t mention specifically is that UX techniques work great with Story Mapping as promoted in the work of Jeff Patton. My fellow conference co-organizeer, Craig, did a session on story mapping, earlier in the morning. I’ve also written about story mapping, on this site.

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Problem solving with agile UX – Part 1

In this article, I’ll explain the motivation behind the “Problem solving with agile UX” session that I lead with Peter Grierson, at LAST Conference, on 27 July. Part 2 discusses the session at the conference.

What movies are on tonight?

Let me clearly state, that I like Cinema Nova, quite a lot. They have quite a few screens, which means that there is usually a pretty good choice of films on any one night. So, this is not meant to be a heartless lampoon; more like constructive criticism.

One common scenario is that my movie going companions and I will finish work, and will often go for a quick meal at a local restaurant, either before the movie, or after it finishes. This means that  there are 2 windows of viewing opportunity; movies that start at around 6pm (finishing around 8pm), or ones that start at around 7:30.

As part of this scenario, I also want to find out what a movie was about. Although I regularly listen to Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s Film Reviews podcast, and often watch At the Movies, I can’t always remember that the “free-wheeling rock ‘n’ roll love story set against the raucous magnificence and unforgettable sounds of Scotland’s leading music Festival” is called You Instead.

Also, I’d quite like to see how long the film is, to gauge whether I need to buy a choc top to stave off hunger pangs, or to not drink a lot of water, in the case of a long movie. This also gives me an idea of whether I’ll get home in good time on public transport, or whether I should get a taxi instead.

The first port of call on this is, of course their website. You can see below, the “Session Times” page:

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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.