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.



User Experience and Agile – Meetup report

I used to work with a chap called James. When I met him, he was known as a User Centred Designer (UCD) , and I worked with him on some of the projects that I have previously written about on this site. We hope to collaborate on some articles on here in the future.

These days, he’s a Senior Experience Designer at New England agency, MadPow. You might have seen an article recently by two of James’ colleagues, Illustrating the Big Picture : Journeys, Experiences and Interactions.

I also used to run an agile group in Oxford, where I used to live, and we used to team up with the UX Oxford group, from time to time.

Anyway, as you can tell, I’m a big advocate of incorporating User Experience into agile projects. Ever since I became involved with the Melbourne Agile and Scrum User Group, I wanted to organise an event to discuss UX and Agile.

After a couple of false starts, the evening was held on 23 May 2012, at the Seek offices in St Kilda Rd. I announced the event on Meetup, and within a day 115 places had been snapped up, and we had around 30 people on the waiting list. So, obviously a pretty hot topic!

Peter Grierson, did a talk on general User Experience principles, with an emphasis on how UX can support shared understanding in an agile project. He shared some examples of what he’s done at variuos companies in New Zealand and Australia, most recently at REA ( Incidentally, I’m hoping to team up with Pete, for a session at LAST Conference, that has a UX focus.

You can see his presentation, and listen to his talk, in the Slideshare deck, below.

Later, we had a a panel discussion relating to the gatherings’ real world examples of Agile UX . The panel used a Fishbowl format to allow everyone to take part in the discussion, which I think worked pretty well.

Thanks very much to Simon and Amelia from Seek for helping to organise the evening, and to Seek for providing the venue and refreshments for the gathering!