The SpoolCast with Jared Spool

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Episode #54 UX in an Agile Environment with Jeff Patton

August 5, 2008  ·  43 minutes

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The Agile development process is about breaking things into small pieces and acting on each piece really quickly. Yet, traditional user experience practices aren't used to working fast. How do we adjust our practices to survive in a fast-paced agile process?

That's the question we posted to Jeff Patton, the noted independent UX/Agile consultant and speaker, who joined me on this week's show.

Show Notes

The Agile development process is about breaking things into small pieces and acting on each piece really quickly. Yet, traditional user experience practices aren't used to working fast. How do we adjust our practices to survive in a fast-paced agile process?

That's the question we posted to Jeff Patton, the noted independent UX/Agile consultant and speaker, who joined me on this week's show.

During our conversation, Jeff and I discussed some of the issues surrounding development speed that UX practitioners encounter when working in an Agile development team. While we talked, Jeff shared these observations from successful teams:

  • Rapid Iterations: We've known for a while that fast iterations can help design, but now the rest of the team is iterating quickly too. Jeff proposed regularly using development partners -- people you revisit -- can help you with low-hassle usability testing and feedback sessions.
  • Continuity: One of the key challenges in the agile environment is that working with small pieces of the project can lead to a lack of continuity between the pieces. Jeff suggested that a key role of the user experience professional on the team is to maintain the big picture: seeing what's been built and what's about to be built, and ensuring those pieces come together to form a coherent experience.
  • Are your designers your users? It's been said that Apple's designers created the iPhone for themselves, without user testing. When the designers are avid users of a product, this can be successful, but such instances are rare. For most projects, it's nearly impossible for designers to consistently put themselves in their users' shoes. In agile environments, there may be more temptation to skip the user testing and go with designer intuition. Successful designers acknowledge that this intuition, talented though it may be, is usually no substitute for real user research.
  • The RITE Method: Rapid Iterative Testing and Evaluation, is a successful method developed at Microsoft. It combines fast iterations with testing, looking to make improvements after each participant. Jeff suggests this is something agile teams should investigate.

Of course, I'm not doing Jeff's ideas justice with this summary. You really want to listen to the entire interview to hear all of his wisdom.