Larry Constantine is the co-author with Lucy Lockwood of « Software for Use » (1999), well-known in the HCI (Human Computer Interaction) field for his « Essential use cases technique » and his « Usage-centered design methodology ».
He wrote an article (part 1 and part 2) a month ago on Agile and Experience Design Marriage, with an introduction a bit provocative:
« when experience design is married with agile development, the results can be a crisis of faith on either or both sides »
In part 1, Larry insists on deep philosophical differences and variance in practices… As a UX practitioner and Agile Coach, involved in various agile projects, I unfortunately have to confirm some of his observations:
Agile methods still don’t incorporate usability and UX practices
Marriage is often « one way », experience designers accommodate to the dictates of agile methods and schedules, even if UX tend to become now the key differentiator in the IT marketplace.
UX is not the key driver for development
UX is still a lack in most agile projects
That said, I don’t agree with, what Larry Constantine calls « core incompatibilities » in the couple. What a negative approach!
Of course, « agile methods employ rapid, iterative refinement, with short, incremental development cycles« . And, yes, « they tend to favor a functionality-first, inside-out process, beginning with early and easy successes that deliver working code« . So what? Is it so incompatible with user experience and usability techniques? I don’t think so!
Rapid prototyping, Guerilla usability testing, Personas and just enough user research, innovation games, Vision or Design workshops are examples of fabulous UX & Usability techniques. They can be effectively applied within agile development cycles.
I rather see the iterative and incremental development as an opportunity to gather, at frequent intervals, feedback… real feedback… rich feedback. Receiving feedback from the team, the customer or of course the users is, according to me the most important element on IT projects.
Time to market, value and simplicity are now crucial for most organizations evolving in a highly competitive environment. It is both a reality that UX specialists need to understand and a strength that lead them to focus only on valuable activities. And I am really convinced that we need to adapt our approach, our tools and deliverables for more effective collaboration with other actors involved in IT projects (not only agile…).
In part 2, Larry Constantine described in detailed the key ingredients to make a better marriage between Experience Design and Agile Development…
Respect of each other’s work and skills (I personaly think we’re all professionals)
Equality in the development process (I personaly think User Interface Design should be considered as an essential prioritization criterion of the product backlog !
Knowledge about each other’s skills and areas of expertise… to get respect and equality (I personaly think learning is a key whatever the context !)
Independence though but coordinated activity
… A more optimistic view that I appreciate. I also like his conclusion:
« Now, may your union be a long and prosperous one! »
One more time… and in small groups please: more fun, more feedback and more information collected even if you need more preparation effort (related to realistic content, screenshots and elements cutting, materials provided).
Design Workshop :Paper prototyping in small groups
At a time when others are still searching and waiting for the magic prototyping tool to make wireframe, Paper prototyping deliberately focuses on proximity, human interactions, feedback, collaboration, and simplicity… some core agile values.
According to me, even more in Agile contexts, the real strength of Wireframe format is on its ability:
To be done in a collaborative mode,
To generate feedback,
To share the Vision of the User interface
To support business and development activities
To stay at a « just enough » level (documentation, process, effort…)
And this is exactly what paper prototyping offers…
Moreover, Paper prototyping technique is FAST, EASY and FLEXIBLE (in terms of protocols…).
This is what I have observed in some group sessions:
It is highly collaborative with a rich feedback generation (especially for group sessions)
It enables multi disciplinary teams, various actors to get a common vision,
It reduces communication issues: we do it in groups, face to face, in the same room…
It fosters creativity by giving the impression that nothing is fixed and that we can change things easily
It’s interactive and fun with direct manipulation and collective activities (far from the passivity of some traditional meetings)
It is adaptive and scalable with various facilitation techniques adjusted to different contexts
To conclude, take a look at this huge session of paper prototyping:
More than a simple artifact or a one-page description, the Personas method is a user centered design technique, initiated by Alan Cooper in 1999. It provides a team with a common and shared VISION of the users of a service or product, in a very engaging format.
Why personas are relevant in Agile contexts?
In agile projects, Personas should be seen as a fantastic tool in the hands of a Product Owner team (composed by the Product Owner, a User Experience specialist, a Business Analyst…) to align the cross-functional team (dev, test …) to a shared and realistic vision of the users of the product to develop.
Personas provide you with the opportunity to integrate real User Experience all along your product development project.
Indeed, they enable the team to stay continuously focused on user primary goals and tasks by emphasizing what they want, their behavior, their needs and expectations but also their potential impediments
Another major benefit is that a specific persona can be easily linked to user stories. The « user voice format » is a good opportunity to place the personas under the spotlight. It makes your user stories more credible, more engaging. It also facilitates CONVERSATION and CONFIRMATION activities associated to each user story.
Personas are a powerful communication tool within and outside of the team. They can be used at the organization level for training, commerce or marketing activities.
How to proceed?
Option 1: Using existing Personas
Personas are ready when you start the project ; just use them !. User research was done previously, and personas are already a key element of the product vision. No need to construct them, but the Product Owner has to introduce the personas to the team when he communicates the Vision. One of the benefits of the personas is that it makes this description easier, both visual and based on storytelling. Based on that knowledge, Elevator Pitch or Product Vision exercises will be more effective with the team.
Then during the sprints, personas are associated to user stories, and help guide decisions on the Product Backlog priorization and UI design. Crucial, don’t you think ?
A classic example with Zylom (not current version):
Two personas (Maria and Sophia, whose main goals are to play online, download games to play offline and get help if they need it) and their impact on UI Design in terms of color, shape, size, positioning of elements, layout and navigation menu structure.
Of course, Personas can also be used for testing activities: scenario based testing, usability testing, cognitive walkthrough …
I usually ask the team to include Personas on the Information radiator. It is an important communication act both from an internal and external perspective.
Option 2: Constructing new Personas
Personas don’t exist when the project starts.
Sprint / Iteration 0 is the perfect moment to initiate our « 3 steps » process, of course in a collaborative way. This exploration sprint usually lasts fromone to four weeks, depending on context.
Unfortunately a short timebox (one week for example) is a real difficulty especially for organizing workshops and planning user interviews. You’ll need to anticipate or to refine ….
Given availability issues, various impediments … « 8 user interviews a week » is usually a maximum (actually it’s mine), but it gives you the opportunity to facilitate preparation workshops and to do quick stakeholders interviews in parallel.
You may understand why I like a duration of 3 or 4 weeks for a sprint 0 🙂
Here is my process to build personas:
Step 1: Preparation consists in:
Organizing one or two workshops with a Product Owner team and various stakeholders in order to be aligned to the objectives and the methodology, to identify data sources, to determine categories of people to interview (for example the core roles)
Informing the entire team of the process
Collecting data from various sources including user interviews. According to me, 3 interviews by roles or categories identified is a minimum.
Step 2 Construction consists in:
Analyzing data: from facts to behavioral variables, then from variables to patterns
Establishing Personas skeleton
Giving birth to the personas (storytelling and Poster) : I initiate the work (based on a template and data analysis) but I like doing this task in one or two workshops (this time with the entire team, development included). It’s fun and fosters the appropriation process.
Personas: A template
Validating personas with various stakeholders (a qualitative validation); I only did one time quantitative validation with a large questionnaire sent to hundreds of users.
Step 3: Communication & use consists in:
Putting the Personas on the Information Radiator
Linking the Personas to User Stories
Using the personas for priorization, storyboarding and wireframing activities
Making a communication plan dedicated to the Personas
Mobilize the entire team around the approach
Limit the number of Personas
Define a primary Persona
Start the personas construction with the Product Owner team, but inform and finish it with the entire team
Anticipate three or four workshops in the agenda
Bring your personas to life using big cards or posters containing a name, a title / role, a script (the storytelling allowing good back in the character’s life), a picture, goals, triggers, influencers, delighters, features expected …
Be careful on the choice of the photo: avoid celebrities, models or people you may know. remain credible.
Don’t hesitate to communicate on your Personas: make a buzz !