I had no idea what I was doing in the beginning. I started by just going with the flow; letting the “Agile experts” of the team take the lead. I struggled with meeting client expectations and giving the developers what they needed, when they needed it.
Four years later (and four successfully launched applications) I have learned what it takes for a UX designer to be a valuable, productive member of an Agile development team.
1. Be efficient: Sorry folks, the era of creatives taking whatever time they need to create the perfect design are over. You now have two-week sprints and pressing deadlines. Work ahead of sprint when possible, but most of all, focus on coming up with something that works, even if it is not 100% finalized, and iterate over it. Details will be refined later on during the software development cycle.
2. Be part of the team: The only thing that should differentiate designers and developers in an Agile team is their skill set. As a designer, you should attend stand-ups, sprint planning meetings, client meetings, demos, and everything else just like every other member of the team. Your focus should be on the backlog like everyone else’s. Don’t work in isolation, check in often, always know what your team is working on and make sure they know what you are working on. Help each-other. Teach each-other.
3. Be flexible: In Agile, you have to be prepared to switch tasks quickly and often. This can be frustrating to a lot of designers, especially when these tasks are completely unrelated. Practice has helped me develop the ability to reset my brain and work in completely different tasks in parallel, in short periods of time. As stated in the Agile Manifesto, “Responding to change over following a plan” is what your mindset should be.
4. Be proactive: Do not sit around waiting for someone to tell you what to do. Dive into the backlog, figure out the priorities and start working on what is coming. Touch base with your teammates, ask them if there is anything they need from you to do their job. Provide valuable input whenever you get the chance. Speak up if you feel like something is not working the way it should.
5. Keep an eye on the big picture: With Agile you break everything into smaller pieces (user stories) and sort them by priority and/or complexity. With this process it is easy to become “feature-focused” and lose perspective of what is being built. It’s good practice to take a step back and think about the product you are helping create. Have high-level discussions with your team to help them get aligned and empathize with the target users. At the end of the day you are building software that will be used by people.
Once you put these tips into practice, it will be much easier to figure things out. What tools should you use, what kind of deliverables you should hand the developers, and when you should involve the client or users in the process.
Have any other tips for UX designers working on agile teams, let everyone know in the comments below.