User Research for Agile Teams: Agile Experience Design Meetup, Pivotal Labs – 03/18/13

Last night, the NYC Agile Experience Design Meetup hosted a panel with 3 companies speaking on how they incorporate UX in an agile environment.  I found AppNexus’ talk particularly interesting in that they brought up the point that there seems to not be a good standard to this point for incorporating research in an agile (scrum) setting.  They believe that it is the designer’s role to incorporate the research into scrum (makes sense) and they typically follow a process broken up into four distinct phases:

  1. Discovery:  The problem is defined through interviews with end users and internal stakeholders.  
  2. Ideation:  Collaboration with clients / internal stakeholders through the use of a/b testing, workshops…
  3. Validation:  Early testing with end users and internal stakeholders.  It is important to note that this phase can proceed with zero code written, utilizing rapid research techniques with lightweight or even paper prototypes.
  4. Finalization:  Testing with end users (alpha/beta tests).

For me, maybe the most important takeaway is how AppNexus utilizes a “Sprint 0.”  Just as you might think, this is a planning sprint which takes place 1-2 weeks (common duration for a sprint) before the first sprint and is a research planning phase.  The idea behind this investment is to ensure project sprints stay within the 2-week timeframes, to ensure backwards compatibility and to prevent re-work.  In essence this is a research checklist taking into consideration:

  • Impact on stakeholders
  • Impact on business processes
  • Dependencies
  • Assumptions
  • Constraints
  • Epics (Effort estimates to a user story which are too large to be tackled as one story and should be broken down into smaller work packages).

In essence, Sprint 0 attempts to come away with direction to take to the sprint planning meeting.