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Agile Design

The secrets of integrating design into the Agile process.

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Agile has truly transformed the whole software industry. Agile development has actually experienced serious upgrades than any other industry over the past decades. 

The method is based on the main principles as outlined in the famous Agile Manifesto. Agile is rooted in adaptive planning, continuous improvement, and early delivery. The ability to be flexible and responsive to changes is also about this method.

The Agile philosophy has also managed to bridge the divide between Agile developers and designers. Now they do not work in silos on the same project, only identifying issues at the end. Agile helps to minimize last-minute surprises and allows predicting timelines more efficiently. 

In this post, you will learn more about the Agile design process. What is the Agile approach to design in a project? What are the benefits of this approach? Are there design phases in Agile? Let’s find the answers together!

The basics of Agile design

Agile Basics

The Agile methodology provides an iterative framework actively used in software development. Iterative means refining software through repetition and moves continuously towards your goal. 

It requires running the development cycle once, identifying areas where improvements are needed, and repeating the cycle to optimize your work. However, Agile is not limited to software products. We will consider software development, as our article is related right to this area.

Some of the most vivid benefits of Agile include:

  • Quick feedback
  • Customer involvement
  • Change management
  • Team motivation

What is Agile design? The power of the iterative design process

The design process involves various phases:

  • Understand
  • Research
  • Sketch
  • Design
  • Prototype
  • Test
  • Refine

Any iterative design process starts from the first phase and moves towards the last one. Then the result is analyzed, and different iterations are run to further improve it.

The key goal here is not to create a deliverable, but to improve the design in every single iteration. However, the later stage adjustments in design are quite costly and it can be considered as a real drawback.

Agile Design Principles

There are some basic principles required to effectively adopt Agile in product design. Here they are:

1. Executives are ready to support UX designers

As we know, top managers usually control timelines and budgets and the lack of their support often results in diminished resources. Having no support from executives, team members need to adapt to strict timeframes. The lack of resources and time can make UX practitioners abandon important activities (for example, conducting user research consistently).

The Agile design methodology is possible when top management understands the role that design plays in the success of your product and is ready to support UX practitioners during product design. 

2. Cross-functional teams do better

Agile design implies that designers work closely with the other team members (developers, sales, marketers, etc.). This develops the sense of ownership for the project and creates trust among all team members.

3. The power of well-planned product backlog management and planning

Essential product features that your team wants to introduce into a final product are contained in a product backlog. Agile-focused designers should be careful while prioritizing the backlog. They should evaluate all tasks according to the value they provide to end-users. 

5. The role of research and testing

Never forget to ensure that your team is creating the right thing for their users, especially in terms of design. Research and testing are essential Agile product design practices. They should be integrated into your design process in a way that will allow your team to not spend too much time on these activities, yet make sure that they provide a lot of value.

4. Considering the accurate estimations of the time to next release

It is rather important to also estimate the time required to make the features that you want to introduce a reality because estimations play a significant role in managing team activities. 

In Agile, the product teams should strive to produce incremental changes, rather than massive, all-at-once changes. They must estimate the time required to design features as well as the time needed to code these features.

6. The iterative nature of design and development

According to Agile philosophy, that product design and development are iterative and incremental processes. Therefore, large product releases should be broken down into smaller and more manageable parts. Products represented during each iteration are validated according to the user and business goals.

7. Making communication constant

In Agile, communication facilitates transparency. It ensures that no one works in a vacuum, and knowledge is shared among all team members. Agile involves constant communication both within team players and with the product’s users.

Advantages of Agile product design

  • Agile design provides a wide range of vivid benefits:
  • You can easily identify problems and respond to them quickly thanks to the iterative nature of the process. 
  • An iterative process leads to a more transparent environment.
  • Agile enables teams to solve critical issues instantly. It saves money and time. 
  • Customers are more involved. They can provide teams with valuable feedback at all process’ stages.
  • Regular feedback helps to stay motivated and more productive. This actually accelerates team morale.

Agile design process

Agile methodology design conditions

  • There are also essential conditions that need to be met to make things work. 
  • Avoid rushing – perhaps it’s a good idea to be a perfectionist, but Agile is not about reaching perfection instantly. 
  • Agile managers must abstain from micromanaging team members, as the methodology assumes operating in sprints.
  • A leader position is required (despite the potential harm of micromanagement). The leader will be responsible for keeping the team on track.
  • It’s important to set when the job is done. 
  • An obvious part of designing in Agile is testing things as frequently as possible. Agile designers have to break complex problems into smaller ones and test possible solutions. 
  • Criticism is ok. Adopting an Agile towards design implies involving customers in all the phases of the Scrum design process. So, they get a better understanding of what their product will look like.

Significant Postulates of the Agile Design Philosophy

  1. Agile designs are emergent. You can not define them upfront.
  2. Your design documentation includes numerous unit tests.
  3. Design models have to be just barely good enough. 
  4. Software development is complex so you need to know about a wide range of models to be effective. 
  5. Despite the fact that there are many modeling techniques available, any given project team will only require a subset. 
  6. Every single model can be used for different purposes. 
  7. Designers should also have coding skills. 
  8. It is worth obtaining concrete feedback by writing code to define if it does actually work.
  9. Constant feedback will make your system better and will let you learn something in the process.
  10. Often the simplest tool is a complex tool. Consider inclusive tools (paper and whiteboards), but when it comes to design, lean towards more sophisticated instruments.
  11. The iterative approach to development requires working on doing analysis, design, some coding, some testing, and iterating between these activities. 
  12. Design requires your everyday efforts and activities. 
  13. Designing for your implementation environment judiciously is another crucial moment. 
  14. Document complex stuff and spend your time designing it so it is simple. 
  15. Consider UX (user experience).

How to make Your Agile Design Effective: Seven Tips to Follow Right Away

1. Consider the big picture in mind. Ever

Big picture thinking is a key to creating user-centered designs. Product teams often forget about the overall goal when they are focused on providing incremental changes. It usually leads to a fragmented user experience. However, users apply the entire product to accomplish their goals, evaluating it as one item. That is why all parts of your product must work together.

2. Practice an iteration zero

For all team members, it is better to have a general idea of how they’re going to build their idea. An iteration zero where the product team gets together to discuss the initial requirements and form the idea of the future product will assist. This is especially important for UX practitioners as iteration zero gives them a chance to run research, invite team members to discuss the backlog findings, and set a powerful product strategy.

3. Minimize team changes

All Agile-focused teams are unique. The team culture is generated by the collective spirit and dynamics of individuals who are a part of it. When you make changes to your team, you disturb its internal processes, which may lead to lower performance. Try to minimize shifting people from one team to another.

4. Hire a Scrum Master

As you already know, Scrum is focused on running sprints in discrete units of time when the Agile team aims to complete specific units of work. And of course, it is vital to invite a dedicated Scrum Master if you want to introduce the Scrum process into a new team. The SM will act as a coordinator for all activities and increase the chances that Agile will be properly integrated into the team.

5. Generate prototypes

According to Agile software design, you have to pick up interactive prototypes over static mockups or wireframes. Prototyping is crucial because it allows testing your concept and proves that it works correctly as well as simplifies design handoff.

6. Learn designers to code

Design can not be separated from programming as it can be risky and not all their concepts can be technically feasible. Designers with coding skills evaluate a solution from a development and design perspective.

7. Optimize documenting 

Your product will probably change over time, so do not spend time documenting the entire product thoroughly.

Conclusion

Agile design is simply the application of well-known Agile development principles to the design process. Nothing complex.

Every designer is different for sure. It is better to choose the methods that will work for you and adapt them as you go. This will actually look like the Agile thing to do.