Friday, June 26, 2009

Emerging Agile UX Practices

I am not a UX professional, but I've interacted with a number of them over the last few years, in the context of agile development. The interaction hasn't always been smooth - the prevailing mood has been that agile development was asking UX professionals to do a bad job, but I've never felt that way myself. My feeling is that UX professionals and software developers have been on similar paths in regard to agile development, but the UX people are starting a few years later and have had less leadership so their challenge has been more difficult.

Why do I think the paths for both roles are similar? Because once-upon-a-time many software developers would have said that agile was asking them to do a bad job. After all, how could you do a good job with no upfront design, no long architecture phase, no detailed requirements? But what developers realised (either quickly or slowly, or perhaps not yet) was that agile values didn't mean doing a bad job, they meant doing a good job in a different way. Part of that was learning new skills and new ways to work. The software/programming community was lucky because they had early leadership in these skills and practices.

The feedback I've gotten in the past from UX folk was essentially "when we're in an agile project we can't work the way we work now", to which my answer was a resounding YES! You (as a profession) need to find new ways to work that produce good results faster. It's not your fault that those techniques don't exist yet, or that they may be hard to discover, but that doesn't invalidate the search. But I haven't done very well at explaining that.

However, practices for UX professionals on agile projects are emerging now, and Jeff Patton has done a good job of describing the practices that he sees working in this context. Moving to agile development means developing new approaches for everyone involved, and it's good that this is now a little easier for UX.

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