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Integrating UX design into a DSDM project
Integrating UX design into a DSDM project

In This White paper

December 2015 | Agile Research Network | Agile Projects

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Created by the Agile Research Network

This first white paper resulting from research funded by the DSDM Consortium, looks at the challenges, working practices and lessons learned at DSDM members LShift Limited, a hi-tech software development company that works across a broad range of industries, languages and platforms.

Integrating user experience (UX) design into agile working is a challenge faced by many agile teams, not just those using DSDM. Although the work of UX designers and developers complements each other, the different goals, processes and working practices of developers and UX designers pose challenges in practice.

This white paper presents a chapter from the story of one organization’s journey to integrate UX design into the DSDM framework. It describes the difficulties they faced, working practices adopted and the lessons learned from their experiences of integrating UX designers into their DSDM agile process.

Interview with Mike Rowlands of LShift and Professor Helen Sharp of the Open University below

Remote working in an Agile team


Summary

Integrating user experience (UX) design into agile working is a challenge faced by many agile teams, not just those using DSDM. Although the work of UX designers and developers complements each other, the different goals, processes and working practices of developers and UX designers pose challenges in practice.

This white paper presents a chapter from the story of one organization’s journey to integrate UX design into the DSDM framework. It describes the difficulties they faced, working practices adopted and the lessons learned from their experiences of integrating UX designers into their DSDM agile process.

LShift is a hi-tech software development company that works across a broad range of industries, languages and platforms. They are probably best known for creating RabbitMQ. They faced four main challenges while integrating UX design into the DSDM framework:

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  • Communication between developers and UX designers: what is the relevant information that needs to be communicated, how to best communicate it, how to keep communication channels open and how to keep the emerging design implementation visible for feedback. Difficulties in these areas can cause frustration, problems with the technical feasibility of design solutions and mistaken expectations by the client.
  • Level of precision in upfront design: developers suggested five main reasons why “less is more” when it comes to design documentation ready for the start of developer involvement: prioritisation and de-scoping can lead to a waste of pixel perfect designs; some design issues will only be found once you start implementing; pixel perfect designs may increase resistance to making design changes; it is better to focus on functionality first and design as you go along; quality of designs can benefit from early input by developers.
  • Design documentation: the amount and detail of documentation needs to be discussed early on so that it meets both developers’ and designers’ requirements.
  • User testing: user testing can be a challenge in a product development setting if the business does not have customers yet. This can be addressed using personas and user representatives.
  • Several suggestions that would be compatible with LShift’s situation and would ameliorate these difficulties, were identified from existing literature and discussed with LShift management. Some of these have been adopted.

    Two roles in particular are relevant: an extended Business Analyst (BA) role and a hybrid Project Manager (PM). Communication problems arising between designers and developers can be overcome through a technically knowledgeable BA who acts as a bridge between the two disciplines, supported by a PM with both technical and design experience.

    Visibility and transparency of the work by both designers and developers was increased by involving developers in design and designers in development: the same designer attending all daily stand-ups; all designers and developers having access to all current stories; and releasing the implemented design to designers once a week.

    In this case study, subject matter experts delivered each area of the system, so there was no shortage of expertise. The main surprise was how quickly the shared understanding developed in the Feasibility and Foundations stage was lost once the teams started development.

    Why UX and DSDM?

    Producing high quality software that considers the needs of the users requires different professions to collaborate. While developers focus mainly on developing the code, user experience (UX) designers aim to provide the best possible user experience. Although the work of UX designers and developers complements each other and both aim to produce the best possible product for the customer, in practice designers and developers face challenges when working together.

    Developers and UX designers have roots in different disciplines. They follow different processes, have different perspectives on software development and different working cultures. These differences present difficulties when integrating UX design into software development. One of the default assumptions in DSDM and agile methods in general is that UX designers and technical developers cohabit the same physical space, yet this is often not the case. For example, in small organisations the appropriate resources may not be retained in-house and in the bigger organisations the retained resources may not be in the same office or even the same continent.

    This paper considers how UX design integrates with the DSDM method and presents some challenges faced by one DSDM Consortium member when integrating UX design into a DSDM project, together with the practices they adopted to overcome those complications. The case study was conducted by the Agile Research Network with a high-tech software development company which has a core expertise in software delivery and subscribes to the DSDM method.

    DSDM is an end-to-end framework for agile project management and delivery. The first version was published in 1995, and it has been developed through several versions since, with the most recent being the Agile Project Framework. The underlying philosophy is that projects must be aligned to strategic goals and focus on early delivery of real benefits to the business.

    The DSDM framework covers the full project lifecycle including roles, process, practices, and products. Phases include Pre-project, Feasibility, Foundations, Exploration, Engineering, Deployment, and Post-project. It’s highly configurable to accommodate a range of project types and size making it compatible with a variety of governance and programme office structures. The key practices used throughout the lifecycle are iterative development, MoSCoW prioritisation, Timeboxing, Modelling and Facilitated workshops. Additionally, DSDM provides a set of roles that ensures teams contain the right mix of representatives from the business, solution development, and management and process.

    LShift chose to use DSDM to manage this project as the project was being commissioned by a largely non-technical client, who required transparency and predictability of delivery, so the classic light-touch agile approach would not provide enough management or visibility over the rate of progress. DSDM provides a mature set of tools and processes that help communicate with clients new to the agile process.

    This white paper represents one chapter from the story of our case study company’s journey to integrate UX design into the DSDM framework. It is told from a viewpoint outside the project and the companies involved, i.e. the ARN researchers. The chapter begins during the engineering phase of the company’s latest design-oriented project. At this point the team were evolving their practices to address on-going challenges with UX design integration, and were looking ahead in order to anticipate the obstacles they might face in the future. ARN’s role was to help identify their current difficulties and suggest practices that might help to mitigate them. As the case study company had been working with UX designers for some time, they had already faced and overcome some challenges. We begin with some background prior to ARN’s engagement (Section 3), then describe the difficulties they still faced (Section 4) and suggestions for improvement from the literature (Section 5). Section 6 outlines what changes were implemented, and section 7 concludes the white paper. Integrating UX design into agile working is a challenge faced by many agile teams, not just those using DSDM!

    Download the full whitepaper here

     

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