Agile processes have posed a challenge for many UX researchers and designers who have found themselves working on the outside of a fast-moving development process. However, after making adjustments to better align UX work with development, agile environments actually bring significant benefits for UX professionals.
Lean UX has been a popular industry buzzword since the 2013 publication of Josh Seiden and Jeff Gothelf’s book introducing the concept. The book applies the Lean and Agile theories to the UX field and builds on a collection of key principles, including cross-functional teams, shared understanding, and “getting out of the deliverables business.”
In this post, we focus on the Lean UX principle of continuous discovery, the notion that user feedback should be gathered in an ongoing way throughout the development process. This principle is extremely valuable even if you don’t aim to follow every aspect of Lean UX.
Why you need to test iteratively
First of all, most software companies today use some form of agile process. This means that updates and new features are constantly being designed and developed – and should be evaluated. On one hand, the rapid iteration of releases may be difficult for UX teams to keep up with. On the other hand, it creates more opportunities to test and an environment in which research results can be addressed sooner. In the past, when testing could usually only be conducted near the end of a development process, research results might not be incorporated until the next release, which could be months away.
In addition, as we’ve mentioned in our article on analyzing and reporting on usability studies, testing can only reveal problems, not solutions – so you will always need to test again to see if your redesigns are effective or introduce new problems.
Besides testing proposed solutions to previously discovered issues, further studies will reveal deeper insights. As your revisions resolve the most obvious issues, subsequent tests will lead to more subtle or complex findings. Likewise, the more you test, the better you can understand how users perceive the basic structure and concept of the product or website.
Finally, ongoing testing is necessary to take a quantitative approach to evaluating UX. As we discussed in the article Is Usability Testing a Quantitative or Qualitative method?, one of the benefits of employing usability testing as a qualitative method is being able to track metrics over time. Naturally, this is only useful if measurements are taken more than once and at regular intervals.
How to do it
Now that you’re convinced, how do you actually set up a program of ongoing UX research?
The most important point is that you create a schedule to conduct some form of research at regular intervals. This might be once per week, per sprint, or per month, depending on your circumstances. The UK Government Design Service has a two-week rule: “We don’t design anything for more than two weeks without watching real end users interacting with it.”
Schedule your sessions in advance, even before you know what exactly you will test. This ensures that you won’t get caught up in other work and let research get pushed aside. The predictability of testing will also help establish a research culture in your team.
Of course, with such a short timeline, you need to get good at conducting studies quickly. Save time by systematizing your process – develop templates you can adapt for usability test plans, questionnaires, interview guides, findings reports, and whatever other methods you use.
Many UX teams have had success by staying one step ahead of development. Plan your research according to what the development team will work on in the next sprint. That way, the output of your research is ready just when developers need it. You can read more about this kind of sprint staggering technique in the Lean UX book.
If you’re a UX researcher or designer working with an agile team, use it to your advantage. An ongoing research program aligning testing with development sprints gives you the chance to test more questions, iterate on solutions, reach deeper insights, and track usability over time.