Lean UX: Looking Under the Hood of the UX Research & Design Sprint

Lean UX - a detailed look at the chreography between UX Researchers and UX DesignersMost ‘Lean UX’ or ‘integrating UX into Agile’ articles are very good at explaining the higher level process between the User Experience (UX) and Development teams, but what about the interaction within the UX team itself?

My last article, Sprint Ahead or Just in Time – Integrating UX into Agile covered the pros and cons of the two of most popular methods of integrating UX into Agile, for this article I’ll focus on ‘Sprint Ahead.’

A great metaphor for the ‘Sprint Ahead’ model of UX into Agile (or Lean UX) is the 4×100-meter relay, where a baton is handed off between runners. The key to success is for one runner to get up to speed before their segment of the race, so the baton is handed off between two runners moving at top speed.

The key to success in ‘Sprint Ahead’ is in the hand-offs; handing off great designs built on solid research to the Development Team just as they begin their sprint. Similarly, the UX Researchers and Designers are also running their own mini 4×100-meter relay.

So what does the UX Sprint look like? Let’s say the project is using a standard two-week Sprint.

I created this visual guide to make it easier to follow:

Week One

UX Researchers

Having done recruiting and scheduling at the tail end of the previous UX sprint (I’ll get into more detail about that later), the UX Researchers start by conducting studies focused on the User Stories for the next Development sprint. The researchers conduct interviews, card sorts and other field work to get Sprint specific user data. The data is then used to update key artifacts such as Personas, Scenarios or Journey Maps.

Upon reading the previous paragraph, UX Researchers often let out a long breath thinking about how much work they could be in for in a single week. There’s an important caveat, they should be updating the artifacts, not creating them from scratch.

A baseline of UX Research is typically done in Sprint 0 (yes, I can hear the Agile purists out there groaning), but it’s critical to have a broader spectrum of UX Research done up front to guide future efforts.

While the Development teams are standing up environments, the UX Researchers should be very busy conducting broad, formal research and turning that research into artifacts for a deep repository of UX information to draw upon later. The purpose of Week One for UX Researchers is to refine and update the UX information so it is as accurate and specific to the upcoming Development Sprint as possible.

UX Designers

The first week of the UX Sprint is spent primarily with the Development Team, presenting the designs the Development Team will code. The Designers should be attending planning meetings, answering any and all questions and making adjustments to the designs as needed.

Once the designs are firmly handed off to the Development Team, the UX Designers spent the remainder of their Week One focusing on designing ‘Universals’ and updating the Style Guide.

Universals are those interaction elements and styles that aren’t Sprint specific such as buttons, sliders, navigation and typography.

Week Two

Mid-way through the UX Sprint, there’s an important hand-off. The UX researchers hand off their refined data to the Designers so they may begin creating the look and feel of the next Development Sprint.

UX Researchers

Just as the UX Designers present their designs and make themselves available to the Development Team at the beginning of the Development Sprint, the UX Researchers now make themselves available to UX Designers mid-way through the UX Sprint. The Researchers review their findings and updated artifacts with the Designers so what they create will be based on solid data.

Once the refined data and update artifacts have been firmly handed off to the Designers, the Researchers go back to what the Development Team produced in the previous Development Sprint and begin Usability Testing (UT). Findings from the Usability Testing are added to the Backlog for future correction.

In addition to Testing, the UX Researchers should also be conducting recruiting for the upcoming UX Sprint, both for Research and UT.

There are two schools of thought on recruiting. The first is to set up a few individuals for recurring appointments (every two weeks). The advantage of recurring appointments is it makes recruiting very easy, the disadvantage is you’re testing and conducting research with the same people over and over which can skew your results. For example, is the application really getting easier or are the testers just getting more experienced. The second option is to have a larger pool of people on stand by and do recruiting each Sprint. While recruiting each Sprint is more time consuming, it will get better UX results.

UX Designers

The second week of the UX Sprint is spent designing, typically low-fidelity to high-fidelity based on the updated research. However, many Designers often skip the low-fidelity and jump straight to high-fidelity design. If you or your Designers tend to skip the low-fidelity design step, checking in the Researchers early and often will save you a lot of re-work.

While the UX Sprint can take a sprint or two to get the hand-offs passing smoothly, the results are usually spectacular, with great designs built on solid research.

And with that, like any good mechanic, I’ll close the hood, hand you the keys and wish you well.

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