Leaner, more agile

This week, I’m attending a few days of training in agile software development, in an Innovel course titled Lean, Agile and Scrum for Project Managers and IT Leadership.

My first exposure to agile was in Desiree Sy‘s 2005 presentation, Strategy and Tactics for Agile Design: A design case study, to the Usability Professionals Association (UPA) annual conference in Montreal, Canada. It was a popular presentation then, and UPA-conference attendees continue to be interested in agile methods now. This year, at the UPA conference in Portland, USA, a roomful of usability analysts and user-experience practitioners discussed the challenges that agile methods present to their practice. One of the panellists told the room: “Agile is a response to the classic development problem: delivering the wrong product, too late.” There was lots of uncomfortable laugher at this. Then came the second, thought-provoking sentence: “Agile shines a light on the rest of us, since we are now on the critical path.” Wow! So it’s no longer developers, but designers, usability analysts, etc, who are holding up the schedule?

An agile loadDuring this week’s training, I’m learning lots while looking for one thing in particular: how to ensure agile methods accommodate non-developer activities, from market-facing product management activities, to generative product design, to early prototype testing, to usability testing, and so on.

I’m starting to suspect that when agile methods “don’t work” for non-developers, it’s because the process is wagging the dog (or that its “rules” are being applied dogmatically). I think I’m hearing that agile isn’t a set of fixed rules—so not a religion—but a sensible and flexible method that team members can adapt to their specific project and product.

Validating your development method

On Agile product design, I read:

If you tell someone about a great idea, and they say “That’s a great idea,” it’s not a pattern.

If you tell someone a great idea, and they say “Yes, we do something like that too,” that’s a pattern.

 Exactly! That’s why I speak about Five Sketches™ at conferences and professional development sessions. And that’s why I post and write about everything I come across that’s similar to Five Sketches™.

Design Studio was the first undeniable indication that we’ve solved a problem that others in software development and web development are experiencing. That’s because the Design Studio method is very similar to Five Sketches™. Two completely separate teams, in different countries, came up with nearly the same solution to their respective design-process challenges. Design Studio was developed at Jewelry TV by Jeff White and Jim Ungar.

I do that, too!

Here are some more methods and techniques that are similar to parts of Five Sketches­™.

  • Low-fidelity generative design. There’s a huge benefit to exploring and evaluating a range of interaction concepts while involving both business and technology partners. This is, in effect, the divergence stage of generative design advocated by Bill Buxton, and done with low-fidelity. Adaptive Path does this with sketchboarding. Five Sketches™ does this by using mixed teams to separately sketch five ideas per participant, and then iterating from there.
  • Parallel design. This is supported research and advocated in the book of guidelines from Usability.gov. To ensure parallel design, Desiree Sy at Autodesk uses interns to prototype 10 or more design solutions to a design problem.
  • There’s much more that’s already been posted on this site. Use the Search box on this site to look for posts about generative design, design studio, creative hacks, Leah Buley, Bill Buxton, Scott Berkun, Jeff White, and Jim Ungar.