Making UX & Scrum work

With the tremendous boost in the area of digitalization, the application of agile software development approach is becoming more and more a standard. Scrum in particular is seen as a popular management methodology that reduces complexity in work. It provides speedy communication, social integration, control and coordination mechanism that when used correctly, is especially useful for most companies – SMEs, large corporations and even agencies.

However, there is a widespread situation with most UX professionals encountering difficulty with integrating user experience into IT driven Scrum teams and processes.

A very common problem is that ‘native’ scrum teams are usually composed of technical people, business consultants and project managers; UX designers are usually not assigned with a full team member role, but rather with an assisting role to supply with visual materials prior to a sprint.

However, this is a misleading approach, which minimizes the creative potential of an agile working process, and promotes execution, rather than iteration.


The basic Scrum philosophy


To understand the problem of having IT and UX people collaborating, one needs to look at the differences: While both agile and UX share similar practices, they support different values – valuing individuals and interactions over processes and tools.


When people of different finesse come together, it is plausible for those with the same backgrounds to form teams within a team. Unfortunately it is not integration when there are separate teams of different roles, working on various goals, at dispersed locations. Scrum performs best as a unified team when there are UX designers, developers, architects, testers, scrum master, product owner, etc.


Hence the idea of Scrum is having only one ‘backlog’- which is the product ‘backlog’, and there will be no separate ‘backlog’ for designers or developers. Everyone attends planning, demo and a daily stand-up meeting that serves as a reinforcement of team progress.


Understanding how UX designers work


This is where one of the main challenges prevail, the creative process for UX designers is more aligned to the traditional waterfall methodology, thus it is more complexed in nature to adapt to agile which is an iterative approach.


From our experience UX is adapted into the Scrum process in three main project phases- UX phase (before sprint), development phase (during sprint) and optimization phase (after phase). The primary function of the UX designer is to support the team striving to complete each sprint. Given the opposing processes between UX and Scrum, a good way is to implement ‘sprint zero’- indicating that the UX designers should always be one sprint ahead from the developers.


Using sprint zero for creative freedom


Sprint zero is a preliminary sprint dedicated exclusively to prepare for the first sprint, during which the product owner cooperate with the UX designers to define features and create wireframes. The UX designers are allowed freedom to address initial design concerns, some designs should be completed, and clear direction is given. Designers are creative people, more often than not, they iterate. Hence this is a huge sanction for them to work ahead of deliverables for the development sprint.


Review, Support Implementation, Repeat


Within the initial UX phase, all developers (IT/UX) work together on the product vision and assist the product owner to set up the initial backlog (on a very low level). The team examines the specifications, and define the development and feasibility checks required for all user stories. During the sprint in development phase, the main priority for the UX designer is to support features and functions being created and implemented (after the basic grid/framework is finished). Finally at the optimization phase (after sprint), the UX for the completed work must be reviewed to ensure that the design is delivering the best visuals that can be possibly produced.


Three approaches on how to integrate UX


In the perfect scenario, all UX employees are part of the Scrum team and are also located in the same office as all other Scrum team members. Each team member is able to acquire feedback from others conveniently and can deliver every task that is needed to be done.


Another approach is an internal UX team supporting the Scrum team, whenever assistance is required. This team could also support multiple Scrum teams within the organization.


Finally, the third approach is an external UX team (for example from an agency) supporting the company’s internal Scrum team during the whole product development, from product vision to even after the product launch. In general, this works similar to the internal UX team except that the employees are managed by another company.


No matter which setup, Collaboration is Key.


A close collaboration between UX and IT department is inevitable despite the different team structures, whether it is an ideal Scrum team, internal or external UX team. Every setup has its advantages and disadvantages, so you should review your previous projects and examine different possibilities to optimize your internal processes and projects. Much is depended on the company’s status in the transformation to an agile project development for the best model fit.


As with agile software development itself, your company’s transformation is also a constant cycle of measuring, analyzing, optimizing and testing. You will go through numerous likelihoods, to find the right way to implement an efficient workflow between your Scrum team and any UX team.


By recognizing that everyone can provide valuable insight into UX, feedback channels are expanded and ultimately, improves the delivered UX.


In our whitepaper we carry out an extensive case study on these challenges faced, discussing different team structures and project phases. We will also share our opinion and experience to give you a guidance on how you can improve your Scrum projects.


Download the whitepaper here