UX and Agile

How does a Global UX Vision fit into an agile environment? How can teams operate independently while maintaining a coherent overarching UX? At a recent Agile UX SIG meetup we discussed how to manage global UX in an agile environment. The session began with a lightning talk to frame the discussion that followed. The slides are here.

The Pain Point

Good global UX must provide users enough consistency to avoid confusion and make a site intuitive. Agile development environment places a premium on rapid innovation and autonomous development at the team level. How do you best address these constraints simultaneously?

Analogous Problems

An analogous problem exists in the technology space with systems architecture. Good architecture gives developers and maintainers enough consistency and modularity to minimize overhead and maximize functionality. Similar problems also occur in marketing across product lines, and in the creation of a product vision that applies to multiple products. Talk to people in your organization who address these sibling problems to gather ideas that may apply to your global UX concerns.

The Trade-Off

The main trade-off to manage here is that between innovation and consistency. Excessive focus on UX consistency may stifle innovation. Excessive innovation may generate unacceptable UX inconsistency. A good approach balances the trade-off appropriately for the products under development, fostering innovation while ensuring the continuing incorporation of that innovation into the overarching UX design.

Three Approaches

Here are three approaches to managing the trade-off between innovation and consistency in UX.

Consistency First

Some organizations try to complete global UX up front and then implement it across all products. They say things like “We are reimagining the global UX”. This approach serializes design and implementation and separates the two.

I have yet to see such an initiative succeed. Some went on literally for years, producing extremely creative but speculative design that customers and users never saw. The Consistency First approach resembles waterfall development, and relies on a risky assumption that your design will survive contact with the customer or user after implementation.

Innovation First

Some organizations let teams create their own UX as they develop. They design and implement UX inline with other development. This approach risks creating inconsistent or incoherent UX as different teams implement common workflows separately, ultimately confusing or alienating users.

Evolutionary

This approach falls between Consistency First and Innovation First. Inconsistency introduced by innovation is resolved by strong feedback integrate these developments into the global UX design. This approach assumes that users can tolerate the inconsistency that results from innovation. The degree of tolerance itself may be subject to experimental validation.

The Evolutionary approach provides the necessary balance between innovation and consistency. It preserves team autonomy in development without confusing users. But it requires very strong and frequent feedback on the results of innovation.

Recommendations

To implement the evolutionary approach, adopt the following practices:

Test user tolerance of inconsistency

Don’t simply assume that your users tolerate one degree of inconsistency or another. Experiment and find out! That way you will understand your risk of user alienation from UX innovation.

Require consistency only as needed

Create global UX conventions that maintain the necessary consistency. Avoid additional constraints that hamper UX innovation.

Establish innovation boundaries for teams

Draw up clear guidelines for teams indicating what UX conventions they must follow and where they are free to innovate. Make sure teams stay up to date and use these guidelines.

Align global UX at high-frequency across teams

Form a Community of Practice (sometimes called Center of Excellence) for people in UX roles across all teams. This group consists of people in the same roles, and serves as the clearing house for sharing innovation from one team to another. This group can also incorporate that innovation into the global UX definition, and update the guidelines for the teams.

Adopting these practices will give you the leeway you need to innovate while maintaining the consistency your customers and users demand.

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