Is UX research too slow for agile?

May 2, 2016 10:34 am

Is UX research too slow for agile?

Leeds Digital Festival panelMany thanks to everyone who came along to our breakfast event to hear panellists from Sky Betting & Gaming, BGL Group, NHS England and WalmartLabs debate whether UX research is too slow for agile.

Here’s a summary of the questions posed by our Senior UX Practitioner, Dr Lucy Buykx and the responses from the panel.

Throughout the panel it was clear that user research was at the forefront of Agile, but some important questions were posed:

  • What impact does Agile have on your company?
  • How does user research fit into Agile?
  • Do we work in a truly Agile environment?
  • What type of feedback from UX research helps promote an Agile delivery?
  • What impact does Agile have on your company?

What impact does Agile have on your company?

“It’s all about an experiment, and if the experiment works or fails, that helps you move forwards.”
– Matt Watson-Power, Walmart Labs

Starting the discussion was Steve Maile, Senior Customer Experience Designer from BGL Group.
Steve supports an Agile working environment, emphasising the ‘all hands’ approach, where all members of the team are involved at all stages of the process. Steve believes this is crucial to a productive Agile workplace. Matt Watson-Power, Senior UX Architect at Walmart Labs explained that Agile is used within his company in two different ways. One being discovery research, which involves investigating previously unexplored areas of the site, to provide insight into issues which may need re-design work; and secondly using an Agile methodology to test assumptions and ultimately deciding what the next steps should be.

How does user research fit into Agile?

“Test as early and as often as possible.” – Mark Hutton, Sky Betting & Gaming

When asked whether user research should be conducted internally or externally, Mark Hutton, Head of User Experience at Sky Betting & Gaming was quick to point out the benefits of both. While Sky do guerrilla testing or “corridor testing” with colleagues, Mark also clearly stated the benefits of outsourcing research work and observing real users, with non-biased opinions. Mark stressed that big research, although qualitative in nature, needs backing up with quantitative data, such as A/B testing. Mark noted that the key to successfully integrating user research into Agile working practices is to have the team present for the research, so that they can start making rapid changes to the design based on the results that they have seen. Steve Maile was quick to agree with this, however he highlighted that although Agile working speeds things up, sometimes having the team present for all of the research can slow things down significantly.

Ben Gildersleve, E-Referral Service Program Head at NHS Digital, commented that it was important to make sure that the right people were doing the work, and that in an ideal situation, a user researcher would be working in tandem with the designer. This was a view shared by all our panellists, yet they were also quick to point out the expense that this could cost a team, and in certain situations is just not feasible. In these circumstances it may be best to seek the help of a user research agency to conduct testing on parts of your website which require the most development.

Do we work in a truly Agile environment?

“It’s massively important to get the right people doing the right work.” – Ben Gildersleve, NHS Digital

When posed the question of how well Agile is integrated into the workplace, Matt Watson-Power explained that while one part of the team may be working in a completely Agile way, other colleagues may still be working in a waterfall structure, with Steve Maile recognising that this is often the case when interacting with senior stakeholders. While teams may be working in an Agile way full implementation of the method can be limited as overall projects are often funded in a more waterfall way.

Mark Hutton emphasised integrating user satisfaction into every Agile project, citing an example from his previous company Commonwealth Bank of Australia; and how user research helped increase user satisfaction. He stated that without Agile this would not have been possible.

What type of feedback from UX research helps promote an Agile delivery?

“It’s best for everyone to see it with their own eyes.” – Steve Maile, BGL Group

When asked how to get the team most involved in user research, Steve Maile was quick to point out that nothing works better than watching a real user ‘bang their head against a wall’ when trying to work out your website. Steve said that when going to observe user research it is important to check your expectations at the door, and to trust in your users and the observations being made. While senior stakeholders may be impressed by a shiny website, this is not always the case for your users! Both Matt Watson-Power and Ben Gildersleve agreed, commenting that user research helps give the team confidence that they understand what the user wants.

What does this mean for user researchers?
While internal teams may be working in Agile sprints, external teams may hinder that timeline. Mark Hutton pointed out that waiting for reports and stakeholder availability for presentations may slow Agile teams down. However, Ben Gildersleve said that a written report which helps provide context to the issues raised by user research is still the most appropriate and persuasive means to communicate value of user research to stakeholders and the wider organisation.

To summarise, is user research too slow for Agile?.
No; while some forms may be at a slower pace, all panellists agreed UX research is essential for rapid development of products that meet users’ needs and with careful planning and adaptability, UX research is an effective contribution to Agile process.