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Agile is a set of principles used in product, service and software development in which requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams.
The mode and style of project delivery is vital in today’s fast paced digital economy. In the past there was a focus on phased approaches to design and implementation called Waterfall where phases of research, opportunity definition, design and implementation were completed in sequence as discreet and separate activities.
Agile shifts the emphasis to speed of implementation with continuous development, where decision making, feature creation, prioritisation and quality is the responsibility of the team. Teams identify change candidates based in business and/or user needs then define and prioritise epics and stories in a series of time boxed activities using sprints that result in a continuous cycle of releases.
The product is built and scaled quickly and features are added or change based on the size of the task, dependencies, benefit to the business, cost of delay and benefit to the user.
Agile enables an organisation to build at speed and scale starting with a Minimal Marketable Viable Product (MMVP) or Minimal Marketable Viable Service (MMVS) with enhancements and additional features built and released subsequently.
Agile is a set of principles used in conjunction with Scrum. Agile Scrum has short fixed schedule of release cycles with adjustable scope known as sprints to address rapidly changing development needs. A Scrum process is distinguished from other agile processes by specific concepts and practices, divided into the three categories of Roles, Ceremonies (also Events or meetings) and Artifacts.
It’s important to include user research and insights discovery before beginning a sprint cycles and to undertaken regular and periodic usability testing along with regression testing and performance assessment.
Human Centred Design & Contextual Research
Understanding users needs and importantly their desires is critical in developing successful products and services. Increasingly ‘wants’ rather than ‘needs’ motivate customers. For example, customers ‘need’ to text messages but they ‘want’ an intuitive easy to use interface. Customers want a great experience that comes with the social cache of owning a premium brand. In short customers are seeking self-actualisation and they are willing pay a premium for it!
To understand ‘wants’ and ‘desires’ we need to intimately know and understand our customers – their attitudes, motivations, values and goals. To do this we need to undertake sustained research at the beginning and throughout a project through ‘conversations’ and contextual or immersive workshops. However, we need to work quickly and with agility, without over committing resource to design directions that might fail in the market place.
This is where Lean (or WAgile) becomes attractive. It takes the best aspects and the benefits of Waterfall and Agile to combine them with HCD and Design Thinking to enable teams discover opportunities and then deliver at speed and scale. Lean (WAgile) is an iterative design and innovation approach that employs contextual research (using research operations), evidenced-based decision making applying design thinking (using designops), uses business science and data-informed strategy to set-direction and DevOps to build, deliver new products and services quickly.
At the beginning of the Lean process we use both contextual inquiry techniques and data analytics to discover who is the ‘customer’ and what are their desires, needs and goals. We balance this with the business needs as we identify new opportunities in markets and which technologies are enablers to deliver value.
This means working closely with current and potential customers. The process starts with Contextual Inquiry (CI) using ethnographic research augmented with data driven strategies where we use data garnered from customer interactions through owned, paid, earned and shared media. Each point of contact and touchpoint with the customer is an opportunity to harvest information and data to gain insights.
Stories are the common currency of the agile organisation
An important tool in the Agile process are Stories; the common currency of design. We describe customers tasks and goals through user stories that in turn become features and functions to design and build.
Framing the problem, defining the opportunity areas and designing solutions are based on User Stories. Then workstreams and sprints are forumlated based on MoSCoW principles working with users and the core team. This is part of the continual dialogue and conversation model with customers.
Working sometimes only a day or two ahead of the software developers, the designers use ‘Evidencing’ to bring concepts to life. Evidencing involves creating objects or ‘props’ to act out scenarios and create Rapid Experience Prototypes. The prototypes explore the way a proposed MVP and design concept will feel and perform.
By ‘Evidencing’ concepts we can animate and interact with concepts to assess their usefulness in an iterative process with users. This results in tangible evidence (as wells as stills and videos) that enables the core team make early informed judgments about the implications of the design concept.
Based on the outcomes and insights of Evidencing, the user stories are refined and translated into detailed features and specs. The information architectures are refined, wireframes are created, GUI assets are created and coding begins.
Lean is a fast, efficient and cost effective way to define and delivery new products and services or improve tired products and services.