Understanding User Centered Design within the Agile Philosophy

I break the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) into four phases, to help provide clarity. I have found the biggest challenge on the project is bridging the gap between design and development. Implementation of Scrum Methodologies into the Discovery, Strategy and Design phases can assist a projects ROI.

SDLC Planning Phase - Discovery Phase

You can't create a road map if you don't know where you are going.

The Discovery Phase is the initial phase of a project's development cycle. Research is an essential part of this phases. This is the initial phase of translating business and marketing needs into the technology needs that will be required to launch the project. In this phase research is done to obtain knowledge of the competition, the target audience, design styles, latest trends and marketing. I work with the technology team to discuss the current software and applications that are available, what re-writes will need to be done, additional resources in development, testing and business analyst. We will discuss whether seasoned teams will be utilized or if we will need to bring on new teams.This provides facts, in which to engage a strategy for design and execution.

If new teams are required, the discovery process will involve local talent pool vs extending the outreach to include talent out of the area. Utilization of external and internal recruiters will be discussed. A part of this discussion will be location.

  • Does the current facility have the available space to bring in another team?
  • Will we utilize remote resources?
  • Will we need to accommodate time zone differences?
  • Do we have the internal resources to lead the project?
  • Will we utilize an internal Product Owner to ensure the best interest of the company is being delivered?
  • Will we utilize an internal Scrum Master to ensure the best financial interest of the company is being utilized?
  • Will we utilize an internal Business Analyst who is familiar with the company lines of business that will integrate with the project?

User Centered Design, is never about personal opinions. All decisions that are made in the design are based upon the research and facts obtained. This ensures that the user is placed in the prominent position in the decision making process. CX or Customer Experience, is an important part of this research phase. User Experience is the relationship between the user and the product. This relationship translates into Customer Experience. CX is the emotional transition that transfers the user's feelings about a product to the relationship with the company.

This emotional connection between the user, product and company is the determining factor between a returning consumer or a one time consumer of a product or service. Consumer loyalty is driven by UX and CX. Where most companies struggle with, is their abiity to associate CX with the individuals who will be working on the project.

Team collaboration and creating a good environment for all team members is essential to the success of the project. The Discovery Phase includes training and implementation of the company's culture to new members. Establishment of roles and responsibilities should be clearly defined and the onboarding process of the team should include training, role playing and team building activities to ensure that team has a clear understanding of the expectations of not only their own jobs, but their role in supporting other team members job responsibilities. As part of this training, conflict management and negotiations should be taught through role playing.

Research - System Questions

Scrum Framework can assist in this phase through implementation a backlog, spikes,

Research is an integral part of the development process. I seek to find solutions to the following research and marketing questions.

  • How does the users use the current system?
  • Is the system accessible?
  • What is the system's purpose?
  • Is the system's purpose clearly defined?
  • Does the system match real world expectations?
  • Does the system assist in task completion?
  • Does the user drive the system or does the system drive the user?
  • Does the user have to work around the system to complete task?

Scrum Framework Implementation

  • Backlog
  • User Stories
  • Acceptance Criteria
  • Backlog Grooming
  • Sprint Planning
  • Sprint
  • Sprint Review
  • Sprint Retrospective

Research - Market Questions

Marketing research ensures that the system is meeting the user's expectation.

  • What is the purpose?
  • Is our purpose clearly defined in the market place?
  • What is our market share?
  • Who is the target user?
  • Who is our competition?
  • How do we compare with our competition?
  • What draws users to our competition?
  • What can we implement to attrack our competition's users?

SDLC Defining Phase - Strategy Phase

Now that you know that there is a river you have to cross to get from point A to B, you can now discuss whether you will build a bridge for long term access, take a boat or swim.

The Strategy Phase involves the data obtained in the Discovery Phase. This data will provide real world information of the target audience. This phase is where design and development integrate. Ideally the team should be on-boarded and be a part of this process. This will help continue to develop team leadership and provide an early indication of how successful the team will collaborate. The rule Fail Fast applies. By utilizing the new team in the Strategy Phase, management can observe potential additional training that will need to occur with individuals or the team as a whole.

One of the first things that will be created in this phase, is the user persona. The Persona is never fiction based. It isn't something that is made up out of thin air. It is important to acknowledge that anyone who will be engaged with the product or service is a user and should be addressed in the persona creation through Use Case process charts.

The creation of the persona in the onset of the project, helps to keep egos in check. Having the team understand all the end users will assist in the Agile story creation. Teams should know who the external and internal users will be. This would include product user, clients, customer support, training, marketing and sales. Any individual who will have any interaction with the product should have a persona created. These should be hung in the team or strategy room so they are easily accessible and referenced to. This can also assist with conflict management. Should a disagreement arise, referencing the persona and the data collected will help to direct the conversation away from personal opinions back to the users of the product. The team should constantly be thinking of how their delivery of the project will effect the personal and work lives of those who will be using it on a daily basis.

Often times, we fail to take into consideration the support staff that will be assisting the user in ensuring a positive user experience. The user may only have access to the front end, but the support staff must be considered for the back end systems that they will be engaged with to ensure a positive front end user experience.

Several User Persona with various Use Cases, will help the team to maintain the user centered focus throughout the project cycle. Based upon the data gathered in the Discovery Phase, the persona is created. Not only should the team know who their competition is, but why the users are choosing their competition's product or service over the companies. If done correctly, demographic information will be a part of the research gathered to assist in defining the persona, with data driven accuracy. Presentation to other team members and stake holders should be conducted in the user's voice.

Defining the User

The Process - It's not about just making someone up.

  • Surveys
  • Interviews
  • Observations
  • Market Research
  • Competitive Analysis
  • Content Analysis
  • Site Analysis

The creation of a user persona isn't about just making up an individual from the development team's perspective. Persona's are created based off of research of current and potential users.

Once I complete the user research on the product and competition, I design personas that provide context of who the target audience is and their natural task flow process. This assist developers in developing user friendly systems, based upon the Use Case processes.

Scrum Framework Implementation

  • Backlog
  • User Stories
  • Acceptance Criteria
  • Backlog Grooming
  • Sprint Planning
  • Sprint
  • Sprint Review
  • Sprint Retrospective
Alyssa Persona

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Alyssa use case page 1.

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Alyssa use case page 2.

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SDLC Designing Phase - Design Phase

So you've decided that due to budget you will be taking a row boat. Everyone pick up a paddle and start rowing. This is where Design and Development continue to work together.

One's thoughts may immediately jump to visual design. The Design Phase not only addresses the visual but also the technical design of the project. In this phase the team should have a solid understanding of the project. Preliminary Visual should be presented to the team to provide a visualization of what is being developed.

A story planning workshop is another team building exercise that can be done with the team leaders to help build a strong leadership team. This will be extremely beneficial if the Product Owner, Business Analyst, Scrum Master and Solution Leads are new to the company or are contractors. Established company representatives would attend the workshop to provide training. This should include Product Owner, Business Analyst, Scrum Master, Solution Lead, Visual Design and Software Architect. By having an established group a part of the workshop, the new team members can observe how an established team leadership group collaborates effectively.

The initial step is to define the Epics that will be needed to categorize the stories. This will also be utilized to create an Execution Plan. Once the Epics have been define, the established team could start off with one or two story creation as a training exercise before stepping back and providing support for the new team leadership.

Make the workshop a fun one. This doesn't have to be a grueling and dreaded event. There should be a lot of laughter going on and the only tears are the ones rolling down because someone is laughing so hard. This is a prime opportunity for the company to help new hires and/or contractors be introduced to the company culture.

With the team all participating in the initial story creation process, every team leader can gain insight to what goes behind the scenes to create the work for the developers. This is the idea time to brain storm on what development will need in a story, timelines that will be needed for visual to be completion and a discussion on each team members role and responsibility for story creation. This will assist in conflict management so that team members are over stepping their responsibiity and causing conflict with other team leaders.

The workshop should provide the team with a quarter worth of groomed stories and a master story list. This will then allow the stories to be presented to the development team and have them begin to point. The stories should be so well defined that the developers only need a few moments to discuss before using the Fibonacci System. The Product Owner and Business Analyst can then proceed with putting together the master story list.

Ideally 80% of the project work should be able to be generated into stories for the team to work on. Having the master list of stories pointed will provide management the data they need to determine if delivery of the project will meet their expectations. Execution design of the visuals will continue to finalize the fine details of the project. At this point the team should then take a few days to review the stories and create a preliminary pointing of the stories for the project. Upon completion, an Execution Plan can be established.

The teams will need three iterations or sprints to develop their initial velocity. Iterations are usually done in one, two or three weeks. Therefore, it will take anywhere from 1 -3 months to obtain the teams initial velocity. Once that has been established, then a timeline for delivery date can be more accurate established.

The Design Phase is also where all the Execution Visual Design elements of the project is created. The visual design establishes a path for the user to follow, that meets their natural work flow process. Gathering data of the user's work flow process, is obtained in the Discovery Phase. When design is based upon facts, the elimination of personal preferences, conflicts amongst team members and lengthy discussion with stake holders are kept to a minimum. This allows for the project cycle to move ahead with minimal interruptions and delays.

Last, but certainly not least, the creation of a Workflow User Map should be created. This provides data visualization of the work that will be developed. Development teams and business leaders alike will be able to gain clarity to the project if this is implemented. All team members should be encouraged to pick this map apart. It is much easier to find issues with the process when it is on paper, than to discover it after 5000 lines of codes have been written.

Water Fall vs Agile

At this point, one may question if I have discussed a more Waterfall approach. For small businesses this level of refinement may not be needed. For larger corporations which have a trickle down effect when one project falls behind, will want to incorporate some type of the measures in their Agile practices. Waterfall approach doesn't allow for changes to occur. What you state at the beginning of the project is what get's delivered. Any new features are release in subsequent phases. Agile provides changes to be made throughout the project. As I stated earlier 80% should be done up front, leaving 20% room for modifiations. There are however, cases where the whole project has to be scratched and started over due to some unknown. But then... welcome to Agile.


Creating a natural path for the user to follow.

Icons assist in providing the user an easy to recognize path to accomplish a task. Icons compliment the system and visual design. Icon placement is hierarchical. They are system prominent rather than visual prominent.

Scrum Framework Implementation

  • Backlog
  • User Stories
  • Acceptance Criteria
  • Backlog Grooming
  • Sprint Planning
  • Sprint
  • Sprint Review
  • Sprint Retrospective

When I create icons, I begin with researching the system and the user's task flow. My primary objective is to develop a visual path that will enhance the user's experience.

Material Design Icons

Material Design Icon for help with grey background. Material Design Icon for map with grey background.
Material Design Icon for send with grey background. Material Design Icon for shop with grey background.
Material Design Icon for settings with grey background. Material Design Icon for trash with grey background.
Material Design Icon for help. Material Design Icon for map.
Material Design Icon for send. Material Design Icon for shop.
Material Design Icon for settings. Material Design Icon for trash.

Line Icons

Line style icon for Digital Art. Line style icon for Fashion Art.
Line style icon for Fine Art. Line style icon for Sketch Art.
Line style icon for home page. Line style icon for about page.

Character Icons

Character style icon for STEM. Character style icon for Math.
Character style icon for Technology. Character style icon for Engineering.
Character style icon for Math. Character style icon for Careers.
Character style icon for K12. Character style icon for resources.

Symbol Icons

Symbols icon of abstract people. Symbols icon of abstract sun.
Symbols icon of food. Symbols icon of airplane.
Symbols icon of dolphin in water. Symbols icon of water park shower.
Symbols icon of castle. Symbols icon of bird.
Symbols icon of convertible. Symbols icon of jeep.
Symbols icon of car with fat tires. Symbols icon of bird character car.
Symbols icon of Santa Symbols icon of presents.
Symbols icon of toys. Symbols icon of tree.

SDLC Building, Testing, Deployment Phases - Execution

Just when you thought you could see the shoreline and the end was within reach. Someone notices that the shoreline that you were heading towards has crocodiles waiting. Adjusting the plan.

The Execution Phase is the final phase of the project's life cycle. In this phase all the work in the Discovery, Strategy and Design Phases are executed to a tangible product or service for the user. Several teams are involved in the Execution Phase. Developers will be coding the system to ensure that the system matches the user's natural work flow process and runs efficiently and affectively. Marketing and Advertising will be executing the promotion of the new product and service. Training will have begun their implementing training for internal support and customer service.

It is in the Execution Phase, that all systems that the user will be engaged with, provides a positive user experience. This phase may include both front and back end systems that make up the product or service that the user will be engaged with. Pre-Launch Usability Testing should occur to ensure that the user's experience with have a positive emotional transition towards the company. This will assist in ensuring consumer loyalty and future product sales.

Every persona created is ramping up for a the successful launch. This is where tension can arise. This can also be a point where something unforeseen has developed which can create a massive change in what has been previously developed. Like I said... welcome to Agile.

When the stakes are high, upper management is on edge, it is the team that has to keep their heads and provide their expertise on solutions. Teams that can maintain their cool when things get heated are teams that can name their price should things go south and they find themselves in an unfortunate position that they need or desire to look for new work.

Management needs to be aware of the high value that these type of teams have to an organization. These are individuals who can easily be snatched up by another organization if the blame game starts to come down the pipeline.

The Project Life Cycle Wheel

Understanding that the project life cycle is a wheel, one can quickly go back to the Discovery phase.

  • A new Discovery has been found so research on the impact of that discovery.
  • Strategy then occurs on how to lesson the impact of what has already been developed that will still provide the best user experience to establish a positive customer experience.
  • Design of both visual and technical requirements to address the new discovery occurs.
  • Execution of the new direction begins. Trickle down adjustments may or may not be needed with marketing, sales, training and support

The System

Putting the user in control

We've all been there, some systems take longer for a task to be accomplished, than if we had just done it by hand! There is a natural correlation between the frustration level of the user and the emotional connection with the company. When frustration level is high, trust and confidence in the company is low.

The primary purpose of a system, is to enhance the user's experience and provide them with the ability to accomplish their task more efficiently and affectively.

Real world system development, engages all four phases of the project's development cycle in a collaborative, user focused process. The level of success that occurs during the product launch is a direct reflection of the collaboration and detail that was taken during the four phases.

  • Front and Back End System Development
  • Marketing and Promotional Launch
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Pre-Launch Usability Testing
  • Internal and External Training
  • Product Launch
  • Celebrate and move on to the next project!

Scrum Framework Implementation

  • Backlog
  • User Stories
  • Acceptance Criteria
  • Backlog Grooming
  • Sprint Planning
  • Sprint
  • Sprint Review
  • Sprint Retrospective