Welcome!

Microservices Expo Authors: Elizabeth White, Kong Yang, Yeshim Deniz, Pat Romanski, Jyoti Bansal

Related Topics: Microservices Expo, Java IoT, Microsoft Cloud

Microservices Expo: Article

Change on a Dime: Agile Design

Agile allows for a consistent stream of feedback from your client

What does it mean to have a good experience? Think of your favorite restaurant, the interior of your car, and the software on your phone: how do people craft these experiences? What details, planning, and design go into the process?

Would it be possible to create a great experience if you were limited from laying out a full design before you got started? That's the typical scenario in designing a user experience within the realm of agile software development. As a designer, how do you manage in an environment with such a quick pace and changing specifications? This article provides a brief overview of agile development and gives several tips for working as a designer in this environment.

Development Through Agile
In large part, the movement towards agile is a response to an industry perception of heavy, slow, and bloated software development. Specifically, agile is a movement away from the typical waterfall model of software development that requires an initial comprehensive design ("big design up front"). With the waterfall model, deliverables and the value from having a functioning product take the form of one bulk delivery near the end of the process. The drawbacks are that development can be delayed, come in over budget, or be irrelevant by the time the product is finished.

Agile was conceived as an alternative approach that delivers a constant stream of value through much smaller deliverables. Typically, agile development takes place through defined iteration cycles that are usually 1-2 weeks in length. At the end of each iteration, a customer-defined set of features, called a story, is delivered. Stories have their own progression through development (typically a backlog, in-process, review, and production queue) and are continuously prioritized by the client. This means requirements can change quite frequently through development. Along the way, refactoring takes place from time to time in order to ensure that features fit together into a single cohesive application.

The primary values of agile are to quickly deliver functioning software and allow for changes in requirements throughout development. As a designer, you may be asking yourself how (or why) requirement change is even allowed. Because no big design up front is delivered, developers can start working on simple features for clients that add immediate value. Although this potentially leads to a larger discussion as to what exactly is conveyed by the term "value," in this case, I am specifically talking about functioning (versus theoretical) software. Through agile development, changes are not only allowed but also expected.

Assume for a moment that you're tasked with creating a mobile travel application. Specifically, your client wants the user to be able to browse destinations, write reviews, and book travel. With agile, it's possible to deliver the smallest units of functionality (e.g., browse destinations) almost immediately. Furthermore, because feature sizes (i.e., the stories) are small, a large UX design may not immediately be necessary (or in some cases, budgeted). However, what this gives your client is a product that can stand on its own at any given time throughout development. It's important to clarify that deliverables prior to the final product will likely not provide a response to all problems the product set out to solve. That said, these deliverables will allow your client to see progress and steer the course of development as they see fit.

The sunny side of this methodology is it allows development to adapt to customer needs, budgets, innovations in the field, and potential ventures into uncharted territories (e.g., completely new concepts). The dark side encompasses the same notions that make it great: the client can change requirements at any time, features developed independently of one another may feel disjointed, and there is rarely time to create a comprehensive user-centric design.

As a designer, someone who is responsible for the end-user experience, how can you best react in such an environment? Let's take a moment to examine some of the more prominent issues as well as some possible solutions for working in this periodically unpredictable and sometimes volatile field.

Designing Without Design Upfront
The sooner you understand and internalize the fact that big upfront designs may not exist, the better. Because of the pace of an agile environment, it can be difficult to produce high-fidelity designs and systems ahead of development. The only exception may be when style or branding guidelines are clearly defined. Even then, you may actually be wasting your (and your client's) time by flushing out a high-fidelity mockup if requirements are to change.

Even though you will not likely have an opportunity to create a big upfront design, you may be able to take advantage of the period immediately before development begins (known as iteration zero). Try to get as much groundwork done as possible. If you're lucky enough to have direct contact with the client, ask as many questions at this time. What are they envisioning? What features are they aiming for? What theoretical features could be introduced? Why are they building the application? Who are their users? What would their ideal scenario be?

This information may save you from potential rework or dead ends in design.

Reacting to Course Change
The course of development may change at any time. This may cause frustration if the newly proposed idea deviates too far from a preconceived idea or design.

Let's jump back to our theoretical travel application and assume that after using the first implemented feature, your client wants to drop the ability to write reviews and instead provide the ability to message other users within the application. How do you react to this? While potentially frustrating, it's important to remind yourself of the client's current needs and requirements. Additionally, you must be able to separate and drop what is no longer needed. Sometimes this means removing something you just spent an entire day on; know that this is okay.

Keeping Designs Simple
Because the horizon may be unknown, try to keep all solutions and designs as simple as you possibly can. Reduce problems down to their lowest common denominator and create only what is necessary - nothing more, nothing less. Not only are such systems easier to maintain, but they may also save you time in case something gets changed, added, or scrapped.

Simple and quick solutions may be all that are necessary. This means ditching perfectionism (pixel counters, I'm looking at you). However, this does not mean relinquishing your perspective on the entirety of the application. On the contrary, sometimes the most important time to consider your high-level design is when you're creating specific solutions. In any case, respond accordingly within the scope of stories, features, and iterations.

Maintaining Consistency Through Development
Even though a comprehensive application design may not be created, it is important to understand feature consistency and congruence. As a designer, one of your greatest challenges may be ensuring that all implemented pieces fit together into a single cohesive experience. One barrier may involve implementation problems; your design for a feature may be spot-on, but due to the quick pace of agile, it may not be fully (or properly) implemented. Because of this, it's important to review all stories that go through iterations.

Alternatively, sometimes your feature designs are properly implemented but the over-arching design feels disjointed. To combat this, try creating a low-fidelity task flow diagram or outline to keep in mind how it all should fit. Not only does this give you some sense of direction and context, but it can also provide your developers with immediate direction if needed.

At times, it will be necessary to jump out of the iterative flow and examine the whole system for congruency. Do components fit? If not, why? As you work through these potential problems, keep in mind the scope of your iteration and deliverables. Refactoring for the sake of consistency is great, but if it means holding up your development team, you may need additional planning for these efforts. Try creating stories specifically for reviewing and updating the UX of your product.

Avoiding the Design Vortex
As a designer, sometimes the most difficult activity to do is to stop designing. It's important to mind the scope and pace of agile, which sometimes means your prototypes will not be pixel perfect. That's okay. Just be able to communicate to your development team how everything should work.

One strategy for this is to conduct basic whiteboarding sessions with fellow designers and your development team. This allows your ideas to be quickly communicated and allows for technical validation of any solutions or features you are considering. If a more formal deliverable is required, try wireframing for multiple screens and layouts.

Considering Your Project
Even though agile development is quick, stay focused on your users, clients, personas, or the closest thing you have to visualize who will be using your product. It's important to be able to visualize who is using your application. How are they using it? Where will they be? Under what conditions? Keep this in mind and help others to understand the project.

And continually ask yourself if the product is still a success. It's really that simple. Is your client happy? Are the users happy? Though subjective, sometimes this is your only metric to check your efforts.

Last But Not Least
Design in an agile setting may be challenging (and even jarring), but it's not all bad. Agile allows for a consistent stream of feedback from your client. Because features are released each iteration, you can potentially gain continuous insight into how your designs are being interpreted and used. Though this provides no substitution for traditional user testing, client demonstrations do provide some level of feedback. In a way, agile may be a great training ground for designers as it provides an opportunity to create smaller, more manageable solutions with a rapid feedback cycle.

For some, creating an effective and memorable user-centric design within an agile environment may seem tricky. Then again, the challenge may also be fun and exciting. It's important to note that there is not one proven method or process that works best. Like all human interaction and patterns, we're still figuring this out. However, as long as you actively consider your end users and design with them in mind, you should do just fine.

More Stories By John Anderson

John Anderson is a User Experience Designer and Certified Usability Analyst at Asynchrony Solutions, Inc. (www.asolutions.com), a leader in Agile software development. He collaborates with a variety of teams in the industries of health care, real estate, and government focused on crafting custom mobile and web applications. For more information, visit http://blog.asolutions.com.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@MicroservicesExpo Stories
Enterprise architects are increasingly adopting multi-cloud strategies as they seek to utilize existing data center assets, leverage the advantages of cloud computing and avoid cloud vendor lock-in. This requires a globally aware traffic management strategy that can monitor infrastructure health across data centers and end-user experience globally, while responding to control changes and system specification at the speed of today’s DevOps teams. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Josh Gray, Chie...
In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Scott Davis, CTO of Embotics, will discuss how automation can provide the dynamic management required to cost-effectively deliver microservices and container solutions at scale. He will discuss how flexible automation is the key to effectively bridging and seamlessly coordinating both IT and developer needs for component orchestration across disparate clouds – an increasingly important requirement at today’s multi-cloud enterprise.
To more closely examine the variety of ways in which IT departments around the world are integrating cloud services, and the effect hybrid IT has had on their organizations and IT job roles, SolarWinds recently released the SolarWinds IT Trends Report 2017: Portrait of a Hybrid Organization. This annual study consists of survey-based research that explores significant trends, developments, and movements related to and directly affecting IT and IT professionals.
Developers want to create better apps faster. Static clouds are giving way to scalable systems, with dynamic resource allocation and application monitoring. You won't hear that chant from users on any picket line, but helping developers to create better apps faster is the mission of Lee Atchison, principal cloud architect and advocate at New Relic Inc., based in San Francisco. His singular job is to understand and drive the industry in the areas of cloud architecture, microservices, scalability ...
Keeping pace with advancements in software delivery processes and tooling is taxing even for the most proficient organizations. Point tools, platforms, open source and the increasing adoption of private and public cloud services requires strong engineering rigor – all in the face of developer demands to use the tools of choice. As Agile has settled in as a mainstream practice, now DevOps has emerged as the next wave to improve software delivery speed and output. To make DevOps work, organization...
In his general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Manish Dixit, VP of Product and Engineering at Dice, discussed how Dice leverages data insights and tools to help both tech professionals and recruiters better understand how skills relate to each other and which skills are in high demand using interactive visualizations and salary indicator tools to maximize earning potential. Manish Dixit is VP of Product and Engineering at Dice. As the leader of the Product, Engineering and Data Sciences team at D...
Is your application too difficult to manage? Do changes take dozens of developers hundreds of hours to execute, and frequently result in downtime across all your site’s functions? It sounds like you have a monolith! A monolith is one of the three main software architectures that define most applications. Whether you’ve intentionally set out to create a monolith or not, it’s worth at least weighing the pros and cons of the different architectural approaches and deciding which one makes the most s...
Cloud Expo, Inc. has announced today that Aruna Ravichandran, vice president of DevOps Product and Solutions Marketing at CA Technologies, has been named co-conference chair of DevOps at Cloud Expo 2017. The @DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo New York will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, and @DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo Silicon Valley will take place Oct. 31-Nov. 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
This recent research on cloud computing from the Register delves a little deeper than many of the "We're all adopting cloud!" surveys we've seen. They found that meaningful cloud adoption and the idea of the cloud-first enterprise are still not reality for many businesses. The Register's stats also show a more gradual cloud deployment trend over the past five years, not any sort of explosion. One important takeaway is that coherence across internal and external clouds is essential for IT right n...
Back in February of 2017, Andrew Clay Schafer of Pivotal tweeted the following: “seriously tho, the whole software industry is stuck on deployment when we desperately need architecture and telemetry.” Intrigue in a 140 characters. For me, I hear Andrew saying, “we’re jumping to step 5 before we’ve successfully completed steps 1-4.”
In large enterprises, environment provisioning and server provisioning account for a significant portion of the operations team's time. This often leaves users frustrated while they wait for these services. For instance, server provisioning can take several days and sometimes even weeks. At the same time, digital transformation means the need for server and environment provisioning is constantly growing. Organizations are adopting agile methodologies and software teams are increasing the speed ...
Software as a service (SaaS), one of the earliest and most successful cloud services, has reached mainstream status. According to Cisco, by 2019 more than four-fifths (83 percent) of all data center traffic will be based in the cloud, up from 65 percent today. The majority of this traffic will be applications. Businesses of all sizes are adopting a variety of SaaS-based services – everything from collaboration tools to mission-critical commerce-oriented applications. The rise in SaaS usage has m...
The proper isolation of resources is essential for multi-tenant environments. The traditional approach to isolate resources is, however, rather heavyweight. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Igor Drobiazko, co-founder of elastic.io, drew upon his own experience with operating a Docker container-based infrastructure on a large scale and present a lightweight solution for resource isolation using microservices. He also discussed the implementation of microservices in data and application integrat...
We'd all like to fulfill that "find a job you love and you'll never work a day in your life" cliché. But in reality, every job (even if it's our dream job) comes with its downsides. For you, the constant fight against shadow IT might get on your last nerves. For your developer coworkers, infrastructure management is the roadblock that stands in the way of focusing on coding. As you watch more and more applications and processes move to the cloud, technology is coming to developers' rescue-most r...
2016 has been an amazing year for Docker and the container industry. We had 3 major releases of Docker engine this year , and tremendous increase in usage. The community has been following along and contributing amazing Docker resources to help you learn and get hands-on experience. Here’s some of the top read and viewed content for the year. Of course releases are always really popular, particularly when they fit requests we had from the community.
Today we can collect lots and lots of performance data. We build beautiful dashboards and even have fancy query languages to access and transform the data. Still performance data is a secret language only a couple of people understand. The more business becomes digital the more stakeholders are interested in this data including how it relates to business. Some of these people have never used a monitoring tool before. They have a question on their mind like “How is my application doing” but no id...
Even for the most seasoned IT pros, the cloud is complicated. It can be difficult just to wrap your head around the many terms and acronyms that make up the cloud dictionary-not to mention actually mastering the technology. Unfortunately, complicated cloud terms are often combined to the point that their meanings are lost in a sea of conflicting opinions. Two terms that are used interchangeably (but shouldn't be) are hybrid cloud and multicloud. If you want to be the cloud expert your company ne...
SYS-CON Events announced today that CollabNet, a global leader in enterprise software development, release automation and DevOps solutions, will be a Bronze Sponsor of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, taking place from June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. CollabNet offers a broad range of solutions with the mission of helping modern organizations deliver quality software at speed. The company’s latest innovation, the DevOps Lifecycle Manager (DLM), supports Value S...
The human body is the most complex machine ever created! With a complex network of interconnected organs, millions of cells and the most advanced processor, human body is the most automated system in this planet. In this article, we will draw comparisons between working of a human body to that of a datacenter. We will learn how self-defense and self-healing capabilities of our human body is similar to firewalls and intelligent monitoring capabilities in our datacenters. We will draw parallels b...
Cloud adoption is often driven by a desire to increase efficiency, boost agility and save money. All too often, however, the reality involves unpredictable cost spikes and lack of oversight due to resource limitations. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Joe Kinsella, CTO and Founder of CloudHealth Technologies, will tackle the question: “How do you build a fully optimized cloud?” He will examine: Why TCO is critical to achieving cloud success – and why attendees should be thinking holisticall...