Welcome!

Microservices Expo Authors: Greg O'Connor, Daniel Khan, Sematext Blog, Pat Romanski, Lori MacVittie

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
It's been a busy time for tech's ongoing infatuation with containers. Amazon just announced EC2 Container Registry to simply container management. The new Azure container service taps into Microsoft's partnership with Docker and Mesosphere. You know when there's a standard for containers on the table there's money on the table, too. Everyone is talking containers because they reduce a ton of development-related challenges and make it much easier to move across production and testing environm...
Node.js and io.js are increasingly being used to run JavaScript on the server side for many types of applications, such as websites, real-time messaging and controllers for small devices with limited resources. For DevOps it is crucial to monitor the whole application stack and Node.js is rapidly becoming an important part of the stack in many organizations. Sematext has historically had a strong support for monitoring big data applications such as Elastic (aka Elasticsearch), Cassandra, Solr, S...
DevOps at Cloud Expo, taking place Nov 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 19th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long dev...
There's a lot of things we do to improve the performance of web and mobile applications. We use caching. We use compression. We offload security (SSL and TLS) to a proxy with greater compute capacity. We apply image optimization and minification to content. We do all that because performance is king. Failure to perform can be, for many businesses, equivalent to an outage with increased abandonment rates and angry customers taking to the Internet to express their extreme displeasure.
A company’s collection of online systems is like a delicate ecosystem – all components must integrate with and complement each other, and one single malfunction in any of them can bring the entire system to a screeching halt. That’s why, when monitoring and analyzing the health of your online systems, you need a broad arsenal of different tools for your different needs. In addition to a wide-angle lens that provides a snapshot of the overall health of your system, you must also have precise, ...
Monitoring of Docker environments is challenging. Why? Because each container typically runs a single process, has its own environment, utilizes virtual networks, or has various methods of managing storage. Traditional monitoring solutions take metrics from each server and applications they run. These servers and applications running on them are typically very static, with very long uptimes. Docker deployments are different: a set of containers may run many applications, all sharing the resource...
Right off the bat, Newman advises that we should "think of microservices as a specific approach for SOA in the same way that XP or Scrum are specific approaches for Agile Software development". These analogies are very interesting because my expectation was that microservices is a pattern. So I might infer that microservices is a set of process techniques as opposed to an architectural approach. Yet in the book, Newman clearly includes some elements of concept model and architecture as well as p...
SYS-CON Events announced today that 910Telecom will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Housed in the classic Denver Gas & Electric Building, 910 15th St., 910Telecom is a carrier-neutral telecom hotel located in the heart of Denver. Adjacent to CenturyLink, AT&T, and Denver Main, 910Telecom offers connectivity to all major carriers, Internet service providers, Internet backbones and ...
This complete kit provides a proven process and customizable documents that will help you evaluate rapid application delivery platforms and select the ideal partner for building mobile and web apps for your organization.
DevOps at Cloud Expo – being held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA – announces that its Call for Papers is open. Born out of proven success in agile development, cloud computing, and process automation, DevOps is a macro trend you cannot afford to miss. From showcase success stories from early adopters and web-scale businesses, DevOps is expanding to organizations of all sizes, including the world's largest enterprises – and delivering real results. Am...

Modern organizations face great challenges as they embrace innovation and integrate new tools and services. They begin to mature and move away from the complacency of maintaining traditional technologies and systems that only solve individual, siloed problems and work “well enough.” In order to build...

The post Gearing up for Digital Transformation appeared first on Aug. 29, 2016 04:30 PM EDT  Reads: 1,655

Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 19th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices - comp...
As the world moves toward more DevOps and Microservices, application deployment to the cloud ought to become a lot simpler. The Microservices architecture, which is the basis of many new age distributed systems such as OpenStack, NetFlix and so on, is at the heart of Cloud Foundry - a complete developer-oriented Platform as a Service (PaaS) that is IaaS agnostic and supports vCloud, OpenStack and AWS. Serverless computing is revolutionizing computing. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Raghav...
19th Cloud Expo, taking place November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy. Meanwhile, 94% of enterpri...
The following fictional case study is a composite of actual horror stories I’ve heard over the years. Unfortunately, this scenario often occurs when in-house integration teams take on the complexities of DevOps and ALM integration with an enterprise service bus (ESB) or custom integration. It is written from the perspective of an enterprise architect tasked with leading an organization’s effort to adopt Agile to become more competitive. The company has turned to Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) as ...

Let's just nip the conflation of these terms in the bud, shall we?

"MIcro" is big these days. Both microservices and microsegmentation are having and will continue to have an impact on data center architecture, but not necessarily for the same reasons. There's a growing trend in which folks - particularly those with a network background - conflate the two and use them to mean the same thing.

They are not.

One is about the application. The other, the network. T...

If you are within a stones throw of the DevOps marketplace you have undoubtably noticed the growing trend in Microservices. Whether you have been staying up to date with the latest articles and blogs or you just read the definition for the first time, these 5 Microservices Resources You Need In Your Life will guide you through the ins and outs of Microservices in today’s world.
This is a no-hype, pragmatic post about why I think you should consider architecting your next project the way SOA and/or microservices suggest. No matter if it’s a greenfield approach or if you’re in dire need of refactoring. Please note: considering still keeps open the option of not taking that approach. After reading this, you will have a better idea about whether building multiple small components instead of a single, large component makes sense for your project. This post assumes that you...
SYS-CON Events announced today that eCube Systems, a leading provider of middleware modernization, integration, and management solutions, will exhibit at @DevOpsSummit at 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. eCube Systems offers a family of middleware evolution products and services that maximize return on technology investment by leveraging existing technical equity to meet evolving business needs. ...
Before becoming a developer, I was in the high school band. I played several brass instruments - including French horn and cornet - as well as keyboards in the jazz stage band. A musician and a nerd, what can I say? I even dabbled in writing music for the band. Okay, mostly I wrote arrangements of pop music, so the band could keep the crowd entertained during Friday night football games. What struck me then was that, to write parts for all the instruments - brass, woodwind, percussion, even k...