Welcome!

Microservices Expo Authors: Scott Davis, Stackify Blog, Elizabeth White, Kelly Burford, Karthick Viswanathan

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
For DevOps teams, the concepts behind service-oriented architecture (SOA) are nothing new. A style of software design initially made popular in the 1990s, SOA was an alternative to a monolithic application; essentially a collection of coarse-grained components that communicated with each other. Communication would involve either simple data passing or two or more services coordinating some activity. SOA served as a valid approach to solving many architectural problems faced by businesses, as app...
It has never been a better time to be a developer! Thanks to cloud computing, deploying our applications is much easier than it used to be. How we deploy our apps continues to evolve thanks to cloud hosting, Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), and now Function-as-a-Service. FaaS is the concept of serverless computing via serverless architectures. Software developers can leverage this to deploy an individual "function", action, or piece of business logic. They are expected to start within milliseconds...
The cloud era has reached the stage where it is no longer a question of whether a company should migrate, but when. Enterprises have embraced the outsourcing of where their various applications are stored and who manages them, saving significant investment along the way. Plus, the cloud has become a defining competitive edge. Companies that fail to successfully adapt risk failure. The media, of course, continues to extol the virtues of the cloud, including how easy it is to get there. Migrating...
Some journey to cloud on a mission, others, a deadline. Change management is useful when migrating to public, private or hybrid cloud environments in either case. For most, stakeholder engagement peaks during the planning and post migration phases of a project. Legacy engagements are fairly direct: projects follow a linear progression of activities (the “waterfall” approach) – change managers and application coders work from the same functional and technical requirements. Enablement and develo...
Gone are the days when application development was the daunting task of the highly skilled developers backed with strong IT skills, low code application development has democratized app development and empowered a new generation of citizen developers. There was a time when app development was in the domain of people with complex coding and technical skills. We called these people by various names like programmers, coders, techies, and they usually worked in a world oblivious of the everyday pri...
While some developers care passionately about how data centers and clouds are architected, for most, it is only the end result that matters. To the majority of companies, technology exists to solve a business problem, and only delivers value when it is solving that problem. 2017 brings the mainstream adoption of containers for production workloads. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Ben McCormack, VP of Operations at Evernote, discussed how data centers of the future will be managed, how the p...
As DevOps methodologies expand their reach across the enterprise, organizations face the daunting challenge of adapting related cloud strategies to ensure optimal alignment, from managing complexity to ensuring proper governance. How can culture, automation, legacy apps and even budget be reexamined to enable this ongoing shift within the modern software factory? In her Day 2 Keynote at @DevOpsSummit at 21st Cloud Expo, Aruna Ravichandran, VP, DevOps Solutions Marketing, CA Technologies, was jo...
From manual human effort the world is slowly paving its way to a new space where most process are getting replaced with tools and systems to improve efficiency and bring down operational costs. Automation is the next big thing and low code platforms are fueling it in a significant way. The Automation era is here. We are in the fast pace of replacing manual human efforts with machines and processes. In the world of Information Technology too, we are linking disparate systems, softwares and tool...
You know you need the cloud, but you’re hesitant to simply dump everything at Amazon since you know that not all workloads are suitable for cloud. You know that you want the kind of ease of use and scalability that you get with public cloud, but your applications are architected in a way that makes the public cloud a non-starter. You’re looking at private cloud solutions based on hyperconverged infrastructure, but you’re concerned with the limits inherent in those technologies.
DevOps is good for organizations. According to the soon to be released State of DevOps Report high-performing IT organizations are 2X more likely to exceed profitability, market share, and productivity goals. But how do they do it? How do they use DevOps to drive value and differentiate their companies? We recently sat down with Nicole Forsgren, CEO and Chief Scientist at DORA (DevOps Research and Assessment) and lead investigator for the State of DevOps Report, to discuss the role of measure...
Is advanced scheduling in Kubernetes achievable?Yes, however, how do you properly accommodate every real-life scenario that a Kubernetes user might encounter? How do you leverage advanced scheduling techniques to shape and describe each scenario in easy-to-use rules and configurations? In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 21st Cloud Expo, Oleg Chunikhin, CTO at Kublr, answered these questions and demonstrated techniques for implementing advanced scheduling. For example, using spot instances and co...
The nature of test environments is inherently temporary—you set up an environment, run through an automated test suite, and then tear down the environment. If you can reduce the cycle time for this process down to hours or minutes, then you may be able to cut your test environment budgets considerably. The impact of cloud adoption on test environments is a valuable advancement in both cost savings and agility. The on-demand model takes advantage of public cloud APIs requiring only payment for t...
DevOps is under attack because developers don’t want to mess with infrastructure. They will happily own their code into production, but want to use platforms instead of raw automation. That’s changing the landscape that we understand as DevOps with both architecture concepts (CloudNative) and process redefinition (SRE). Rob Hirschfeld’s recent work in Kubernetes operations has led to the conclusion that containers and related platforms have changed the way we should be thinking about DevOps and...
"As we've gone out into the public cloud we've seen that over time we may have lost a few things - we've lost control, we've given up cost to a certain extent, and then security, flexibility," explained Steve Conner, VP of Sales at Cloudistics,in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
These days, APIs have become an integral part of the digital transformation journey for all enterprises. Every digital innovation story is connected to APIs . But have you ever pondered over to know what are the source of these APIs? Let me explain - APIs sources can be varied, internal or external, solving different purposes, but mostly categorized into the following two categories. Data lakes is a term used to represent disconnected but relevant data that are used by various business units wit...
With continuous delivery (CD) almost always in the spotlight, continuous integration (CI) is often left out in the cold. Indeed, it's been in use for so long and so widely, we often take the model for granted. So what is CI and how can you make the most of it? This blog is intended to answer those questions. Before we step into examining CI, we need to look back. Software developers often work in small teams and modularity, and need to integrate their changes with the rest of the project code b...
"I focus on what we are calling CAST Highlight, which is our SaaS application portfolio analysis tool. It is an extremely lightweight tool that can integrate with pretty much any build process right now," explained Andrew Siegmund, Application Migration Specialist for CAST, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
"Cloud4U builds software services that help people build DevOps platforms for cloud-based software and using our platform people can draw a picture of the system, network, software," explained Kihyeon Kim, CEO and Head of R&D at Cloud4U, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Kubernetes is an open source system for automating deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications. Kubernetes was originally built by Google, leveraging years of experience with managing container workloads, and is now a Cloud Native Compute Foundation (CNCF) project. Kubernetes has been widely adopted by the community, supported on all major public and private cloud providers, and is gaining rapid adoption in enterprises. However, Kubernetes may seem intimidating and complex ...
DevOps is often described as a combination of technology and culture. Without both, DevOps isn't complete. However, applying the culture to outdated technology is a recipe for disaster; as response times grow and connections between teams are delayed by technology, the culture will die. A Nutanix Enterprise Cloud has many benefits that provide the needed base for a true DevOps paradigm. In their Day 3 Keynote at 20th Cloud Expo, Chris Brown, a Solutions Marketing Manager at Nutanix, and Mark Lav...