Scrum & Agile User Experience

At Google and at The Economist I've been exposed to the open, transparent philosophy of scrum and agile software development. The simplest way to describe this approach is to imagine designing/developing small, vertical slices of functionality, always focusing on the highest-value features first, and working collaboratively with users/customers, and each other.

From the Agile Manifesto:

"We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan"

The core of scrum is formed by the sprint (a few weeks to create shippable code), and the product backlog, which is a list of user stories, prioritized by their value to the business and users. User stories describe a specific user interacting with the system, getting work done, or discovering something important. Some other basic tenets of agile:

  • Involve real (or potential) users early and often
  • Product teams are composed of generalizing specialists (software engineers who design, designers who code, etc.)
  • Potentially shippable code is completed in discrete sprints of 1-4 weeks
  • Scrum rituals help the team become self-managing, self-organizing. The team is responsible for estimation of points per story, and is responsible for committing to a number of stories per sprint
  • It's OK to fail quickly. If you never fail, you're not taking enough risks

I used to say: "I'd love to create a screencast of a single product from concept to launch that would be like "The Making of Apocalypse Now" with people on the team narrating "yeah, after we saw this user study, we figured the whole thing was a bust, and I was beginning to doubt my own intelligence, but then I remembered something I read in The Design of Everyday Things..." Now I can add: "...and then I remembered something I read in The Agile Manifesto..."