Making design work with agile methodologies

If you have ever tried to be creative on a team using an agile methodology then you know how challenging it can be to have ideas in this dynamic and focused environment. This episode walks you through the basic of agile methodologies, a look at the common problem creative have working in this process and tips for how you can marry the needs of a design team with this way of working.

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Show Notes:

What is agile?

Agile software development describes a set of principles for software development under which requirements and solutions evolve through the collaborative effort of self-organizing cross-functional teams. It advocates adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, and continuous improvement, and it encourages rapid and flexible response to change.

Common problems

– It’s a software development methodology so not enough time to actually do concepting and creative work since you are heads down creating assets

– Not enough people: Agile work on waterfall headcount

– The team must be empowered to make decisions: Usually manifests as an agile process with a waterfall approval process. Executives still want to be able to see and sign off on everything which doesn’t work.

– Complete each feature before moving on to the next: Without a blueprint this can easily turn the experience into a Frankenstein. He was alive but no one wanted to spend time with him. This can be challenging for design as clients will often want the design to evolve or the team will find new ideas. Tech may not pay attention until they actually get their part of the work.

– Testing is integrated throughout the project lifecycle. If testing is too slow it can disrupt or halt the process. You can go data blind and lose sight of the overall experience,

– A collaborative & cooperative approach between all stakeholders is essential. This is a huge change for most teams and the source of most problems. Teams are not used to having to all work together and one may try and take control or you will find they aren’t used to working without a defined end goal and that lack of certainty creates huge problems.

– Develop small, incremental releases and iterate. This really only works once a product is launched. Agile really struggles when you need to create something brand new because it isn’t an incremental change.

– There are challenges even at the best companies. Its why ‘move fast and break stuff’ became ‘slow down and fix your shit’ at Facebook.

How can agile and design work together?

Sprint 0 / Design sprint

– Add a Sprint 0 to your process so you have the time to be able to do the concepting work and come up with the big idea before you are heads down in the production for of the normal sprints.

North Star Concepting

– I call this a North Star because it sets the direction for all work to follow.

– Don’t fall into a trap that will hurt your team. Design only creates what tech can build and the client thinks you aren’t creative

– But if you design the North Star then you can define the intent of the experience. The clients can feel comfortable and you can then do sprint planning again how to build it, even across multiple releases.


When you are working this fast there is no substitute for communication. Weekly design reviews with all decision makers that are 15 minute presentations with the ENTIRE working team to review the work and solve any problems.

Watch the big picture

– The other problem can be that you may solve all these problems on multiple scrum teams BUT how do you make sure what they are building will all fit together?

– You have to take time when you first get the projects to define how they fit together. An app map, site map, master layout or something to define the overall experience. You define where the door is in the house and the teams build out and decorate the rooms through those doors.

Mentioned in this episode

What Is Agile? (10 Key Principles of Agile)

What is agile?  Agile is one of the big buzzwords of the IT development industry. But exactly what is agile development? Put simply, agile development is a different way of managing IT development teams and projects. The use of the word agile in this context derives from the agile manifesto.  A small group of people got together in 2001 to discuss their feelings that the traditional approach to managing software development projects was failing far too often, and there had to be a better way.  They came up with the agile manifesto, which describes 4 important values that are as relevant today as they were then.


Off To The Races: Getting Started With Design Sprints

Lean thinking is one of the latest approaches software development companies have adopted to maximize value and reduce wasted effort and resources. It does so by breaking down an objective into a series of experiments. Each experiment starts with a hypothesis that is tested and validated. The output of each experiment informs the future direction. This is similar to the idea of “sprints” in the agile world, where the overall product roadmap is divided into smaller and meaningful bodies of work. Designers are by no means immune to these shifts toward a more iterative style of creation. Nowadays, rather than design being something that’s done once at the beginning of an engagement and then never touched again, a product’s design must be flexible and adjust to changing conditions. Approaches like design thinking tend to be lean by nature. There is a huge opportunity, however, to take this notion even further and align design to the new ways digital products are being built and improved on. Let’s look first at the current approach towards design and how it has an impact on the product.


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