Developing an Agile design mindset

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Agile isn’t just confined to technology. You can apply it to any type of knowledge work. The trick to helping people make the mental switch is to frame Agile in a way that they can relate.

Take for instance user experience or design work.

A few years ago, I coached a client’s new web development Scrum team. It relied on the user experience designers to provide the overall website design. In typical waterfall fashion, the designers wanted to deliver a completed site design before development began.

The project sponsor asked me to provide a short overview of Scrum to the design organization and share how things were going on the development side.

My challenge was how to transform the mindset of designing an entire user experience at once, into one of designing small chunks, implementing them and receiving feedback without totally finishing the design. How do you convey that the big design may never be fully implemented – but the most important elements will?

I have used the Resort Brochure exercise with great success. For those who are unfamiliar, it’s a mini-simulation game using multiple “sprints” to produce a tri-fold brochure.

I modified the exercise to focus on delivering value and something potentially shippable every sprint. I handed out several examples of tri-fold (six paneled) brochures and gave the teams six prioritized requirements (one per panel). I told them they had 30 minutes to complete a camera-ready brochure that met the requirements listed, and started the clock.

A couple minutes in, I interrupted the group and told them that I forgot that our time together was limited. They no longer had 30 minutes to complete their brochures…they only had five. I stressed that their brochures still needed to be camera-ready.

I really enjoyed watching everyone panic.

After the five minutes, we had some fun looking at everyone’s brochures. There were wavy lines where words should have been and empty boxes in place of pictures. None were close to camera-ready.

When I asked why the brochures were not that good, everyone responded that they didn’t have enough time.

Then I asked why they thought they had to complete all six panels in the five minutes. I showed them four-paneled brochures, two-paneled brochures and single-paneled brochures (with one side blank). I witness a group “Ah-ha!” moment.

During the rest of the presentation, I shared with them how the development team I was coaching pushed the new website to production after its first two-week sprint. It wasn’t very feature rich, but it was functional and provided value to users faster than any website they had been involved with before.

By presenting agile to new users in ways they can relate, you open a world of possibilities to iterate, innovate and deliver products faster. It’s the first step to creating a fully agile organization.

– Les Grove, senior agile project manager

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