I feel enthused to blog about my current project, which is the first project I’ve ran where we have a dedicated UX expert on the team. For those of you who are not aware of the term UX, it stands for User eXperience. The UX expert will work closely with the customer and business analysts, defining user journeys throughout the site/system, producing the wireframes that feed into the designs and ultimately the UI development.
Consciously or even sub consciously we all appreciate a website with a good UX and can get really frustrated by poor UX.
While this is the first time I have had a specific UX expert in my delivery team, I have been aware of other Valtech projects delivering UX, over the last couple of years, particularly in the the Agency space for our large retail clients.
Now I wasn’t exactly sceptical, but didn’t fully appreciate just what the UX role entailed and what it could bring to the project. I will be honest and admit to being slightly derogatory about what a UX consultant could offer, and I may have possibly labelled it as ‘colouring in’. My bad
My ignorance was however, strongly influenced by the types of projects I had previously delivered. A lot of my previous experience has been delivering large government systems, where the kudos was always focused on the back-end technologies and not the front-end. Also a good user experience was never a non functional requirement.
The UI design and UX for these large government CMS systems is on the whole quite poor, overly complex and unintuitive. In some instances we may have worked with graphic designers, but most of the time the UI was being designed the customers Business Analysts, where only basic principles of a quickly outdated style guide are to be adhered to. On more than one instance, I was running a dev team which inherited reams of up front, waterfall, external design documents. These had been created using Visio and MSPaint, which led to the designing of near impossible components and cross-field validation. Chaos would generally ensue in System test and UAT when the final screens didn’t look exactly like the signed off Visio and MS Paint designs.
On my current project, the UX expert has made an instant impact. Working with the lead BA, it was obvious that the business owner was engaged and bought in to this way of working. High quality interactive wireframes, are produced in Photoshop with key animation sequences overlaid in PowerPoint. Great care is taken understanding different personas and minimum marketable features. The customer gets near instant feedback of how they want the site to be used.
I sort of expected the benefits that the UX expert would bring to the analysis and design, what I didn’t predict was how important the UX expert has become to the developers. Collaboration between the UX and devs was really visible from the outset and was recognised as one of the most significant positives at our recent retrospective. Key to this success was the way the UX expert researches the technology options, ensuring the design can be achieved using CSS or identifying the necessary JQuery plugin. Non standard design choices are always reviewed with the development team prior to sprit planning to ensure no near impossible designs are agreed with the customer.
Our Agile processes enable this collaborative way of working. We are all collocated provide our updates at a single, large but efficient daily stand up meeting. The devs and UX expert are seeing each others updates, progress and blockers. The BA / UX team are working one or two sprints ahead of the developers, so no design artefacts are going stale in the backlog. We have also ensured that a UX peer review is part of the definition of done policy for the front end developers.
This way of working culminated in a really positive first demo, with great feedback from the business owner and sales director.