Agile (part 2)

Reaping the benefits of agile

I’m sorry I’ve kept you waiting for my next instalment, my feet haven’t touched the ground since I got back from the Christmas and New Year Holidays! So here goes!:

We outlined the agile philosophy in our first blog in this series. Here we look at how to make sure your agile projects deliver the right solutions for your customers – fast.

Embracing the agile philosophy can mean making fundamental changes to how your organisation works.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly, people will need to make the journey to agile working – which isn’t always easy. And secondly, you may need to reassess your existing working practices.

The journey to agile

Agile can be uncomfortable for people at first. They may not like the idea of flexible scope, or releasing an ‘unfinished’ minimum viable product (MVP).

The key to making the transition is to engage your stakeholders right from the start.

Your stakeholders need to be the voice of the user, so that everyone involved is laser-focused on creating value for customers.

So involve them in creating the problem statement for the project. Get them working on group discovery and creative activities. Let them observe demos and user testing, and have them write user stories (more on these below).

This will help them understand the iterative nature of agile working, and the rationale behind the decisions made along the way. It will let them see that there are several ways to create value for customers. And it will show them rapid progress, so that they aren’t expecting a ‘big reveal’ at the end.

Moving faster

Today’s customers expect their needs to be met almost the moment they arise. The pace of the digital age is such that products and features must be released as soon as they can add value for customers (and the business).

Given this pressure, you may need to re-examine some of your established ways of working. Can you really take the time to create detailed specifications, complex documentation and end-to-end designs – and still deliver solutions with the speed your customers require (and that work for cusotmers)?

Delivery cycles

The key to such rapid delivery is to get a prototype – a piece of working software, or even a rough sketch – into customers’ hands at the earliest opportunity. Don’t specify the whole solution early on, as their feedback may take you down a different path.

Once you have that feedback, use it to iterate the solution. Then build the slimmest version that can provide value, in the shortest possible time.

Making small, evidence-based tweaks in this way can lead to significant increases in customer engagement and sales conversions.

Putting customers first, second and last

Working to produce solutions quickly is one challenge. But how can you be sure they’re what your customers want?

The answer is put your customers at the centre of your product development. Get to know their world, and understand the goals, needs and problems they want you to address.

Meet your customers. Talk to them. Ask them open questions. And translate their needs into objectives for the solution you’re developing.

A backlog of user stories can be helpful, as they describe the solution from the customer’s point of view. As can impact mapping: a strategic planning tool for clarifying the impact your solution needs to achieve.

But don’t stop there: observe them using the solution as it evolves. And crucially, listen to what they say.

You can do this formally, with specialist researchers working in user-testing facilities (we do this here at our Brighton office). Or ‘guerrilla-style’, by showing them the latest iteration in a café, for example.

One team

Agile produces the best results when client and agency work as one team, with one goal: to deliver outstanding business value by meeting real customer needs.

At The Unit, we make this happen in a number of ways:

1.   Multi-disciplinary teams. We put together teams comprising all the necessary disciplines: UX, UI and service designers; developers; project managers; and the client’s product owner.

Having everybody in one team means decisions are made quickly, as we can talk things through around a monitor. And there are other advantages: technical feasibility informs design; and designers can ensure their work meets the highest technical standards.

2.   Co-location. Working at our clients’ offices (and vice versa) means everyone is hands-on, and fully informed, throughout the project.

This creates an immediacy that speeds up development. You can hear conversations, look over people’s shoulders, ask questions, and get quick answers and ideas.

3.   Collaboration. We succeed or fail as a team. We work collectively to deliver the most valuable feature first, then move to the next priority. And we all keep the overriding objective in mind at all times: to solve customers’ issues, and make life better for them.

It’s often said that agile is an easy concept to grasp, but difficult to execute. We can help: please get in touch if you’d like to discuss how.

HOODIE over and out!