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How using Agile can enable Design Teams
Carmin Varnicker
Scrum Master at DVT

How using Agile can enable Design Teams

In this article, I'll discuss how design teams can adopt Agile and use the Scrum framework to achieve delivery in terms of customer experience journeys, prototypes (low and high fidelity) and services blueprints.


The background

When I first joined the design office nine months ago I didn't have a clue how I was going to be a Scrum Master to a design team. I was unsure of end delivery from a full design perspective. From past experience, I was used to working with technical teams (developers, testers, BA’s architects and one or two designers).


The first few weeks were spent trying to understanding what the teams deliver and handover and this left me somewhat confused. I then remembered no matter what needs to be delivered, if the Agile principles are followed anything is achievable with the right team and skills.


Let's look at how the Agile principles were followed within the design team:


Principle 1

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through the early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

From a design perspective, testing is always an important task that needs to be fulfilled as the customer's experience is extremely important, which requires improvement regularly.


Principle 2

Welcome changes in requirements even late in development.

Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.


When business requires a certain feature to be improved, the team then works towards a solution. Pitfalls are noted immediately and the direction is changed.


Principle 3

Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, preferably on a shorter timescale.

The team always aims to deliver a shippable product or feature after each sprint which can have an immediate impact on the customer's experience. As an example, suggesting the removal of steps in the customer journey which can improve turnaround times.


Principle 4

Business people and developers must work together throughout the project.

As a Scrum Master for design teams, we realised that most people within the organisation don’t understand what designers do. We then started to include the relevant stakeholders and decision makers during the problem and solution discovery. The benefit - everyone is kept in the loop until the final product or feature is handed over. Additionally, it eliminates the pressure from stakeholders pushing for timelines as they are then aware of the process.


Principle 5

Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support that they need and trust them to get the job done.

This also relates to Principle 4. Once individuals are enabled and trusted to deliver, they will do their best. In our case, the design team gained trust among each other and with their stakeholders.


Principle 6

Efficient and effective method of conveying information is face to face conversation.

The team was co-located however two of the designers were based in Cape Town which had no negative effect on delivery. The team used a tool called Zoom for all ceremonies, ideation sessions and check-ins which allowed for face-to-face interaction.


Principle 7

Working software is the primary measure of progress.

Teams should always strive for the primary objective - improved customer experience.


Principle 8

Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers and users should be able to maintain a constant pace.

Working together effectively and maintaining consistency with business stakeholders and decision makers was key to our success. Aim to deliver consistently for customers across different channels and platforms to improve the experience.


Principle 9

Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.

Our team learned to design with reusability in mind, questioning fit for purpose. If the experience designed does not fit the criteria then the approach is adjusted to be fit for purpose.


Principle 10

Simplicity and the art of maximising the amount of work not done is essential.

For this team it was simple: ‘Is it fit for purpose?’


Principle 11

The best architecture requirements and design emerge from self-organising teams.

Our team became accountable and responsible to each other. Our biggest fear was to disappoint each other in terms of failing to deliver. This meant that we were cross-functional and assisted each other from time to time.


Principle 12

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.

Our team had different skill sets such as UX, UI and service design. The youngest team member was 23 and the oldest is 51 and the level of respect and value this team had for each other was incredible. They were open to learn from each other and to handle criticism well. They didn't get attached to ideas and learned from past failures.


Lessons learnt

Agile can be implemented and followed in design successfully. Just remember to stick to the principles and it will more than likely come naturally to you.

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