UX in Agile, better with Dual-Track Scrum

Sara Santos

26 March 2021

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When we talk about project management and planning in a broad sense, the famous waterfall model and its Gantt charts most likely come to mind. After all, it is the most widely used across organisations, and its advantages are obvious: it is simple, predictable, clear, easy to measure … just the opposite of our environment, which is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (the so-called VUCA environment).

The truth is, this methodology works perfectly for simple and short-term projects. However, in complex projects, such as the design of digital products and services, we often find that the waterfall planning starts to derail in the middle of the project (or even earlier), and we end up juggling all the pending work in order to bring it to fruition and meet the quality standards that we demand of ourselves.

In short, the waterfall method can end up playing a trick on us in design, especially if we have to take a step back to make changes -as the testing and development phases are always the last-, which could compromise both success of the team and of the project.

In this context, implementing agile methodologies can help us develop digital products and services more profitably, efficiently and with higher quality, increasing both client and end-user satisfaction. Born as a solution to create software tools, agile methodologies are more widespread in development companies, but more and more organisations are incorporating them into their day-to-day lives.

At Good Rebels, our teams organise and adopt methodologies based on the needs of each project. Rebels try, experiment, and ultimately choose the ways of working that work best for them. For this reason, we have been applying agile methodologies in many of our business units for years.

With the arrival of Muskae and the creation of the design hub, the need to apply these ways of working on a broader level within the company became apparent. Not only because of the reduction of time and costs but, above all, because our people-first mantra called us to implement a different methodology, which always took the user into account and involved the client from the beginning of the process.

We decided to bet on the change towards agile methodologies in our design hub. A journey that has not been easy, but that is providing us with invaluable learning. Let’s delve deeper…

First steps 

Agile may seem like an abstract concept, but it really isn’t. It is a framework that can be applied based on the needs of each project, and is characterised by transparency, team autonomy and total client involvement. Some of the best known are Kanban, Scrum or Design Sprint (created by Google Ventures).

The main advantage of these methodologies is that they completely involve all stakeholders in the project, both the client and the members of the team, whether they are developers, designers or product managers. It works iteratively, so costs are better controlled, and allows us to focus and adapt to the needs of the user and the business, which can (and are likely to) change.

However, when we began to apply Agile, we realised that it isn’t so easy to integrate the work of the design team within a methodology such as Scrum. Since agile methodologies were primarily created with a focus on development teams, designers are often forced to work in the same sprint, producing functional mockups in order to “unlock” engineers without first having time to understand the problem, iterate solutions, collect data or do usability tests.

We tried, but Scrum was not the methodology that best suited our needs. Hence, we came to the conclusion of applying a “mixed” approach such as Dual Track Scrum, coined by the interaction designer Desiree Sy in “Adapting Usability Investigations for Agile User-centered Design”

Dual-track Scrum: the best of both worlds

User experience design is a learning process that takes time to detect needs and test solutions before starting to develop.

Therefore, when organising the project, it is essential to separate the product discovery phase from product development. In other words, differentiate the design work from the development work, since although both teams work in parallel and need to know about each other, they have different rhythms.

Two tracks, but not two teams 

The discovery lane identifies the problem, works on solutions, creates prototypes, tests them and then when the prototype is validated, goes to the delivery lane where product development begins.

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Each lane can use a different work methodology. Typically, the discovery lane uses the Kanban or Design Sprint system and the development lane uses the Scrum methodology.

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Product discovery 

Product discovery allows us to get to know and prioritise the needs of the users. This lane focuses on learning quickly, validating or discarding ideas before developing them, continuing to measure and learning after launch, thus eliminating assumptions and ensuring that the product is viable and adds value to the user or business.

In other words, it avoids wasting time and resources on products that the end user is not going to use, and it allows putting all the team effort into something safe.

The product discovery lane can be divided into two phases: 

  1. Exploration. In this phase we can start from an idea or a problem, reformulating or restructuring them to achieve a business objective or increasing the value for users. During exploration, we seek to understand the problem with qualitative and quantitative data through interviews with users, surveys, net promoter score (NPS) comments, product use and heat maps. After collecting the data, designers can define the problem and think up solutions,  with the target users in mind. The team will then be ready to define a value proposition and prototypes.
  1. Validation. Once we have the prototypes, we look to validate their desirability, usability or feasibility with both users and the development team. It is a cycle of continuous improvement from which we gather knowledge, the necessary changes are made and we start again. When a final validated idea is reached – which does not necessarily imply a new product, but can also be a test of a concept, a usability improvement or a technical feasibility solution – it goes to the development team to begin implementation.

Product development

The product development lane takes the learnings from the discovery lane and applies them to the final product. The development objective is to get the maximum number of improvements and complete functionalities possible during a sprint, which is known by the name of increment: the sum of all the tasks, use cases, requirements and any element that has been developed and they will be made available to the client in the end.

On having the ideas validated, the design team simply has to worry about the best way to implement them. The developers work with the reassurance that they are dedicating their time and effort in something worthwhile.

Towards a human-centred and data-driven design 

In short, thanks to Dual-Track Scrum we can integrate the needs of design teams into the Agile methodology, thus reaping all its benefits.

First, this methodology facilitates the coexistence of UX and development objectives and improves communication and understanding between both teams. On the other hand, it increases efficiency thanks to the integration and optimization of the research and testing stages, and because all the ideas that enter the backlog are already validated, they only need to be prioritised and estimated. All of this enables quick iterations on the product that add direct value to the end user and promote design based on data collected on product usage.

Because of this, and while we still have a long way to go, at Good Rebels we know that by betting on this change we will not only develop our work in the most complete and efficient way, but we will be moving towards a human-centered design that takes into account and benefits both our clients and the end user, as well as our teams.