Time and again, organizations have sought to contain software’s most troublesome tendencies—its habit of sprawling beyond timelines and measurable goals—by introducing new management styles. And for a time, it looked as though companies had found in Agile the solution to keeping developers happily on task while also working at a feverish pace. Recently, though, some signs are emerging that Agile’s power may be fading. A new moment of reckoning is in the making, one that may end up knocking Agile off its perch.
Jesse has his Oppenheimer moment, with much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
What got lost along the way was a view of UX as something deeper and more significant than a step in the software delivery pipeline: an approach that grounds product design in a broad contextual understanding of the problem and goes beyond the line-item requirements of individual components. Also lost along the way were many of the more holistic and exploratory practices that enabled UX to deliver that kind of foundational value.
Brad weighs in on what I wrote about design systems and automation. He rightly points out that the issue isn’t with any particular tool—and a design system is, after all, a tool—but rather with the culture and processes of the organisation.
Sure, design systems have the ability to dehumanize and that’s something to actively watch out for. But I’d also say to pay close attention to the processes and organizational culture we take part in and contribute to.
There’s a full-on rant here about the dehumanising effects of what’s called “agile” at scale:
I’ve come to the conclusion that “enterprise web development” is just regular web development, only stripped of any joy or creativity or autonomy. It’s plugging a bunch of smart people into the matrix and forcing them to crank out widgets and move the little cards to the right.
Jon’s ranting about Agile here, but it could equally apply to design systems:
Agile and design is like looking at a picture through a keyhole. By slicing big things into smaller things, designers must work incrementally. Its this incrementalism that can lead to what I call the ‘Frankensteining’ of a digital product or service.
Some ideas on the best of use of time in sprint zero of an agile project.
- Understand your context
- Identify risks
- Understand the business process
- Get testing infrastructure
- Understand quality attributes
- Get to know the people
- Prepare an initial product backlog
- Build a walking skeleton/spike
- Build a learning backlog
Agile itself provides us with the ability and opportunity to correct course, it allows us to steer, but it does nothing as such to help us steer correctly.
This observation about (some) agile projects is worryingly familiar:
I was suddenly seized by a horrible thought: what if this new-found agility was used, not teleologically to approach the right outcome over the course of a project, but simply to enshrine the right of middle management to change their minds, to provide a methodological license for arbitrary management? At least under a Waterfall regime they had to apologise when they departed from the plan. With Agile they are allowed, in principle, to make as many changes of direction as they like. But what if Agile was used merely as a license to justify keeping the team in the office night after night in a never-ending saga of rapidly accumulating requirements and dizzying changes of direction? And what if the talk of developer ‘agility’ was just a way of softening up developers for a life of methodologically sanctioned pliability? In short, what if Agile turned out to be worse than Waterfall?
How the IETF redefined the process of creating standards.
To some visionary pioneers, such as Ted Nelson, who had been developing a purist hypertext paradigm called Xanadu for decades, the browser represented an undesirably messy direction for the evolution of the Internet. To pragmatists, the browser represented important software evolving as it should: in a pluralistic way, embodying many contending ideas, through what the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) calls “rough consensus and running code.”
Dealing with Technical & Design Debt - Breakfast Session - Agile Swap Shop (Brighton, England) | Meetup
If you’re a project manager anywhere near Brighton, put this event in your calendar for the morning of May 30th.
Myself and Batesy spent last week in Ipswich doing an intense design sprint with Suffolk Libraries. Leon has written up process from his perspective as the client—I’ll try to get a case study up on the Clearleft website soon.
This is really great write-up; it captures the sense of organised chaos:
I can’t recommend this kind of research sprint enough. We got a report, detailed technical validation of an idea, mock ups and a plan for how to proceed, while getting staff and stakeholders involved in the project — all in the space of 5 days.
Really interesting to see how Jason, Lyza, and co. are handling the process side of responsive design by using Agile sprints. This is how we’re doing it at Clearleft too.
There’s a really good point in here about starting with small-screen sketching:
For most of the sprint, we focus on small screens. We’re often asked how things will work on wider screens early in a sprint, but we try to resist thinking about that yet.
If you’ve managed to organize your life to fit inside a New York City apartment, you’re not going to have any trouble adjusting to a big house in the suburbs. The same is true of responsive designs.
If you nail the small screen design, the larger sizes will be easy by comparison.
A look behind the scenes of gov.uk. I like their attitude to Photoshop comps:
We don’t want a culture of designs being “thrown over a wall” to a dev team. We don’t make “high fidelity mock ups” or “high fidelity wireframes”. We’re making a Thing, not pictures of a Thing.
We don’t have a UX Team. If the problem with your service is that the servers are slow and the UX Team can’t change that, then they aren’t in control of the user experience and they shouldn’t be called the user experience team.
Leisa's slides from the IA Summit in Vegas. Looks like it was an excellent presentation, channelling the spirit of Kelly Goto and Jeff Veen.