Oct 022010
 

Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends.
One man likes to push a plough,
The other likes to chase a cow,
But that’s no reason why they cain’t be friends.

image from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XB90b8xXYIkI’ve noticed a disturbing trend at a few different clients now as far as how UX folk and Agile folk get along.  It put me in mind of a song from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma, barely-recalled from my high-school musical days.  Let me explain by way of example:

Steve is a User Experience (UX) expert on an Agile/Scrum team working on the new HipStartup.com website.  He’s excited because he recently returned from an Agile conference and got a lot of great ideas from Jeff Patton’s session about User-Centered Design.  John is the Product Owner (PO) for the site and is juggling multiple voices and requests, but knows that each day without a new site feature delivered is another day that Venture Capital money is burned with no return on investment.  Geri is the ScrumMaster (SM) for the team and she wants everyone to follow the Scrum process because she knows it’s the best way to deliver value incrementally.

Three weeks ago at the meeting with the VC folks, John heard that they would really love to see HipStartup.com do single-sign-on integration with Facebook, Twitter, NetFlix, and the FAA.gov websites — with a unified look and feel.  This morning during the sprint planning meeting, developer Brian cautiously raises the issue of design: does Steve have any wireframes or web composites done for Brian to use in his estimation of story size?  Steve replies that he’s still testing the wireframes with their user focus group and wants to make sure the design for the new single-sign-on will work for them before he releases them to the rest of the team.

John explodes. “What? It’s been three weeks! You’re telling me we still don’t have a thing to demo yet?”  Steve looks helplessly at Geri — surely she will understand the need for a good design?  “John has a point,” Geri says.  “All this user testing you keep talking about smells a lot like Big Up-Front Effort to me.  Can’t you get some wires to Brian ASAP, even if its just for a few stories?”  Steve is appalled.  Wires for just a portion of the site, when the VC folks clearly wanted a unified look and feel?  “Well, sure,” he huffs, “I can give you what I’ve got so far, and you can get right to work on it… if you don’t mind the users thinking it’s crap!

Let us let the curtain of imagination close over this scene for now.

I’d like to say a word fer the farmer
He come out west and made a lot of changes —
That’s right! He come out west and built a lot of fences,
And built ’em right across our cattle ranges!

Just like the farmer and the cowman, User Experience folk and Agilistas/ScrumMasters each provide value in ways that can inherently interfere with each other.  The UX person wants a good experience, and so needs to engage in some sort of holistic design.  This doesn’t have to mean Big Up-Front Effort, but it can look that way to the Agilista who has been fighting waterfall for much of her professional life.

They also each work in ways which tend to stir up the fears of the other.  The Agilista wants a continuous flow of bite-sized chunks of value, with frequent opportunities for inspection and adaptation.  This doesn’t have to mean a Frankenstein’s monster of cobbled-together parts, but to the UX person, even the possibility of creating such a monster is, pardon the phrase, horrifying.

I’d like to teach you all a little sayin’
And learn the words by heart the way you should
I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else,
But I’ll be damned if I ain’t jist as good!

So at the #womeninagile booth at Agile 2010, I had the great fortune to start a conversation with @carologic of Ask a User.  Carol is a UX expert and works through a variety of methods to incorporate actual user research and experience into the design of her client’s products.  While as an Agile coach and empiricism fanatic, I’m always espousing the “ready-fire-aim” and “fail fast” schools of adaptive outcome development.  Cage-match waiting to happen, right?

Wrong.  In 20 minutes of conversation at the booth, we were able to express our respective concerns with each others’ practices and how they are misapplied, and brainstorm at least three harmonious solutions integrating the best of Agile/Scrum and UX, in very specific ways.  Not to tease, but over the next few months, Carol and I will share those ideas with you in our respective blogs.  We will explore:

  • why we shouldn’t call the end-of-iteration demonstration of incremental functionality a “demo”
  • where to integrate user research into the Agile iteration cycle
  • the use of Boundary Objects as discussed in Israel Gat’s Agile 2010 talk

and more.  How did we come to this resolution so quickly?  Simple:  we both approached each others’ domains from a perspective of curiosity and interest — rather than from one of defensiveness.

And when this territory is a state
An’ joins the Union jus’ like all the others
The farmer, and cowman and the merchant
Mus’ all behave theirselves and act like brothers!

image from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBf1Bkk8Gdk

I believe that diversity does not mean “tolerance of differences.”  Rather, diversity means “our differences make us collectively stronger.”  This isn’t compromise, this is learning from each other’s talents.  As Karl Weick said, “fight as if you are right and listen as if you are wrong.”

Let’s us UX and Agilista people listen to one another.  We’re not truly in competition, we both want the same things.  We just have different ideas of how to go about it.  And it’s in the union of the two that true value will be created.

As Oklahoma‘s Aunt Eller says, “ain’t nobody gonna slug out anything — this here’s a party.


 Posted by at 4:22 pm