Like any project, designing and building products is one that’s often constrained by timelines and budgets. Whether it’s an e-commerce app that needs to launch before Black Friday, or an MVP going live in time to support an investor pitch, deadlines inevitably creep up and cash can start to run thin as a result.
With these conditions, the only way to go is agile. By adopting the agile mindset and methodology, teams can deliver quality UX design and innovative products whilst staying within these crucial markers. Let’s dive into how this is done - and how to maximize the power of agile throughout the whole process.
It’s no secret that agile’s ability to save costs by eliminating unnecessary expenditure is one of its primary benefits. Agile inherently drives efficiencies when designing and building products, naturally trimming the extra costs that are often associated with the waterfall approach.
When the goal is simply putting together an MVP, agile allows teams to work within virtually any budget. How big that budget is, though, will determine how advanced the MVP is. After the initial ideation, design and development teams can release it and add in further features later on to build it out more fully. But by simply getting an MVP out there, companies can begin to generate revenue that supports further development. Additional features and design updates should then be prioritized in terms of how much potential value they can bring, and then worked on accordingly.
Agile allows for all of this as the methodology champions continuous improvement and eliminates time spent on non-value-adding activities wherever possible. The first version will never be the final version, so it doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, it’s not even supposed to be perfect - as LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman once stated, “If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” Without the quest for perfection, teams can focus on a prompt release and start bringing in revenue.
At the core of the agile mindset lies transparency. From day one, the transparency between designer, developer and customer means that no time is wasted going back and forth on big changes to be made to a “finished” product - as is the way when using the waterfall approach.
With agile, feedback is incorporated into the designs with each sprint, no matter how far away the team is from the final product. This drives efficiency and helps teams avoid situations where foundational adjustments have to be made - it’s a constant feedback loop which helps keep the project on the right track and avoid unnecessary delays.
Quick one or two week sprints also help designers and developers to avoid getting too bogged down in making the overall product perfect. During sprints, they focus on short-term deliverables, resulting in fast, tangible outcomes. When integrating design and software development, there’s further scope for time savings as developers can start building product features before the design is totally finished. These two stages shouldn’t be seen as distinct from each other - design elements that have total approval can go into the development phase while others are being finalized.
Lastly, because agile processes reject hierarchical structures that require approval of everything from the top, decisions can be made and actioned much quicker than when using the waterfall method. While the Product Owner is ultimately the one who makes the final call on big decisions, everybody involved is a key contributor and has ownership over what’s happening in a given sprint.
All of this drives a faster pace and helps teams stick to that all-important delivery deadline. It should come as no surprise then, that the top reason for adopting agile in 2020 was accelerated delivery, and 60% of respondents cited time-to-market as the primary benefit of the approach.
So, simply adopt agile practices and you’ll be well on your way to fast-built, quality products, delivered under budget and before the deadline, right?
It’s not quite that simple.
There are a few key mindset shifts that need to come alongside such a switch. The design and development teams must have full visibility into all of the objectives and constraints of the project, and from there they can give an accurate picture of how much they can achieve.
Oftentimes, the customer or executive’s vision of how a project should turn out is different from that of the design and product team. Companies must be open to having their expectations and assumptions challenged when it comes to building user-centered products, especially as designers will be conducting user testing and uncovering their users’ true needs.
So, while the customer feedback loop is strong, if the client or company leadership want a quality product delivered on time and within budget, they must also be open to feedback from the design and product teams. This is especially key when it comes to things like which features should be prioritized in the MVP, which could be totally different to previously imagined based on testing and research.
And if the client or executive team is not well-versed in agile processes, they can actually look to the designers and developers to help them foster change within their own practices, to drive time and budget efficiencies throughout the organization.
Agile is no magic bullet - it requires commitment, openness, and often, fundamentally uprooting the way things have been always done. However, when adopted throughout the whole product process - from design, to development, to maintenance - agile has the power to drive efficiencies and innovations that will more than deliver on its ROI.