UX in Scrum: How do we fit design into the Scrum process?

Large companies have long recognized the benefit of delivering digital products using Agile methodologies, as this helps them adapt to the ever-changing requirements of the market and stay competitive. Such an agile methodology is Scrum. It offers a framework for delivering software in small, incremental steps, thus controlling the risk associated with delivering new products on the market.

However, if you are a UX/UI designer, you might have experienced problems and confusion regarding your role in this framework. (Hint: Scrum doesn’t have a specific role for Designers) As someone who’s experienced this dilemma firsthand, I decided to share my thoughts and suggestions in this post.

So what’s the Designer’s Role in Scrum? Let’s briefly look at the Scrum methodology, so we can get an idea of how Scrum works.

Quick Intro to Scrum

In the beginning, there was the Waterfall process … and then people realized that they need to deliver product value in small increments of time, instead of working for years on a product that lacks market validation. Scrum helps you do exactly that-  manage complex product development.  In addition, it offers techniques to validate your product ideas with the market and the stakeholders while delivering products more efficiently.

Scrum is based on the idea of small, self-sufficient teams. Those teams work independently and are able to deliver product features or increments at the end of each Sprint. A scrum team consists of a Product Owner,  a Development Team, and a Scrum Master.

The Product Owner

The Product Owner’s main responsibility is managing the Product Backlog- the list of all requirements, features, enhancements, and fixes that need to be made in the product in future releases.

He or she works closely with the Development Team and refines the Product Backlog items as needed. She or he is also responsible for clarifying the tasks and ordering them in a way that ensures achieving the goals of the current Sprint.

The Development Team

The Development Team consists of all professionals who are working to deliver releasable product increments.

The Scrum Master

In addition, there is also a Scrum master who is responsible for facilitating all meetings and making sure everyone follows the rules of the Scrum methodology.

The Product development Process

According to Scrum, the team works for a set period of time (usually 1 week to 1 month), at the end of which a “done” functional product increment must be delivered.

 

UX in ScrumEvery sprint starts with a Planning meeting where the team and the Product Owner pull a set of User Stories from the Product Backlog that will be tackled during that sprint. Next, the team starts working on those tasks. During the morning meetings aka Daily Scrums, everyone updates on their status and talks about possible blocks. The sprint ends with a Sprint Review meeting where the Stakeholders can evaluate the team’s work.

Aren’t we forgetting someone here? There is no clearly defined role for the UX/UI designer 😑
Still, without the user research, wireframing, prototyping, and the final UI design you are not able to develop a digital product.

 

via GIPHY

The designer’s role is not explicitly mentioned in the framework, yet we cannot deliver digital products without a designer in place. So how does UX (UI)  Design fit into Scrum?

The UX/UI designer and the Development team

Let’s say that the UX/UI designer is part of the development team. This would mean he or she delivers design work at the end of each sprint. That sounds great in theory, but you and I know that’s not how software development usually works.

If we look at a basic product development cycle, we will notice several stages that come before the development stage. First, you need to create the concept and refine it. Second, you need to create a prototype and test it with your target audience in order to validate your solution. Lastly, you can iterate and hand it off to the developers. All of those tasks are mainly the tasks of a UX/UI designer.

The designer needs to first prepare the wireframes, test the ideas and concepts, create the UI, conduct user testing, and only after the final designs have been approved by the client can the developers start working on them. This means that the design work needs to happen before the sprint starts. Therefore, it’s really difficult to put the UX/UI Designer on the Development team.

The UX/UI designer and the Stakeholders

One of the major tasks of a UX designer is to understand the business requirements and translate them into features and wireframes. Therefore, it’s crucial to involve the designer in the initial meetings and discussions with the Stakeholders, alongside the Product Owner and the Business Analyst.

The designer is the only person who can ask the right design-related questions. The initial product development phase is all about understanding what the client wants and making sure not to accept ideas and feature requests that don’t make any sense in terms of user experience. A good UX designer will always advocate for the user’s needs.

The UX/UI designer and the Product Owner

In my opinion, the UX designer and the Product Owner should work side by side. Since the Product Owner needs to wear many hats, it’s highly unlikely that he or she has a sufficient knowledge of User Experience Design. Therefore, the UX designer should help the Product Owner understand the user needs and assist with writing the User Stories that go into the Product Backlog.

Design needs a separate role in Scrum

So far, we have understood that product development can’t happen without a designer. Also, as you can see above there’s no explicit place for Design in the whole Scrum process. From personal experience though, Design cannot really fit into any of the other roles, so, therefore, we must create a separate role for it in Scrum.

And here’s how I think Design should fit into Scrum:

UX in ScrumConclusion

To summarize, I don’t think that a UX or UI designer should be part of the Scrum Development Team. Instead, I am advocating for a new approach, where Design has its own place in the Product Development Lifecycle.

The main reason for this is that User Experience and Design Thinking have become an integral part of software development and are needed all the time and not just right before the (software) development phase.

Thanks for reading this blog post.  I’m curious to read about your experiences!