How Agile Teams Can Prioritize UX Work

By Logan Alexander Johnson | June 18, 2019

Cover Image

Practical Approaches to Integrating UX and Agile

Agile methodology is an incremental, iterative project management style championed by the software development community. It enables teams to be responsive to changing needs and offer continual product improvement. Many are keen to explore how Agile and user-centered approaches to product design and development work together. On Wednesday, May 8, 2019, the User Experience (UX) Community of Practice partnered with NYU IT to present “How Agile Teams Can Prioritize UX Work,” a workshop led by Rachel Krause, User Experience Specialist at the Nielsen Norman Group. The webinar provided practical expert advice on the logistics of making room for UX work in an Agile development process. Understanding how to account for user-centered research and design work makes incorporating UX more manageable for busy teams.

Workshop Highlights

Rachel Krause facilitated the workshop, and her colleague, Therese Fessenden, fielded questions from participants. Krause touched on four key issues: backlog structure, prioritizing features, prioritizing UX debt, and maximizing time.

Backlog Structure

A product backlog is a list of features, bug fixes, and other activities that an Agile team is responsible for delivering. There are two ways to approach backlogs from a UX perspective.

In the first approach, all work (development, UX, quality assurance, etc.) can live in one backlog. This is a useful way to make UX work visible to the whole team. A downside of this approach, however, is that UX work can easily be deprioritized for new features.

The second method is to create multiple backlogs—one for the primary product and one just for UX. In this scenario, the UX team is in charge of their own backlog and have the ability to plan ahead. A con to this method is that UX velocity is separated from the rest of the team. Also, the UX team could risk getting too far ahead of the developers’ sprints. For those who use this approach, Krause recommended to “focus more of your effort on your current and next sprint.”

Prioritizing Features

Use a prioritization matrix to organize features. A prioritization matrix is a 2D-visual that plots the relative importance of features based on two weighted criteria. For example, features could be plotted based on criteria such as user value and effort by organization, or UX effort and development effort. Features closer to the middle of the matrix are the most balanced, and best meet the needs of both criteria. Using a matrix focuses decision-making on the data, reducing the chances of making decisions based on emotion. This Nielsen Norman Group article goes into more depth on how to create a prioritization matrix.

Prioritizing UX Debt

UX debt refers to additional time and effort costs that come from cutting corners on product development instead of using a holistic approach. This can result from things such as skipping usability testing or designing by committee. Some best practices for eliminating UX debt are to identify the debt items and add them to the backlog. Teams can prioritize the debt by ranking it based on severity (low, medium, high) or creating a priority matrix. Communication with the whole team is key to making this work. Krause also referenced a Nielsen Norman Group article on the topic of UX debt.

Maximizing Your Time

Krause provided tips on how UX designers can maximize their time and be more efficient. She suggested choosing which meetings are most valuable to attend. She also recommended UX designers block out “heads-down time” for activities like research, design, and prototyping.

Interested in More UX Learning Opportunities?

If you would like to learn more about UX, we invite you to join over 100 of your NYU colleagues from across the University as part of the UX Community of Practice (Google Group). The community meets monthly to discuss UX best practices with the goal to break down silos and encourage collaboration. Meetings are a combination of guest speaker presentations, group activities, and project shares from community members. UX designers from companies like Adobe, Nickelodeon, and Marvel Entertainment have presented to the group.