For agile development teams who work in rapid sprints or iterations, user experience best practices may seem unattainable due to high cost and time requirements. Instead of sacrificing things like user research, user-centered design, and usability testing, try following these painless patterns for iterative user experience.

Just-in-Time Research @ Sprint N-1

UX Iterations - Research

Good user research doesn’t have to burn resources prior to development—there are plenty of methods that can fit right alongside it. Elaborate on user stories a sprint ahead and you’ll find that your team is able to define and build solutions faster. Wondering how to decide what will be in the next sprint? Try a visual backlog to plan the next “layer”. Here are some lightweight research and elaboration methods:

  • Reality maps: help the team understand steps in a complex workflow.
  • User interviews: provide answers to specific questions when the team lacks subject matter expertise
  • Personas: let the team identify with an unfamiliar or specialized user profile.
  • Storytelling: allows a subject matter expert to communicate knowledge of user behaviors to the team.

Collaborative Design @ Sprint N

UX Iterations - Design

Don’t let developers fall into the dreaded waterfall design trap of, “Give me a mockup and I’ll build it.” Instead, integrate good UI design into the active development sprint with one of these simple solutions:

  • Design maps: facilitate a collaborative design planning session at the start of a sprint.
  • Pair UI programming: integrates a designer or usability expert with development decisions as they are happening.

User Feedback @ Sprint N+1

UX Iterations - Research

Don’t wait for a finished product to test usability—gather feedback right away so the team can react to problems and move on to the next sprint with confidence. These ideas get you results fast enough to incorporate into the sprint immediately following development:

  • Show a user the sketches created in a planning session to validate design direction while development is starting.
  • Invite a user to a sprint review and listen to feedback after the session.
  • Let a user test drive the stories completed in the last sprint on a product that’s “under construction”.