Is UX Research Dead in the Agile Development World?

Agile software development process gained tremendous popularity recently, adopted by many companies to deliver high-quality products through iterative launch and testing.

In contrast to the traditional Water Fall model, in an Agile environment the design and development teams collaborate very closely and there is little step-by-step procedure or upfront planning – decisions are made and solutions are implemented on the fly, in a highly iterative and flexible manner.

However the lack of planning and lead time in the process apparently poses a major challenge to user experience research. Remember, UX research is supposed to bring a strategic perspective into software development, helping the product team understand the big picture and focus on the right things to work on based on user insights. But the making-decisions-on-the-fly mindset underlying the Agile process makes conducting UX research seemingly hard to do and unnecessary.

So here come the questions:

Is UX research even needed any more in an Agile environment?

If so, then how do we conduct UX research in this context?

The answer: Lean UX research – conducting research in a quick-but-not-dirty way.

Lean UX full size

Test-and-Learn is Not Enough – Garbage in, Garbage out

A common objection to conducting UX research under the Agile model is that we can simply launch, conduct A/B testing, and learn from the testing results. Using real market data to validate products, there’s no more need for UX research.

But a fatal flaw exists in this premise. Test-and-learn – choosing winners among variations through A/B tests – can only tell you which version is better but fail to answer why it’s the case. More importantly, it cannot tell you if there’s another, untested version, that’s better than all the variations you A/B tested, due to the lack of insight into “why”.

Furthermore, test-and-learn doesn’t come free. It takes time and effort, not to mention great skills, to do it right. To begin with, you need to form good hypotheses, then create variations that can effectively test the hypotheses, and then take a lot of time analyzing the results. And, you know what, most A/B tests don’t even give you clear data because the variations are not that different in terms impact on user behavior.

It is what we would call “garbage in, garbage out” – Not knowing what matter to users, you’re unable to develop variations that will give you insight about how to impact user behavior.

To know what really matter to users, you have to rely on UX research that generates in-depth, qualitative understanding of users vs. products.

Agile = More Effective UX Research

When you look closer, you’ll find that the Agile process not only makes sense in supporting a faster, more effective software development process, it’s a great opportunity for UX research to truly influence the final output! Traditionally, under the Water Fall model – the product team moves through strategy -> research -> design -> development in clearly defined steps – we can plan research way in advance and have the luxury of conducting very comprehensive and thorough studies. However, because research and development are very separated in the process, researchers have very limited influence on getting the team to actually implement the research findings!

In an Agile environment, however, due to the fact that teams interact more frequently and more closely, UX researchers are able to conduct research to support the ever-changing team needs and turn insights into actions quickly.

And that’s what “lean” UX research is all about.

Read on to learn how to conduct lean UX research

By Frank Guo



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