User Experience through Agile principles

As an Application Development Manager, the most common question I get from Development Managers and Directors is how can we engage users and making sure that we are giving them what they want. The standard answer to whip out is transition to an Agile methodology, but that doesn't mean much because most organizations cant make a switch to Agile overnight due to a lot of other constraints. 

Keeping the above in mind, my answer is two fold.

Weekly Demo Days - Getting users in a room on a weekly basis gets them to meet and interact with the development team. I have seen immense barriers break down just by sharing a slice of pizza! Just by putting faces to people working on the project builds relationships that can be leveraged into having frank conversations about things that are going well or maybe not so well. Developers get to explain why they made certain decisions, users get to be heard and provide their immediate feedback. By incorporating that feedback, developers can show they are listening and working hard to improve the product.

Users can share pertinent information about business processes or user behavior that developers might not have considered. I am not saying that the Users know best, but they are going to be using this product...I am sure they have something valuable to contribute to the process. This iterative cycle done even in standard Waterfall models can help reduce a lot of angst down the road when users complain things aren't working as expected. Lastly, once developers have the Users confidence, they will have the capital to deliver tough news or design decisions that prior to the relationship might not have been received so well.


Thinking About User Experience and A\B testing - My constant struggle with software is the overwhelming choices and setup I have to go through just to get started the first time around with any new application. Why cant software be more smarter and frictionless? Most organizations I work with allow their users to customize the application to the nth degree based on their personal preferences. The reason for this choice is to give the users what they want, however, I think it is most likely to do with a few noisy Users whom Product Management doesn't want to deal with. Also, sitting down and thinking through what makes most sense for users takes time and relationships with users...both of which most PMOs don't have or are interested in. We end up with giving users too much choice resulting in hard to navigate applications and inefficient user behavior that we probably need to deal with down the road.

Taking the time up front to sit down with users and working through the right default behaviors not only makes the application easier to develop, but results in a delightful experience for the users down the road. Steven Sinofsky wrote this great article on his LinkedIn profile back in March talking about Frictionless Product Design. I would strongly encourage you to read the entire post, but here is the excerpt that is relevant for this post:

Decide on a default rather than options. Everything is a choice. Any choice can be A/B tested or debated as to whether it works or not. The more testing you do the more likely you are to find a cohorts of people who prefer different approaches. The natural tendency will be to add an option or setting to allow people to choose their preference or worse you might interrupt their flow to ask preference. Make a choice. Take a stand. Every option is friction in the system (and code to maintain). When we added the wheel to the mouse in Office 97 there was a split in the team over whether the wheel should scroll down or whether it should zoom in/out. From the very first release there was an option to appease the part of the team that felt zoom was more natural. Even worse, the Word team went and did a ton of work to make zoom performant since it was fairly unnatural at the time.

I was recently reading about the Virtual Desktops feature in Windows 10. The dev team wrote an article about how they moved this feature up in their development schedule based off feedback from customers. What interested me most in the article was their design choice around what windows should be displayed on the taskbar.

One of the most divided opinions about virtual desktops is what windows are represented on the taskbar. On one side, some users want stronger separation between desktops and expect to see open windows that are only on the current desktop. On the flip side, other users expect the taskbar to always give them access to all their open windows no matter where they are. We are convinced both options are valid so we made it a user setting (actually one for the taskbar and another for Alt+Tab). The hard part is choosing which one is the default so we think the only option is to let you decide. In the most recent flight we are A/B testing the taskbar behavior with the Insiders. If you get a notification asking how you like the taskbar behavior when using virtual desktops, be sure to let us know. Your votes play a direct role in helping us decide! We’re eager to see the results.

We’re glad you’re coming on this journey with us to embed the power of virtual desktops natively in Windows 10. We love the thoughtful input you sent us through the feedback channel and we look forward to your continued thoughts. Over the course of the upcoming flights you can also expect polish and reliability updates to virtual desktops in anticipation of our summer release.

Have questions or comments about Virtual Desktops? Head over to the Windows Insider Program forums.

In this case, the development team is divided between the two options and is now looking for feedback to figure out what makes sense. They might leave the reg key option so that users can have choice down the road. I don't fault them for this...its really hard to satisfy the entire install base of Windows, however most enterprise LOB apps aren't going to have that problem. Either way, the development team spent time on this decision and are trying to get it right so that it is frictionless for users out of the box. that should be the key message to take away from this.

I hope some of the above makes sense and there is something you can takeaway to your next design meeting. I am certain that spending time with your users and really understand their user experience will help you build a strong relationship with them and deliver delightful experiences.

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