Great User Research in an Agile World 

Tonight, I attended the event hosted by UXPA in the city. Everyone in the industry has been saying how they are shifting from waterfall to agile. What does that really mean? For me, iteration has always been the core of my career. I have never worked on a project that uses 100% waterfall. So it’s been hard me to imagine what is like to work in a waterfall environment!

Since agile methodology was originally developed for software development, UX professionals often run into the problem of what it means to conduct the best UX research in the industry. To conduct UX research and evaluate a UX project often takes a lot longer than a typical sprint; therefore, UX researchers must find ways to tailor their research to the timeline. Perhaps it’s my business background’s doing the talking or maybe it’s just my personality, I always like to apply 80/20 rules whenever I can. If you want to conduct a thorough UX research before working on any project, you’re not a good UX researcher. You’re just a researcher by heart.

In an enterprise like Bloomberg, they’ve got the resources to hire and define roles. So how many user researchers do they have? Well, it’s 5,000 engineers to 50 designers to 5 user researchers, and only one project manager (seriously?). Are you surprised? I am. I’ve been extremely fortunate to work in a company that values user researchers more than anyone that I know of in the industry. If your company doesn’t have the resources like we have, what can you do? There are two ways you can approach: 1) designers act as part-time researchers and 2) conduct recurring researches. So what if you can’t get the answers all at once? You just repeat the process in the next sprint cycle. By doing so, you will get your design validated slowly but surely over time.

There is certainly downside of playing the designer and researcher roles at the same time. As a designer, you will never be completed separated from your work emotionally. You can reframe from negative comments during user testing but we are only human. Additionally, the test results might not be as accurate as it would have been because participants might be afraid of hurting the designer’s feeling.

Every practice has its pros and cons. The biggest takeaway I got from the night was we should always be prepared to change. Whether it is an organizational structure, a research methodology, or perhaps just anything in life in general.


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