WATERFALL, AGILE, LEAN…
My post last week on the role of iteration in the design process has led me to consider the impact (to date) of the project management approach we have adopted on our task.
It can be argued that the provenance of each of the abovementioned project management models dictates its focus. For example, the “Waterfall” approach was developed in the manufacturing and construction industries, which are characterised by a need for completion in each phase of production and with little scope for iteration. Similarly, “Agile” project management was adopted by software companies as a means of developing and adapting products in a fast-changing environment. This approach is frequently criticised for being product-centric (Bryan, 2012). The “Lean” approach has its roots in Japanese manufacturing and aims to improve value to the customer by reducing waste and maximising efficiency (Wikipedia, 2012). Moreover, there are numerous variations to each model (for example, Agile/Scrum and Waterfall/V-model), underpinned by a wide range of certified training programmes.
A waterfall approach to managing a project is useful where there are accountability, safety standards or legal requirements on the organisation. For example, a public service, medical or financial service-based organisation would benefit from using this model (Seigel, 2011).
Bryan (2012) argues that Agile UX is a response to Agile product development where the requirement for “sprints” in the process have reduced the opportunities for UX professionals to influence the design of a product. The author also argues that in order to produce a “quick fix”, Agile methodology relies on assumptions (e.g. via the use of journeys). This is in contrast to the traditional UX approach, which relies on researched usability data. However, by working in cross-functional teams, communication and collaboration is enhanced (Bowles and Box, 2012). In my experience, this team approach can be difficult to implement in larger organisations with hierarchical structures.
According to Gothelf (2011) Lean UX is based on an amalgam of the agile model with the Lean Startup approach as described by Ries (2011). He argues that UX designers should use traditional UX tools but only test in-depth when necessary. Moreover, he advises that there should be less focus on “deliverables” (documentation). As with the previous model, this approach requires a cross-functional, collaborative approach which can be culturally challenging to large, established hierarchical organisations.
James Box, one of the founders of Clearleft describes their project mangement approach as one which takes account of the context of the organisation, generating a high number of design ideas and then synthesising them into prototypes which can be iterated. He is sceptical about user research, arguing that rational choices are not independent of emotion and that aesthetics can make a user perceive the usability of a product as being better than it is. I am not convinced about this; visual design is only one aspect of usability and the user research we have conducted has shown how a range of users (with varying degrees of interest in visual design) have been unanimous in their response to the usability of a website.
What Kind Of Project Management Approach Is Our Group Using?
The overall structure of the project has been predefined by the academic nature of the task. Project tasks are recommended for each week but these are not all compulsory; within the framework, we could potentially have followed any of the abovementioned approaches.
It seems to me as if we are using a UX approach that brings elements from all three models. Thus, we are using a structured approach with clear, documented phases (waterfall); there are short, low-fidelity iterative cycles (lean) and we are working closely as a team in order to achieve timely completion of the project (Agile). In my opinion, this pragmatic approach ensures that best practice derived from each model is adapted to suit each client and/or project.
Is Our Approach Working?
The success or failure of our approach will become evident in the final feedback we receive on our project. However, to date, the mix of approaches used have facilitated the following aspects of the project:
- the generation, development and iteration of ideas
- group collaboration and flexibility
- meeting weekly deadlines
- remaining on track to complete the project by its completion date
My previous experience of academic project work has not been as successful and on reflection, this has been partly due to a lack of clarity about the project management process. For example, as discussed in my previous post, iteration is a key aspect of design but it is also an important part of the overall management of the project. I can now see that in previous academic group projects, this feature was not understood by all team members, thus causing frustration and dissent within the group.
In the future, I would look carefully at any project and clarify the approach being used to achieve the task. This information may be implicit in the organisational culture or explicitly stated within the group. This clarity would facilitate the roles and tasks within the project.
Bowles, C. and Box, J. 2011. Undercover user experience : learn how to do great UX work with tiny budgets, no time, and limited support. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.
Bryan, P. 2012. Is UX strategy fundamentally incompatible with Agile and Lean UX? [online]. Available at: http://www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2012/07/is-ux-strategy-fundamentally-incompatible-with-agile-or-lean-ux.php [Accessed 29 November 2012].
Gothelf, J. 2011. Getting out of the deliverables business [online]. Freiburg: Smashing Magazine. Available at: http://uxdesign.smashingmagazine.com/2011/03/07/lean-ux-getting-out-of-the-deliverables-business/ [Accessed 29 November 2012].
Ries, E. 2011. The Lean startup: how constant innovation creates radically successful businesses. London: Penguin
Seigel, B. 2011. A comprehensive website planning guide [online]. Freiburg: Smashing Magazine. Available at: http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2011/06/09/a-comprehensive-website-planning-guide/ [Accessed 29 November 2012].
Wikipedia. 2012. Agile software development [online]. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agile_software_development [Accessed: 29 November 2012].
Wikipedia. 2012. Lean manufacturing [online]. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lean_manufacturing [Accessed: 29 November 2012].
Wikipedia. 2012. Waterfall [online]. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waterfall_model [Accessed 29 November 2012].