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Nurture User Experience Through Agile Planning Events

22 July 2015

Venkata Gayatri Krishnamurty Pammi
Ivy Comptech Limited

A Standish Group 2014 study of value, headed by Warren Buffet's statement that "price is what you pay. Value is what you get," looked at price and value. "The project budget, schedule, and scope constitute the project's price," said the study. "In other words, price comprises cost, time, and scope, otherwise known as the 'triple constraints.' Most projects are measured by price, but price does not always correlate to value."

Of the projects that met triple constraints, Standish Group research showed that only 13 percent yielded very high value, and 27 percent of the projects yielded high value. This means that about 60 percent of the projects yielded average to low value. And this means that, in the words of the study, "Sometimes you pay the price for a project but do not get the value."

Further, according to the Standish Group research, 20 percent of customer application development features are often used, 30 percent are infrequently used, and 50 percent are hardly ever used. This means that a major percent of the performing organization's price does not correlate to value generation.

What's missing?

I reflected on this experience and also reached out to teams to learn what can bridge this gap. Interestingly, I got collective feedback that stated, "Either we fail to understand end-user experience, or we do not give much weight to it."

What is user experience?

According to Wikipedia, user experience (UX) involves a person's emotions about using a particular product, system, or service. User experience highlights the experiential, affective, meaningful, and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction and product ownership.

Nurture user experience through Agile planning events

In Agile, planning is continuous. Once the vision for the product is established and the product is placed on the road map, the following planning events will help you develop user-valued products:
  1. Product road map planning event: This event engages stakeholders and ignites stakeholder interaction, with emphasis on user needs and preferences. It extracts user experience for user stories that support user goals. It lets user personas envision the product road map from the perspective of use to meet their needs. It then aligns user needs with business objectives and provides us the guidance for subsequent planning events.
  2. Release planning event: This event focuses on planning value incrementally, based on the direction provided by the product road map planning event. Early releases try to focus on planning minimum viable product features. Later releases try to focus on adding flexibility, safety, and usability features. The release planning event provides guidance for the sprints involved. The outcome of these events is considered during upcoming product road map replanning events.
  3. Sprint planning event: In accordance with the release planning event, the sprint planning event focuses on prioritizing user stories for the sprint and setting sprint goals based on team commitment. The outcome of these events is considered during upcoming release-planning events.
  4. Daily planning event: In accordance with sprint planning event, prioritized stories are planned and dependencies are discussed and resolved.
Agile teams plan product construction in layers and they recur periodically. Jeff Patton suggested a story-mapping technique to develop the product planning road map and derive product objectives based on user goals or needs. User goals or needs are sequenced exactly in the order in which users want to navigate the product. Each of these goals is then further elaborated vertically by tasks that users want to perform to fulfill their goals. In practice, user stories may be written to describe the user tasks. Users are then asked to prioritize necessary or less optional stories toward the top of their user goals and optional tasks toward the bottom, as described in the diagram below.

If we read the activities across the top of the system from left to right, we can understand end-to-end use of the system. This way, we can ensure that the product road map is aligned to fulfill user needs. Features that are necessary for the bare minimum workable product are considered for the first release. Features that support flexibility, safety, usability, performance, and good appeal are considered for subsequent releases. Release planning and sprint planning events are then performed to support the scope provided by road map guidance. These planning events exchange their outcomes and adapt among themselves periodically. This way, user needs and associated user experience drive Agile planning events.

User experience is no longer a choice -- it is a means of survival

You have got to start with customer experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around. The user experience approach is no longer about usability, it is about value creation. It is no longer the role of one person or department, it is about culture. It is no longer a choice, it is a means of survival.

In the words of MarketingTech, "74% of businesses believe that user experience is key for improving sales, conversation, and loyalty." Thus we cannot afford to underestimate the impact of our users' experience.

User experience does not start at purchase, it begins when the user has a need

By pairing the product vision with user needs, the role of marketing shifts from generating demand to generating awareness. Seventy percent of buying experiences are based on how the customers feel they are treated. Active, two-way, positive interactions that begin soon after a purchase is made have the greatest potential long-term value.

Agile planning events nurture user experience by discovering user needs. Aligning the product road map with user needs will certainly correlate product price to value creation. In fact, going with this approach, we can create situations in which end users perceive more value in our products than the price they pay for them.

Google analyzes users' response patterns to their online posts and predicts user behavior even before users understand their responses themselves. As Steve Jobs once said, "Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves."

It is an interesting journey toward understanding user experience, especially on products that leverage the Internet of Things. It is not an easy job to predict user experience. However, if we champion this aspect, we will indeed correlate product price to value creation.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

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