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Author's profile photo Lydia Tallau

Part 1 – Agile UX – Understanding the Agile World from a UX Perspective

This article was originally posted in 2014 on

Over the past 10 years SAP has successfully introduced and established great methods for development teams to faster, better design and develop products. Lean software development, agile software engineering and design thinking all successfully help us to deliver great software solutions for our customers and drive innovation.

In part 1 of this two-part article series, I’d like to summarize the background and basics of these methods and how they contributed to the rise of agile UX. Why do I think this is important?
Because for UX professionals to best support an agile product development team and still keep up the user experience quality they are aiming for, the first step is to understand the principles behind these methods and then figure out how to apply them to their user experience work.

Lean software development

Lean software development is an agile practice that is based on the principles of lean manufacturing. Lean software development is based on 7 principles and 22 tools:

  • The fundamental principle of lean software development is “eliminate waste”,
    where waste is extra processes, defects, extra features, etc.
  • According to Taiichi Ohno, one of the founders of lean manufacturing, waste is
    defined as anything that does not produce value for the customer
  • Designs and prototypes are not useful to the customer; they are only valuable
    when the new product is being developed

Jeff Gothelf, in his book, Lean UX, first introduced the concept of how to bring the concepts of lean to the dynamic environment of a start-up. Lean UX unites product development and business, through constant measurement and so called “learning loops” (build – measure – learn). The goal is to produce a minimum viable product and push it out to the market as rapidly as possible. From Gothelf’s ideas evolved the 10 principles of successful lean product teams, which is what we in my product team used as the basis for how we wanted to work together.

Agile software engineering and the rise of agile UX

The processes that are described as agile can actually be seen as environments for a team to learn how to be agile. Agile is based on the strong belief that the way a team works together is far more important than any process.

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Based on these beliefs, the agile manifesto was born, and with it several agile development frameworks have been successfully introduced to support teams in applying agile thinking in their daily work.

Graphic by Lynne Cazaly

Agile UX

The biggest concern for creators of the original agile manifesto was efficiency of the software development process, rather than the value and the place of design.

Initially, agile went up against the classic “waterfall” development process that is inherently problematic in that the development process is dynamic but is relying on static specifications that too quickly become out of date and are therefore of little use. Agile UX is thus an update of the agile software methodology with UX design methods. The ultimate goal of agile UX is to unify developers and designers in the agile process of product development.

Applying agile methods to UX leads to the following understanding of agile UX:

  • Iterative process, based on the Agile Software Development Methodology
  • Work in short “sprints” (1-4 weeks), focusing on a small scope
  • Build the product incrementally
  • After each sprint, use what you’ve learned to reevaluate where you’re heading
  • Informal collaboration (sketching, pair design) instead of heavy documentation (massive specification docs)

By now I hope you have an idea about agile and lean methods and how to bring them to the world of UX. Yet, you might think: how does design thinking fit into all this?

Briefly defined, design thinking is a structured approach to innovation that leverages multidisciplinary teams, flexible environments and a creative process in order to come up with user-focused products, services or experiences. Design thinking is and remains a great method. Yet, in environments where time-to-market and a minimal viable scope are core drivers to success, it is time to think about how to make design thinking “leaner” by bringing parts of it into the development lifecycle.

So how do these frameworks come together? I like this illustration by Dave Landis (lithespeed), which describes how the 3 methods really go well with each other in a natural flow.




So whereas design thinking concentrates on the question of how to innovate and understand our users better, lean UX is a way to validate that you are building the right thing and constantly measuring the market fit. Agile UX is a way to work much better together. So bringing these methods together results in the build of the right thing in the right way.



Adapted from Anders Ramsay, coderchronicles (2012)


Read on to part 2 of this series to find out about my experience applying agile UX to my projects.

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      Author's profile photo Oliver Kohl
      Oliver Kohl

      Great to see you exploring this part of UX design, Lydia.