Everything You Need to Know About the Agile Design Process
April 12, 2022
Everything You Need to Know About the Agile Design Process
The agile design process takes an iterative, not linear, approach to product development. Let's go through each stage in the process and what tools can help.
The agile design process gives software professionals and innovation teams the power to quickly create better software and products.
In the past 20 years, people and businesses have come to rely on increasingly complicated software more than ever. The software we rely on does everything from powering our tablets to controlling production lines in factories. Competition and changing end user needs require companies to continually update their software and products to stay ahead.
The agile design process was developed in reaction to the belief that older development processes did not offer the flexibility companies required.
In this article, we’ll focus on:
- What agile is
- Agile values and principles
- The three main agile methods
- How the agile design process works
- Popular agile tools
What Is Agile?
Agile is people-driven and relies on continuous collaboration between teams and their clients, whether internal or external.
The agile framework also responds to uncertainty and ever-moving targets. Agile design teams have learned how to create better products and add brand new features while not knowing the answers to all questions, like they would if they were using the design thinking process.
In agile, changes to project specifications are not disruptive. Instead, they're viewed as essential to creating a working, functional product that brings value to end users.
Along those lines, with agile, there is no such thing as a finished product. Instead, agile teams focus on delivering working software that undergoes continuous improvement post-deployment.
Evolving user needs and keeping up with competing innovation drive these improvements. If a company makes a mistake, the agile software development process allows them to find this out quickly, make the necessary changes, and deliver it to customers.
Agile vs. Waterfall
Traditionally, product development processes use a “waterfall” approach.
Unlike the iterative approach of agile, waterfall is linear. Each stage has a definitive end, at which point the deliverables are transferred to the next stage.
For example, the analysis phase would be followed by the design phase, the design phase followed by the construction phases, and so on.
The problem with the waterfall approach is that it's only really suitable for projects where the end requirements remained unchanged throughout the whole process.
Agile vs. Design Thinking
Design thinking introduced flexibility to product and service development.
Like agile, design thinking is an iterative approach. This means that team members can step back one or more stages and change direction at any point of the process, unlike the rigid waterfall approach..
For example, let’s say that a product got to the prototype stage. Testing the prototype on customers led the team to see issues with the end-user experience.
Design thinking would encourage a development team to go back to the ideation stage to look for a way to improve the user experience. Once this solution had been found, a new prototype would be created for user testing.
However, unlike agile, design thinking always has an endpoint. Agile involves continuous iteration to allow ongoing product development and improvement past the creation of the first viable, deployed version.
Agile Values and Principals
The agile development process is built on a set of foundational values described in the Agile Manifesto:
- Having the right group of people who communicate well with each other is more important than the processes and tools they use.
- Developers should focus on providing customers with working software rather than spending time creating detailed documentation on technical specifications, requirements, and so on. Write code before manuals.
- It's better for a product manager and stakeholders to collaborate throughout the project than agree on immovable goals.
- Changing course and direction are a natural part of the development process. Agile teams should be able to quickly adapt to change.
The Three Main Agile Methods
There are three main agile design process methods: scrum, Kanban, and lean. Each has its own techniques and tools.
- Approach: This structured method includes clearly defined responsibilities for teams and team members. Scrum teams use “agile ceremonies,” regular meetings with predetermined goals, to plan and track projects as well as engage with stakeholders throughout the process.
- Best for: It's great for developing new products or improving features in current products. Scrum is a popular approach, but its reliance on design sprints may make it unsuitable for dealing with new projects on live products and services.
- Approach: Kanban is focused on identifying issues that may be causing bottlenecks. It improves workflows and measures how well your company is meeting its users’ needs.
- Best for: Companies who want more control over the production process may prefer Kanban, particularly if the business may be changing course, direction, or priorities.
- Approach: Lean agile focuses on reducing wasted resources and inefficient processes to ensure consistent delivery of value to clients.
- Best for: Companies wanting to understand their users’ needs and how best to efficiently address their needs.
How Does the Agile Design Process Work?
Multiple approaches to the agile design process have been developed in the last 20 years. Below, we try to share what most of them have in common and in the order in which they occur. That said, the process we describe below is closest to the Scrum method.
Please bear in mind that agile is also iterative, which means that many of the stages may be happening simultaneously.
For most products now, there are two stages to the agile design process: pre-launch and post-launch.
The pre-launch first phase in agile project management is developing a plan. The key here is getting initial customer feedback on what they want the product to do and how easy to use it is.
At this point, the project manager starts to outline what they believe are the best ways to achieve the objectives and goals of their company or client. This is an initial roadmap and will be subject to change.
They then begin to assemble their team. They need to choose people with the necessary skills and make sure, as best as possible, that these people can communicate effectively with each other.
The next part of the pre-launch phase is sprint planning. The project manager gives each sprint team its own task with a set of measurable objectives and realistic targets.
The goal is not to create a market-ready item but a prototype. Sprints are small development cycles lasting generally between one to four weeks with team members regularly reporting on their progress. This help warns the product manager about any potential delays to the overall workflow, how well team members are working together, and whether any additional resources are needed to keep the project on time.
When the sprints are completed, the meeting phase begins. Project managers hold separate meetings with their teams and with clients/stakeholders.
At client/stakeholder meetings, project managers share the progress so far, demonstrating any prototypes they have available or explaining any new features or components that have come out of the sprint phase. Team members often find it useful to sit in on these meetings to hear client feedback directly.
Continued Project Work
Following a client/stakeholder meeting, the project manager meets with their teams to discuss progress. They’ll share their concerns on how the project is progressing and invite discussion. Of particular importance will be how to address a client’s feedback.
The sprint planning, design sprints, and meeting phases generally repeat until the client/stakeholder is happy.
When the client is happy, the final sprints begin with the goal of creating the working software or product for release or use.
After being released, software products are continually updated and improved. New features and functions will be added as a result of customer feedback or developments in competitors’ products. This is called the “production” phase.
Over time, companies choose to take their products off the market permanently or replace an existing product with a new one. This is called “retirement” in the agile approach and represents the end of a product’s lifecycle.
Popular Agile Tools
Tools used during the agile design process generally focus on improving the quality of communication between team members.
Nine of the most popular agile design process tools are:
- User stories: User stories describe a potential user of the product or service a team is working on and why they need that product or service.
- Sprint retrospectives: Retrospectives find ways to improve the next sprint of a project and help stakeholders understand how the project is progressing.
- Iteration planning: This is the process of deciding what functionality the end-user wants as a result of the agile design sprints.
- Prioritized backlogs: Teams work on these tasks if they successfully complete an agile design sprint early.
- Short iterations: Used on more complete projects, short iterations break projects down into smaller tasks. Doing this allows for more accurate tracking of the progress of projects overall.
- Team review (show and tell); Team members demonstrate the progress they’ve made and what they’ve learned. They also answer questions and outline their plans for the coming weeks.
- Team walls: This is a visual record, placed on a wall, of the work a team has done to date, work that’s currently underway, and work yet to begin. Team members can monitor overall progress and other stakeholders can see your progress.
Choose Innoveto for Your Design Sprints
With agile, development teams tackle big projects by splitting into smaller groups to solve specific issues using sprints that last between 1-4 weeks. It may take three months to get to a working product.
For simpler creation or improvement projects, a stand-alone “design sprint” may be more suitable. In a stand-alone design sprint, one team of stakeholders from across the business creates a minimum viable product through ideation and user testing over five days and over five phases.
Design sprints balance the needs of end-users with the commercial goals of a business. Using many of the techniques from the design thinking process, design sprints are suitable for companies wanting to solve problems or unlock opportunities quickly.
Innoveto can help with anything from quick turnarounds on new product development projects to improving sales from clients’ e-commerce sites. For over 10 years, we have provided design sprint services to clients across Europe and around the world.
Understand in real-time clients’ and users’ opinions of your brand and what they want from your products or services via the Pliik™ app. Through our speed creation process, you’ll have four to five concrete solutions within two days. At the end of the week, you’ll have clarity on which solution you should pursue.
To start your Innoveto Design Sprint, please call +41 43 205 21 73, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or click here for our contact form.
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