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Beyond Scrum: Agile Strategies for Effective Design Collaboration

May 24, 2023

Imagine a virtual workspace with professionals hustling to meet Scrum deadlines. Virtual post-its litter the digital boards, fingers furiously clacking on keyboards, and the hum of Scrum meetings floats through the virtual air. However, amidst all this activity, a particular group, the designers, seems disconnected from the overall Scrum process. The big question: does Scrum truly serve the designers, or is it just a mirage of productivity?

While Agile and Scrum have changed the way development and product teams operate, it’s debatable if they serve the needs of designers as effectively. I’ve experienced many companies professing their “agile” allegiance, I’ve seen designers get more entangled in meetings and ceremonies than actual design work, myself included. So, designers, though integral to the team, are better off staying away from Scrum.

Before we dive in, let’s remind ourselves what is Scrum. It is a globally celebrated Agile methodology, it champions breaking down work into manageable pieces, fostering team collaboration, and nurturing continuous feedback loops. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? Yet, there’s a different side to this story.

Whenever I’ve put forth my perspective, Agile enthusiasts have quickly shot it down and educated me on Scrum’s virtues. They mention shared understanding, sprint planning, daily stand-ups, sprint reviews, retrospectives, and backlog refinement. All promising to enhance collaboration, inform decision-making, maintain alignment, and optimize productivity. Which will lead me to make better products…

Despite recognizing these benefits, I’ve found that these meetings often turn into ceremonial rituals rather than productive gatherings for designers. Time spent not listening but checking emails or something else, such as taking them away from work. Imagine attending meetings where your contribution is minimal and often unnoticed. Isn’t that precious time wasted that could have been utilized in creating compelling designs?

This becomes even more crazy when designers are asked to estimate tasks involving backend development! Isn’t it common sense that developers, with their intimate understanding of technology, are better equipped to estimate development tasks? So why ask people who don’t have a clue about development to estimate the work? The stubborn belief in following Scrum to the letter T without adapting it to the team’s needs undermines the very essence of Agile — flexibility and adaptability.

So, how do we navigate this problem? Communication and transparency are the lifelines of creating alignment, not an overdose of meetings. If designers can work closely with their team without being in the Scrum labyrinth, wouldn’t that be the best of both worlds?

To achieve this alignment and maintain open communication, I suggest an alternative approach:

  1. Design-Product-Development Catch-Ups: Regular meetings between these teams can ensure better alignment and feedback flow. Designers can showcase their work and gather feedback, and developers can provide updates on the implementation progress. This also provides a platform for discussing technical limitations or possibilities that may influence design decisions.
  2. Asynchronous Updates: Daily updates can be shared using collaboration tools like Slack, Trello, or Jira. This keeps everyone on the same page without needing elaborate stand-up meetings. Designers must communicate regularly with the Scrum team about their work and reasoning. Loom is an excellent tool for this purpose. For example, designers can use a dedicated channel to share their latest work, ask for input, and highlight upcoming design needs.
  3. Selective Inclusion: Designers can significantly benefit from participating in selected Scrum ceremonies, where their inputs are essential and valuable. For instance, sprint planning and sprint review are excellent opportunities for designers to provide valuable insights to help steer the project in the right direction.
  4. Open Availability: Instead of attending each stand-up, designers could be available for problem-solving discussions when needed.
  5. Inclusion in Design Process: Developers can benefit from understanding the ‘why’ behind design decisions, just as designers can learn about technical constraints.
  6. Feedback Loops: Regular feedback loops can align expectations, track progress, and aid decision-making. This could be done through regular design critiques or tools like Figma that allow for asynchronous design feedback.

Amidst all these conversations, it’s vital to remember Agile’s essence — valuing individuals and interactions over processes and tools. While Scrum may not be an ideal fit, the principles of Agile can significantly enhance the design process.

Designers can benefit from Agile by focusing on collaboration, iterative development, flexibility, user-centricity, and continuous learning. To truly embed Agile into the design process, methodologies like Lean UX or Design Thinking can be useful. Combining elements from Agile development, Lean Startup methodologies, and design thinking promotes collaborative, iterative design processes, focusing on delivering exceptional user experiences.

Agile is not a rigid framework but a malleable set of principles. So it should be adapted to best fit the team’s needs. For designers, this could mean being involved but not immersed in the Scrum process. Because at the end of the day, what matters is creating a better product, and the process to get there should facilitate, not hinder this goal.

So, as we navigate the Scrum journey, let’s be truly Agile. Let’s keep adapting, questioning, and finding the best ways to foster creativity and productivity. Agile is not about rigid adherence but finding the best path forward together.

Designers, it’s time to step out of the meetings and back into your creative spaces because that’s where the magic happens!

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