Agile design process: connecting principles and process

By Gavin Edwards
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Connecting the dots between teams and processes is key to shipping better digital products. But how can you marry Agile, Lean, and Design Thinking effectively to avoid process overload?

In a previous post, we talked about Design Thinking problem solving and the power of asking ‘why’ to find new value for your customers and business.

Many organisations are looking to apply Design Thinking in this way – as a process for fostering innovation. But they’re often already using Agile or Lean as their development philosophy (or a hybrid of the two) to help their software teams deliver in a fast, sustainable way.

So where does the Design Thinking process fit into this mix? Aren’t we already drowning in processes? 

You’d certainly think so looking at this infographic from Deloitte which maps the landscape for Agile process alone. 

 

A visual representation of the Agile landscape

 

And of course there are huge areas of overlap between processes across different disciplines, which can cause serious inefficiencies and confusion.

Using all three – Agile, Lean, and Design Thinking – harmoniously is tricky, but it’s critical to success, because each process has a key role to play in creating customer value by enabling the organisation to learn and react quickly:

  • Design Thinking is how we explore and solve problems to find our why
  • Agile is how we adapt to changing conditions with software and ‘how we build it;’ 
  • and Lean is our framework for testing our beliefs, learning the right pathway to the right outcomes, and giving us confidence in ‘what we are doing and when’.

So how can we integrate Design Thinking in a way that makes things simpler, not harder?

Put simply, it’s about connecting the dots between teams and processes to ship better products.

Defining your Agile design process

No organisation takes its processes off the shelf – they adapt and implement them as they see fit for the nuances of their organisation, market, and team. 

Now it’s our belief that many over-index on delivery since delivery feels more naturally aligned with the way businesses operate. But we also believe that the value of design creates competitive advantage, and that it needs to have the right weighting within the product ideation and delivery work streams. 

Focus on the principles of these frameworks and where they overlap. It’s here that you’ll find the right model for solving the problems your organisation is looking to solve.

You don’t want to create a stitched-together Frankenstein process, but rather understand and think about how these processes can operate together harmoniously, in a way that leverages the strengths and aligning areas of each.

At Inviqa, we’ve built teams and processes that do just this, helping us to:

  • find innovation points to create value for clients and their customers,
  • identify the purpose behind the things we’re building and when to build them, and
  • take learnings quickly, respond to change, and adapt our plans.

Diagram mapping how each Inviqa team focuses on which principles and processes

 

This diagram shows how we’ve:

  • taken a key principle from Agile, Lean, and Design Thinking that is most meaningful to our business (and that of our clients),
  • identified which teams should focus on which principles and processes, highlighting areas of accountability, and
  • connected teams as part of our shared purpose, plan, and production.

In our experience, it’s always better to observe the principles of process, rather than the rigidity of process itself. In fact this is even a core principle of Agile: ‘Individuals and interactions over processes and tools’.

It’s always better to observe the principles of process, rather than the rigidity of process itself.

For example, when The Office Group (TOG) came to us in 2019, they needed help developing a maintainable, scalable website to propel international growth. 

Our experience design (XD) team set to work gaining a deep understanding of the audience, market, and business to define what problems needed solving. 

They used Design Thinking to find the right opportunities for the business to succeed, and the focus was on evidence over assumptions, using usability testing and A/B testing to learn quickly about how users were interacting with the prototype and how it could be improved accordingly. 

Our consulting and product teams helped define a blueprint for action by working with the team to develop a prioritised digital roadmap supporting the organisation’s digital strategy and strategic goals for the site. 

This then informed the development of an MVP site from our engineering team which we developed in an Agile, iterative way, making effective use of Sprint Zero to kickstart development.

It’s an integrated approach we’ve used to great effect with many other clients.

Agile Design Thinking today

Covid amplifies the difficulty in being able to scenario-model the changes required for your organisation’s future. This is where thinking fast and learning fast – two core principles of Design Thinking and Lean are key. But it’s also key to empower your teams to operate in this way, for them to be agile in their thinking and responding to learnings quickly.

So, understanding the problems to solve with Design Thinking is step one, but the next three steps are critical to progress from assumptions and hypothesis to evidence and reality:

  1. build: build the simplest thing that gives you the biggest learning quickly;
  2. test: put it into the hands of your customers and look at the data;
  3. learn: interpret the insights to understand whether you’re on the right path.

Once you have found, communicated, or even just re-energised your purpose and your people it’s critical that you empower them to make decisions. 

By ‘letting go’, and empowering people to use their best judgment, you’ll unlock a new level of ideation, creativity, and ingenuity that will help your organisation respond to today’s disruptive times.   

Making Agile design process work remotely

We recently shared our thoughts on how to keep remote design teams engaged and aligned since it’s clear that this mode of working will be with us in the longer term.

Being creative remotely takes energy and focus, but it’s possible! For an Agile and remote design process that delivers value, remember to:

  • Start with why 
  • Find the simplest things that will give you the biggest (and fastest) learnings
  • Adapt your roadmap to get these things into the hands of customers
  • Rinse and repeat  

Remember that this loop needs to be continuous since innovation never stops, and remember the three Ps:

  • Principles over process
  • Purpose over plan
  • People over profit

We’re living in difficult times, but it’s important to look at the positives and recognise this as a time for innovation. After all, the best innovation is born within constraint, rather than abundance, because it’s human nature to avoid pushing boundaries when you’re comfortable.

Key to your ability to innovate is to:

  • understand and communicate the value of design,
  • solve problems with Design Thinking, 
  • and define an Agile design process that helps you create value, identify purpose, and learn and adapt at scale.

We hope you’ve found this and our previous posts useful! If you’re interested in how we can help accelerate and scale your product, design, or delivery capabilities, just drop as a line.

About the author

Gavin Edwards consults with our experience design (XD) team. He supports our teams in bringing a user-centric view to our clients' businesses, using design to create products and services that solve real problems and drive value to both customers and organisations.

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CXcon: Experience Transformation