Collaboration for UX Teams

Software development is a collaborative discipline, and a good UX team is the focal point of collaboration in a software development organization.

Developing and maintaining useful collaborative processes is critical to the success of your UX team. Why is this? You don’t build a product for yourself, the developers, or even management. You build it for your end users in a way that meets your business needs. If you don’t understand your users, you won’t create a successful product. If you don’t understand the business goals, you’ll build solutions but not a business. UX is uniquely positioned between business stakeholders, technical stakeholders and end users.

The recent interest in both Agile UX and Lean UX really starts to acknowledge this fact. Lean UX, in particular, pushes UX to move from being in the business of creating deliverables (the giant spec doc or Big Design Up-Front (BDUF)), to de-emphasizing deliverables in favor of creating user experiences. (If you’re not familiar with Lean UX, see Getting Out of the Deliverables Business and Long Live Lean UX.)

In the waterfall world, collaboration means: I listen to the business stakeholders, create a giant book of written specifications and a deck of wireframes. They sign off on it, and I hand it to the development team. Collaboration accomplished.

As development moved to Agile, this lack of communication actually got worse. Now developers don’t want specifications, just user stories. I attended an Agile presentation where the leader of the Agile team at a multi-billion dollar corporation was asked what type of documentation of the requested functionality there was. His answer: one sheet of paper, or even better, a single sentence. Tell me how UX gets involved with that process?

Lean UX starts to build a home for UX in an Agile world. It starts by bringing in some of the Agile tenets, such as validating your work with end users (i.e. testing your design hypotheses) to the UX domain. Lean UX also focuses on creating a “shared understanding” of what you’re building. Both of these tenets mean that collaboration is king.

UX is the fulcrum of creating a shared understanding. Developers, QA, product managers and end users can engage in user validation of existing functionality. But UX is responsible for shepherding the needs of end users and business stakeholders through development and making them a reality. This is transformative work – taking the raw material of inputs from executives, sales, marketing, support, QA, end users and all other stakeholders, and translating this into a vision of product functionality that can be implemented by product engineers.

Only through effective collaboration can you create the shared understanding you need between developers, user experience and other stakeholders. Focus on artifacts that create this shared understanding (this can be prototypes, but it can also include written specifications and instructions, user stories, sketches, or anything else you need to get your point across). The shift to Lean or Agile UX means a shift away from the BDUF impenetrable spec doc as a means to communicate, to create more flexible, faster, iterative approaches to communication. Whether your organization is pure Waterfall, Lean, Agile, or all of the above, improved collaboration will help you build great products.

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