Mastering Agile UX — Part 2: Cross-team collaboration

Imagine taking a symphony orchestra like the one below and splitting it up into a number of separate mini orchestras. Each mini orchestra would have a distinct name, a distinct identify and way of working. Each would have their own conductor, vocalist, violinist, trumpeter, flutist, cello player and so on. Now put them in different concert halls, perhaps even different countries and ask them to collectively play a piece of classic music together. What do you think will happen? Will they miraculously play beautifully together, or will it sound more like a junior school’s first band practice? It’s certainly not a concert that I would pay good money to attend.

Imagine if symphony orchestras set themselves up as Agile teams

Co-location, but with who?

Conventional wisdom dictates that a team that works together, should sit together. This is why the vast majority of Agile teams are co-located, or at least they used to be before Coronavirus left offices deserted. Conventional wisdom is not always the best sort of wisdom. Rather than sitting with your fellow Agile teammates (assuming that at some point in the future this will be possible), I’d urge you to instead sit yourself near to other UXers.

In an open plan office you should be able to sit near to other UXers and your Agile team

Carving out time to collaborate outside of your team

Agile teams are set-up to encourage collaboration within the team, but often it seems they discourage collaboration outside of it. This is a shame because not only does collaborating with other teams, and fellow UXers result in better quality work, it can be very lonely if you’re the only UXer in an Agile team.

Collaborating on the holistic user experience

One area in particular that cross-team collaboration should focus on is the holistic user-experience for a product or service. It’s all too easy for an Agile team to only consider their own work in isolation. It’s important to regularly step back and look at the bigger picture from a user’s perspective. Activities such as cross-team planning, experience mapping and user story mapping can help to do this, and are great candidates for cross-team collaboration.

An experience mapping workshop is a great cross-team activity

Sharing insights outside of your team

Does this sound familiar to you? Two different Agile teams are working on the same, or similar products. Each is speaking to their customers (brilliant), possibly even the same customers. Each is learning a lot about their customers, but like precious treasure, these valuable insights are kept under lock and key within the confides of their team.

A research insights repository is a great way to share insights outside of your team

Using insights from outside of your team

An Agile team can soon become an echo chamber — a place where knowledge and views are shared and reinforced within a closed system. It’s important to break free of this ‘group think’, by not only sharing insights outside of your team, but importantly also utilising insights from other teams. Remember that sharing insights should be 2-way traffic, not a 1-way system.

Finding the best UX model

Having UXers working within Agile teams can be brilliant, but it’s not the right model for every team, for every project, or indeed for every organisation. Working within an Agile team can have many benefits, but it can also come with many downsides. As Peter Merholz and Kristin Skinner describe in their excellent Design Org for Design Orgs book:

  • Designers become lonely and disconnected
  • There is little cohesive design culture and community
  • The user experience is fractured
  • There are inefficiencies as efforts are duplicated
  • User research is marginalized.”
Agile tends to be optimised for speed, over quality
Different UX team models

Conclusion

See also

Images

Former techy turned UX Jedi. Checkout out my blog (UX for the Masses) for more about me.

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