Investing in the UX skills of a Scrum Team delivers a huge return. Learn how.
In this article you will learn:
- Why enabling Scrum Teams with UX Design capabilities is important.
- Why introducing UX capabilities to Scrum team is frequently hard.
- What is the job of an UX Leader in a product development organization.
- How to use a UX Design maturity level to coach teams to deliver better outcomes.
The job of a Scrum Team is not just to deliver a product, but to solve user problems.
The narrative around Scrum is centered on delivering products. The Scrum Guide  mentions «product» 68 times, but there is only one reference for «user» and none for «experience».
A product is a vehicle to deliver value. It has a clear boundary, known stakeholders, well-defined users or customers. A product could be a service, a physical product, or something more abstract.
Likewise, the Agile movement is rooted on turning software projects into initiatives based on collaboration and a more continuous delivery. The first principle of the Agile Manifesto  says:
Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
It is no strange then that the experience of users with the software is usually not the top priority for software teams, but fulfilling business requirements. As Melissa Perri puts it on her book Escaping the Build Trap , the context of many teams and the way they have interpreted Agile and Scrum has turned them into Feature Factories, more focused on delivering a product that to provide outcomes for users.
Marty Cagan defines beautifully what should be the mission of Product Teams in his book Inspired :
In most companies, technology teams exist “to serve the business”. However, in contrast, in strong product organizations, teams exist “to serve the customers, in ways that meet the needs of the business”.
Enabling teams with UX design capabilities is a critical lever to help teams «escape the build trap» and «serve the customers, in ways that meet the needs of the business».
The benefits of integrating UX design to Scrum Teams.
When Scrum Teams embody a UX mindset and practices, they deliver products with higher value and reduce waste activities during development :
Reduced Development Costs. A better user research and design activities keeping the user at the center, reduces waste due to features not used or to rework features with poor usability or not meeting user needs.
Increased customers. Products more usable that better meet the user needs provide higher satisfaction, and that turns users into promoters that bring new users to our product.
Increased customer loyalty and long term relationship. More satisfied customers stay longer using our products. When the product really solves their needs, their stickyness and loyalty grows.
Increased conversion. When customers have many options to cover their needs, products that do not meet the user needs and are easy to use may be tried, but the switching costs to other solutions are low. Customers will typically only if they have a good impression at first sight.
Better revenue and Return on Investment. The most profitable users often want to save time and enjoy good experiences with convenient products. Scrum teams with good UX mindset and practices deliver quicker and leaner on the expections of customers.
Introducing UX capabilities to Scrum teams is frequently hard.
Every organization is different and has their own context. However, I have observed patterns common to many organizations. Some of them are:
- Organizational inertia. Many organizations keep a project mindset, they focus on the internal development process and budget, instead on the customer experience. The functional organization design (business vs IT departments) and the waterfall lifecycle reinforce the internal focus and make it difficult to put the customer at the center of the process.
- Teams too focused on engineering. When teams are used to delivering requirements to the business, they optimize their processes for that. They are good at delivering quickly what the customer asks for and set the responsibility of deciding those requirements on the customer.
- Lack of UX specialists. Organizations without a design culture have no designers or a few of them at most. Hiring designers may seem a waste for the leadership. On top of that, design is a discipline which may seem easy to learn but it is not. Becoming a senior designer takes years of work.
- Designers and developers alignment. The lack of a close relationship between designers and developers may create miunderstandings of each other work and capabilities. Both roles may be used to do their work in silos and collaborating through the exchange of complete documents.
The job of a UX Leader.
Anyone who works to increase the UX Design capabilities of an organization is a UX Leader. This leadership includes activities such as:
- Promote the benefits of UX Design, both for the whole organization and for internal roles, such as the Product Owner or the Developers.
- Coach the organization, the teams and the inviduals to increase their UX capabilities at their suitable pace. This encompasses p.e. helping the individuals to a) spot the problems that UX can help them to solve, b) help them to explore solutions to them and c) make them aware of their progress and the benefits attained.
- Teach others about the UX mindset and activities, both to improve the communication with Developers and also to enable them to perform the easier ones.
Ideally, the leadership recognizes the need to enable the UX capability in the organization and sponsor the hiring of a designer, a senior one if possible, to drive the adoption of the design discipline across the organization. This approach eases the adoption due to the support of the leadership and the consequent positioning of this role in the organization.
If a team hires a designer, he or she can also perform leadership activities, but their success will be more limited.
A UX Design maturity model to support teams.
Maturity models guide individuals and organizations to increase their maturity. They provide people with a map to learn where they are and identify a journey to improve.
A common misconception about maturity models is that the goal of teams should always be to reach the maximum maturity level. This is a ‘contextless’ mistake. As an analogy, nobody is expecting you to go around the world when you have a map in your hands, but get easier to the place you need to go… and can afford to.
This diagram is part of the Professional Scrum with UX course, inspired by an article of Jared Spool . I will summarize some ideas on how could it help to increase the UX Design maturity for Scrum Teams.
1️⃣ Separate UX Teams
The first step is having a separate UX designer individual or a team. They can support the teams delivering UX activities and coaching the them to:
- Understand the quick wins that UX can provide, and thus increase their will to improve with UX.
- Understand how the UX practices are aligned with their goals (e.g. reduce rework, increase the product adoption or finish projects earlier). That will also increase their appeal to keep improving with UX.
It is important that the UX Leader keeps an open and supportive mindset, allowing teams to improve at a viable pace and avoiding the UX police stance.
2️⃣ Designer on the Scrum Team
A more advanced stage of the UX maturity of the team is when there is a designer fully dedicated to the team. That provides several benefits compared with the previous stage of partial dedication of the designer to the team:
- The designer has a closer relationship with the other team members, that produces more trust and collaboration.
- The designer can train other team members so they become independent for common UX activities.
- The designer acquires a deeper knowledge on the products and business domain of the team.
Teams with a dedicated and stable designer deliver on average products with more value for users than teams with external designers.
3️⃣ Designer Actively Mentoring the Scrum Team
Once the Scrum Team has had the experience of working continuously with a dedicated designer, learning from this role and performing inpedenently UX activities, it has developed its own UX skills and it may be ready to allow the professional UX Designer to focus on other teams.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not an easy step. As any experienced designer will tell you, it can take a long time before most teams can be fully autonomous. Some others will never do because their specific members or because staff turnover.
In my experience, this step is sometimes difuse with the dedicated designer one. It turns out that the designer spends less time with the team as it matures or projects requirements for UX are not difficult, and eventually none.
At this point, external designers shift their support from delivering the most complex UX activities to coaching the team to keep growing their UX capabilities by helping them to reflect and act on:
- Their UX capabilities, the improvement opportunities and the options to keep growing on UX.
- Ways to measure the outcomes of the UX work.
- Ways to grow the UX mindset.
This is a pretty advanced UX stage in UX autonomy for Scrum Teams. New UX designers can pop up from the teams at this stage. The external designers perform basically UX leadership.
4️⃣ UX skills and work shared on the Backlog and the Scrum Team
The top stage in this model is a bit different. It is not necessarily the evolution of the previous ones, but growing alongside them.
- On the one hand, the UX activities start being performed basically by the UX designer, whether on a separate discovery subteam/Sprint (the Staggered Dual-Track Agile model ) on less mature UX teams or inside the same team/Sprint on more mature teams. As the Developers and the Product Owner learn from the UX Designer, they perform independently more UX activities. In the mid run, they have acquired enough UX skills to be fully autonomous to performing UX work.
- On the other hand, on less mature teams the UX work often starts managed on a separate Baklog. As the team mature in UX practices, the UX work is managed in the common Product Backlog and eventually the limits between the UX PBIs and the other PBIs become fuzzier. See How to integrate UX and Scrum — Orienting Scrum to UX  for a deeper review of this process.
You can find me on:
- Scrum Guide
- Agile Manifesto
- Melissa Perri — Escaping the Build Trap
- INSPIRED: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love, 2nd Ed.
- 7 lucrative benefits of good UX design for your business
- Driving Product Teams to Become More Design Mature
- How to integrate UX and Scrum — Dual Track Scrum? | (original article in Spanish)
- How to integrate UX and Scrum — Orienting Scrum to UX | (original article in Spanish)