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 UPA Conference 2005

Full Day Workshop:
W-1 - Agile Usability: Challenges and Strategies for Using User-Centered Design and Usability Techniques in Agile Development

Title: W-1 - Agile Usability: Challenges and Strategies for Using User-Centered Design and Usability Techniques in Agile Development
Curricula: Usability perspectives
Audience: Experienced Practitioners
Presenter(s): Ron Vutpakdi, Jeff Patton, Thyra Rauch
  • Monday, June 27, 2005 -- 8:30AM - 5:00PM
Tension exists between agile development which favors short development cycles with minimal design and UCD/usability approaches which emphasize rigorous user research and design activities before writing software. In this workshop, experienced UCD, usability, and agile development practitioners will produce a list of common challenges and coping strategies for bridging the gulf between these approaches.
Position Paper: download
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Jeff Patton has been involved with XP and agile development for the past 5 years, software development for the past 10. He’s studied with Constantine and Lockwood, and Cooper Interactive. He’s effectively used User Centered Design approaches on agile projects for the last four years. In doing so he’s developed many approaches and adaptations that make UCD approaches more collaborative and more amenable to an agile iterative development lifecycle. He’s also adapted agile approaches to allow for and depend on UCD practices to make them more effective.

Ron Vutpakdi originally was a software developer who, over the course of seven years, became more and more involved with interaction design and usability. For most of the past five years, he has been an interaction designer and usability internal consultant for a large vertical market software company. Three years ago, this company moved from a more traditional software development process to a more agile process. During this time, Ron Vutpakdi has adapted his activities and deliverables to match the change in development process.

Thyra Rauch has worked as a usability professional and interaction designer for the past 18 years, always with a strong focus on the user and their tasks in the environment they will be performing them. This facilitator has been working for the past year in an agile environment, refining how to make UCD methods more agile to better fit into the changing development process.



Jeff Patton has taught tutorials on practicing Usage-Centered Design on agile projects at several conferences including UPA, Agile Development Conference, XP Agile Universe, and OOPSLA. He recently presented at and served as a panelist in a workshop on combining user centered design practices and agile approaches recently held at IBM’s Center for Advanced Studies conference (CASCON). Jeff Patton moderates a discussion group on agile usability started July ’04. As of this writing, the group has over 260 members and over 600 posts over 3 months. He works as an active agile development practitioner combining UCD approaches in his day to day work.

Ron Vutpakdi presented some of his adapted activities and deliverables at the 2004 UPA conference and has been participating in Jeff Patton ’s discussion group.

Thyra Rauch has run a workshop on making UCD more agile, which began to explore some of these issues. This facilitator also participates in Jeff Patton ’s discussion group.

All facilitors have encountered a number of UCD and usability practitioners that are interested in agile development approaches, have been thrown into agile development projects and are struggling to adapt, or who have been engaged successfully in agile development using UCD and usability techniques. Interest in the subject is both present and growing.


As facilitators, we would prefer a group of UCD or usability specialists who have some experience working in agile development environments though we are also open to passionate UCD/usability practitioners with an interest in agile processes but no direct experience. We are looking for a cross section of practitioners coming from a variety of company sizes, software domains, and agile development processes.

As well, we are open to participation by agile development practitioners (developers and managers) and interested in exploring the integration of usability professionals in agile development.

We believe the workshop will appeal to both traditional UPA conference attendees as well as those who are agile software developers who want to learn how to better integrate usability into an agile process. The latter group might not be those that would normally attend the UPA conference, but we’d hope to attract them into the workshop and hopefully the UPA community.

Position papers will be accepted until the 15 th of May 2005. Participants will be notified of acceptance by the 27 th of May 2005.

Position papers will need to include:

  • Participant background and reason for interest
  • Description of the company and products / services
  • Description of the development process used at the company
  • Current work and interest in the field
  • Challenges they’d wish to discuss
  • Examples of techniques that have worked for them in agile development environments



Participants will be encouraged to bring examples and artifacts to share with the group. Also, participants will be encouraged to review position papers of other participants (who are willing to share their papers).

Material to be included and distributed to the other participants will be accepted until the 13 th of June 2005. Additional material may be brought to the conference.


We will prepare submitted position papers for general review and distribution. We will also collect submitted examples and then either place them on a website for distribution or prepare CDs to be handed out to participants. We will also prepare introductory materials and our own examples to help start the discussions. Materials will include some results from an earlier workshop on agile UCD that reflect some preferred methods to “make agile” to jump start the thought process.

We want participants of the workshop to share ideas verbally and in writing. To support this, workshop participants will be broken into smaller workgroup (4-6 participants) where workgroup will have index cards, poster paper, markers, and tape from which to record notes and build “posters” to share information with other workshop participants.


Number of Minutes

Topic or Event

45 (8:30-9:15)


45 (9:15-10:00)

Agile development and UCD/usability overviews

30 (10:00-10:30


10 (10:30-10:40)

Agile Usability challenges discussion

40 (10:40 – 11:20)

Workgroups discuss challenges

30 (11:20 – 11:50)

Challenges affinity diagramming

10 (11:50 – 12:00)

All vote on top challenges

90 (12:00 – 1:30)

Lunch Break

15 (1:30 – 1:45)

Strategies for top challenges discussion

60 (1:45 – 2:45)

Workgroup strategies discussion and poster construction

15 (2:45 – 3:00)

Poster presentation

30 (3:00 – 3:30)


10 (3:30 – 3:40)

Agile adaptation discussion

40 (3:40 – 4:20)

Workgroups discuss and record adaptations

15 (4:20 – 4:35)

Adaptation presentation

25 (4:35 – 5:00)

Workshop findings and take-aways discussion




Agenda and Introductions: (45 minutes)

Facilitators give a quick overview of the workshop along with the proposed agenda for the day. Facilitators introduce themselves. Each participant gives a short (2 minute) introduction of themselves along with their reason(s) for attending.


Agile & UCD/Usability Overview: (45 minutes)

Facilitators will introduce a simple model that generally describes agile development environments. Discuss how this model relates to specific Agile approaches such as XP, Scrum, Crystal, FDD, etc.. This model will be posted and annotated with feedback from participants.

Facilitators will propose a model for looking at UCD and usability approaches to designing, and testing the design of software. Discuss how this model relates to specific approaches such as Usage-Centered Design, Goal Directed Design, Contextual Design, etc.. This model will also be posted and annotated with participant’s feedback.


Challenges With Applying UCD and Usability Techniques to Agile Development: (1.5 hours)

Goal: Applying UCD in an agile context comes with challenges. This section deals with identifying those challenges. Challenges could include topics such as:

  • How to reconcile the desire to come up with an upfront design that would need several “cycles” to implement with the much shorter horizon of agile software development.
  • How to adapt ethnographic methods.
  • How to adjust deliverables: low fidelity vs. medium to high fidelity prototypes
  • Can early usability testing be included? Is there time?

All participants discuss the topic. (10 minutes)

Participants divide themselves into 2-4 workgroups (4-6 people per group).

Workgroups then discuss the challenges they’ve faced in the past or are currently facing. Each workgroup names and describe their top challenges (30-40 minutes).

All participants come back together. A member of each group should name and post their challenges into an affinity diagram on the wall. We’re looking for similarities between challenges and particular problem areas. (30 minutes)

Participants vote on top challenges. (10 minutes)


Strategies for Common Challenges: (1.5 hours)

Goal: Propose strategies for dealing with the top challenges faced when combining agile practices with UCD practices. Strategies may be already in practice at a participant’s company or may be something that the workgroup creates.

All participants discuss top challenges. Take top challenges and place one on each workgroup table. Allow participants to choose the challenge they’d like to discuss by reseating themselves at the appropriate workgroup table. (15 minutes)

Each workgroup brainstorms strategies for dealing with the challenges. As a group, each workgroups builds a small (11” x 17”) poster describing the challenge and the strategies for coping with the challenge. If a workgroup finishes early, the workgroup picks up another challenge and starts over. (1 hour)

All participants come back together. The leader from each group presents and briefly discusses their challenge(s) and coping strategies. (15 minutes)


Agile UCD and Usability Adaptations: (1.25 hours)

Goal: Many practitioners have been successfully using UCD and usability techniques in agile projects. In the process of doing this, they’ve discovered and use some clever adaptations to common UCD/usability techniques. We’d like to unearth and record some of these best practices which are already in use. Some of these adaptations may have already been identified as a strategy for a common challenge, but others may not have been.

All participants led by facilitators discuss what is meant by an Agile UCD adaptation. (10 minutes)

Each workgroup discusses adaptations they have made in the past working in agile environments. Alternatively adaptations made on projects with tight timelines or other constraints that make the techniques applicable in an agile environment. For the best techniques, the workgroup writes a name and short description for the technique. (40 minutes)

All participants come back together. The leader from each group briefly describes the best techniques that their group uses and posts into an affinity diagram. (15 minutes)


Workshop Conclusion and Findings Summary (25 minutes)

By now we should have on the wall annotated models of agile development, UCD methods and techniques, affinity diagrams of common challenges - some with solution strategies, and agile UCD and Usability adaptation techniques. Facilitators summarize findings. Groups comment on what they have learned and their big take-aways from this workshop.



A preliminary results poster will be produced during the conference. The poster will be composed from information created during the workshop by participants. We will submit an article with the results to User Experience, publish the results to the agile-usability newsgroup started by Jeff Patton, and post the results to the websites to be located at the already registered domains: agileusability.com and agileucd.com.


Discussions will continue in the agile-usability newsgroup started by Jeff Patton.

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