I did one of my presentations today and I got an audience question but no email address, so I’ll answer it here. The question basically said that my description of how UX fits into Agile sounded like, “big design up front.” The person asking the question said they were “trying hard to get away from that,” and why wouldn’t we instead use fast feedback and iterations.

Hmm, I think that person missed 1 or 2 of my slides.

There is no way I’m suggesting a waterfall process. However, there are times when UX’s process looks iterative waterfall. For larger features, we must design the whole thing and cannot break it into small bits.

For example, if the project is a new customer registering, I can’t say that in this sprint, we’ll just design the password selection fields… and next sprint, we’ll work on the photo upload and social media connections. We have to look at the big picture of a full feature, process, or workflow.

Remember that a feature may be many stories and UX often doesn’t build one story. We must see the interconnectedness of the stories and elements, we must see the process and steps, and we must design that as one “thing.”

Also note that after our runway, unless we are thrown another large project that has no relevant UX research on file, we should be able to sprint along with you.

If you expect UX to break things into small pieces, we can’t run user testing.

We want to test that new customer signup so we can make sure it’s the right execution of the right idea. We need it to do well in testing before we deliver it to be built. Otherwise, we are iterating and fixing flaws before a line of code is written.

If we are just building the password selection now and then delivering that to engineering to be “Agile,” when would we ever test an entire user flow? When and how would we test a customer moving through a whole sign up process to make sure the whole process is a winner?

Other than small fixes, changes, or (small) new elements, our unit of measurement is the “user flow.”

If you have something small for a UX designer, she can do that fast. If you have a process the customer will move through, we see that process as one thing. We know it might have screens, states, steps, options, errors, successes, etc. but it’s a single user flow.

We have to build the whole flow, which means these are the times we might look more iterative waterfall to you. But to us, we are correctly approaching user experience and product design to ensure that we are building the best product for target customers.

Slapping grumpy names on it seems like something one might do to try to bully UX into a methodology that doesn’t really fit UX.

Yes, fast feedback is awesome.

Whether your UX work is in the long runway up front or sprinting along with Agile teammates, you must have human resources and tools in place so that testing and results can come quickly. When this is a bottleneck, companies want to skip it, but that’s the wrong way to go… and famous public UX failures remind us of the shrapnel.

Speed and efficiency is improved by hiring the right number of UX practitioners with the correct specialties. You might need specialized researchers, who often also do the testing. Or if your UX designers handle that, you might need more of them so they aren’t getting bogged down juggling too many tasks for too many projects.

Don’t be afraid of big design up front, based on the project.

Sometimes, you will not be able to get away from “big design up front.” UX needs time to cycle through its process. Remember your Agile Manifesto Principles… give motivated individuals the trust and resources they need to do their jobs. Trust us to work how we need to. We will get this done and the customer will be thrilled.

Please stop turning elements of UX’s approach or something UX needs to do into some ugly-named, shameful thing we must get away from. Please don’t decide that any time UX needs a runway ahead of time for a larger project, this is some terrible thing that companies must stop doing. Give engineering some tech debt to work on while UX does its job. I’m going to guess you have some tech debt or refactoring you’ve been putting off.

UX will always go as fast as they can, but a great UX specialist will do everything she can to avoid sacrificing the quality of the work being done. In the fast vs good battle, UX will always pick good over fast.