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Design and delivery – How to play nicely together (and what to do when they don’t)

Taking a flexible, considered approach will help any organisation looking to enable and align both Design and Delivery.

Published on
December 12, 2018

We all know the terms; Agile, Lean, Scrum, Waterfall, ‘WAGILE’. They all describe methodologies for digital development: how we organise, design and deliver digital experiences to our customers.

There are pros and cons to each – reasons why these are more or less relevant for your organisation. How should Design and Delivery teams work together? What is the best model for your business, your team, and most importantly for your customer? How should research, insight, design and development work together? What is ‘best practice’?

In the words of Ben Goldacre, “I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that”. Design and delivery often mirrors a sibling relationship – both fighting for attention, scoring points with parents and blaming each other.

Unfortunately, there is no simple solution (and anyone proclaiming that there is should be met with a raised eyebrow). The best model for your organisation depends on your:

  • Resourcing model: are you building internal capability, outsourced capability, or a hybrid model spanning both over time?
  • Speed to market and launch approach: are you considering planned releases to market or quick, iterative deployments? Will you go for a big bang launch, or prefer to be launching releases every 3 weeks?
  • Responsiveness to market, and critically, your risk profile as an organisation: A rapid release cycle introduces risk commercially, technically and potentially for your brand.

Here are a couple of the approaches that are ‘hybrid’ models for customer-centred design and development.

Staged Agility

This is a structured process from the idea stage through to scoping, discovery, build, test and launch. While it may resemble a standard Waterfall approach, this is a great model for systematically capturing a wide and varied program of work while still utilising the flexibility of sprints and iterations (the ‘Evolve’ stage,) to change focus if needed. This blended model ensures flexibility for development trains while following a structured, end-to-end process for wider company engagement (for example, brand, marketing and go-to-market engagement). Staged Agility works well when launching large digital consumer products within a digital channel; for example, in the telecommunications industry, where you need both planned activity and development flexibility.

Importantly, a UX Iteration ‘0’ enables the design team to effectively research, ideate and design enough of the solution to feed into the development train. This enables them to always stay an iteration ahead of the current team’s focus – buying time if needed – to solve tricky interaction problems or solve problems highlighted from customer testing, which is done throughout.

During the scope stage the MVE is defined – that is, the minimum viable experience needed to launch. This is important so project teams can align around the customer outcome, and not a funding or technical feature outcome, as most projects do.

Design and Development Sprints

This is a more traditional Agile model, with the key difference being a ‘Pre-Evolve’ phase where design and interaction frameworks can be researched with customers and defined in an ‘Iteration 0’. This approach helps to standardise the design approach, tackling global interactions (such as navigation, menus, search and ecommerce patterns) up-front, and making definition within the sprints much more practical, time efficient and cohesive as an end product.

Artboard 1 2

Importantly, research and design is an up-front phase, with the aim of always staying ahead of the development train. These can successfully be run as 2 or 3 week ‘sprints’ that ensure upfront and ongoing customer testing is occurring to validate design and development assumptions. This was the model we used to design and launch an adviser portal with a new entrant into the life insurance market in Australia.

Many development projects jump straight into development, and while they’re utilising a sprint model with teams, they largely focus on delivery and technical challenges without giving the design team time to solve difficult design challenges. This results in a gap in understanding between WHAT is feasible to achieve by WHEN, verses HOW we should guide users on a journey towards the final vision.

To change the way your organisation defines and delivers digital experiences you’ll need to:

  • Ensure you conduct research, synthesis, references and insights (including data gathering and analysis) upfront with enough time to define a wider context of work: entry and exit points, high level flows and pathways beyond the scope of your immediate project. This ensures that experiences are cohesive and the customer journey is kept intact.
  • Understand what the existing insights are across programs of work: identifying where gaps are, capturing assumptions and testing them with customers wherever needed.
  • Have the design team work with a front-end developer upfront to understand the development challenges in terms of scope (for example animations, transitions from screen to screen, where breakpoints are, etc.)
  • Capture and socialise key insights from user testing so that everyone in the wider delivery team are clear on the assumptions that were tested: what worked and didn’t work, what the changes are and why. This helps to prevent similar mistakes from been made time after time across a wider program of work.
  • Include stakeholders on the journey and help them provide meaningful feedback at the right times: up-front and during the conceptual design phase.
  • Define and communicate how you’re planning to deliver capability; will it be iteratively or incrementally? This is critical to ensure company alignment on processes and timings.

Iterative design is this

mona lisa 1

Incremental design is this

mona lisa 2

There are differing delivery models for different companies – with pros and cons for each. Taking a flexible, considered approach will help any organisation looking to enable and align both Design and Delivery. At The Customer Experience Company, we have extensive experience in helping organisations design and deliver digital, human-centric experiences. Get in touch if we can help you with your next project.

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