While the transition to Agile software development means big changes for everyone who’s “going Agile,” it has the potential to have the greatest impact on User Experience Designers (UXD) and User Assistance (UA) writers. Although Agile teaches that team members should be fully dedicated to one team, the budget constraints of many teams dictate that some people are shared across more than one team – and those people are often UXD and UA. As more project teams transition to Agile software development and strive to deliver more customer value in shorter, sprint-like chunks, sharing our experiences and best practices with others in UXD and UA is now more important than ever.
At the outset, participation on multiple Agile teams may seem overwhelming, perhaps even unmanageable. Over the last year and a half of working with a variety of Agile teams, we’ve learned that when UXD and UA work together, and have a shared vision with their Agile teams, the process becomes more manageable.
To ease the difficulty of working across multiple Agile teams and work more productively, here are some best practices for UXD and UA:
- Show your Agile team that you are a shared service and that your time is divided between multiple projects and assignments. This helps them understand why you may not be able to attend every standup meeting.
- Volunteer to help with other needs of the team. For example, offer to take notes during a user research or feature usability session, or offer to help with testing. Agile is about breaking down traditional silos and accepting team responsibility for the success of the product.
- Even though Agile means a full schedule of meetings, UXD and UA should participate in non-Agile team activities, such a lunch outings, impromptu coffee chats, etc. Getting to know your teammates pays off when you need help documenting a feature or understanding what design choices are possible.
In addition, here are some best practices specifically for UA:
- Prioritize the various Agile meetings. Daily standups, planning, and demos are the “must attend” meetings. UA should skip meetings that aren’t relevant or that don’t add value to the development of learning content.
- Track UA tasks separately from software development tasks. The biggest advantage to this approach is that the closing of a software development user story included in the definition of “Done” is not dependent on the completion of learning content. In addition, Agile team members can separately assign user stories and tasks to UA. If you’re using JIRA to track user stories, you can add links from the UA user story to related software development and QA user stories and tasks, making it easy to find the related information later on.
- Provide feedback to your Agile team on best practices. Getting involved in the team is the key to building trust and earning credibility. Set expectations for UA deliverables, identify where you can contribute to shared team objectives, and be clear about what you will contribute.
- When authoring learning content, don’t be afraid to write fiction. Then iterate, iterate, iterate.
To learn more about developing user assistance in an Agile development environment, check out these articles:
- Introduction to Agile Methodologies
- Agile for Technical Writers
- A Writer's Guide to Surviving Agile Software Development