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Does Agile reduce design?

21 Dec 2010

| Author: James Yoxall

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Does Agile reduce design?

I often hear the complaint that Agile reduces the amount of design possible on a project. The typical scenario cited is that design work has had to be 'cut short' because the developers are ready to play the story. I get the image of a nest full of baby birds clamouring for food.

The intent is quite the opposite: Agile should increase the amount of design, but decrease the amount that occurs up-front. This requires a fundamental mindset shift: design is not synonymous with up-front design.

This came up recently in discussions with a user experience designer. On a traditional project, the design has to happen up-front. The designer is therefore under pressure to "complete" the design because they are on the critical path of the project. Shortcuts are potentially forced into the design process.

On an Agile project though, we take that dependency out. The design does not stop when the development starts.

So what happens when people do Agile projects but don't get this mindset shift? Design is cut short because development starts earlier. If design equates to up-front design, then design stops when development starts. And less design is a very bad thing.

And this is just addressing the issue of quantity as distinct from quality. The quality of design should also be better when not viewed as an up-front activity (the basic argument being that you know more at the end of a project than at the start, so decisions made later are generally better; and feedback cycles can be incorporated).

If your organisation is looking for support with design on Agile projects and programmes, please get in touch.

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James Yoxall

Joint founder of IndigoBlue, James is a recognised expert in the Agile community. His work on Dynamic Uncertainty Management and Incremental Strategy has revolutionised the approach to the implementation of Agile at scale.

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