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BLOG:Burn the baton! Feature teams run in parallel.

Burn the baton! Feature teams run in parallel.

How UX Fits Within a Feature Team

September 8th, 1964 a man by the name of Jose O. Padrón formed a company some of you may know today as Padrón. It was a small cigar outfit (some would say startup) with dreams to create quality, hand-crafted cigars in a “Cuban-exile,” Miami market.

He started small with one tobacco roller producing 200 cigars a day. As limited as they were, he and his team always focused on bringing value to their customers. From its start, each seed to cigar was carefully planned — even testing the tobacco throughout the process for market viability. They worked together throughout each phase of the cigars’ development to ensure a level of quality their competitors couldn’t match.

Akin to design, great products aren’t created in isolation. They are built and delivered together from idea to final product — and with the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), large organizations are able to deliver the highest value to their customers, just like Padrón.

The Scaled Agile Framework

What is SAFe? By definition,

SAFe is a knowledge base of proven success patterns for implementing Lean-Agile software and systems development at enterprise scale. It provides comprehensive guidance for work at the enterprise Portfolio, Value Stream, Program and Team levels.

Simply put, it’s an effective method to get everyone in the boat to row towards the island at the same time. In order for this to happen, each team and its members must be constantly in sync and aligned to their mission.

Teams within a SAFe system are called feature teams (or agile teams). In order to truly understand how UX fits into a feature team, we’ll walk through where feature teams are found within SAFe, what a feature team is, how it operates, and its value to the whole.

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 10.50.19 AM

Where is a Feature Team (Agile Team) found within the Framework? A feature team is located at the team level and consists of multiple roles totaling, a SAFe recommended, 5–9 members.

Who makes up a traditional Feature Team? Members are dedicated in role/effort and together help to define, build and test their component objectives within an 8–12-week program increment. Each PI (Program Increment) is split into multiple two-week sprints (depending on the PI duration). By example, members in a traditional SAFe environment can include and contribute by:

  • Product Owner - Defines user stories, prioritizes the team backlog to maintain program priorities, and maintains conceptual/technical integrity of features and components.
  • Business Analyst - Story analysis, coordination of inputs, and sprint support.
  • Scrum Master - Help the self-organizing, self-managing team achieve its goals.
  • Developers - Could include services, front-end, native and other development responsibilities to build shippable, testable, and successfully written code.

What does a day-to-day look like? Typically the team will be working through building and testing stories. Stories can be reduced into sub-tasks for smaller bites of work and improved throughput.

Daily scrum meetings, bi-weekly sprint planning, and constant communication over messaging platforms (we use Skype and Slack) break up the work day as well.

At the end of a two-week sprint, a team is required to conduct a working demo of their efforts. In other words, “It’s show and tell time!”

How do Feature Teams provide value? Each team builds its piece of the program puzzle in order to have a shippable, working product. Components and sub-tasks are completed incrementally for accelerated throughput. Executing small chunks of work supports improved velocity and waterfall practices are avoided.

Remember, this is not done in isolation, which leads us into the last important descriptor.

Do Feature Teams have cross-over interactions? Unequivocally, yes! Each team is constantly communicating with each other at the team, program, and sometimes portfolio level. If the members are not in sync, resisting SAFe or not running in parallel the whole castle comes crumbling down.

UX within a Feature Team

Now that you know exactly how a Feature Team operates, where and when does UX fold into the mix? Although UX is mentioned, SAFe is traditionally a development-centric framework. The UX layer that we at Universal Mind have added is unique to our practice. If you’d like a high-level description of how UX plays its part within the entire system, please read more here.

The role of a UX Designer at the Feature Team level can be defined as such:

The UX designer supports (answers questions, live development discussions, ad hoc designs, etc.), defines (collaborative problem solving, workflows, interactions, brand consistencies, etc.) & designs ahead of the team (feeds future sprints, user experience team runway, etc.) to provide the most valuable user experience for the shippable product.

The picture below illustrates how UX is both macro, blanketing the entire system and micro, inhabiting each level:

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 10.54.08 AMIn the role, we’ve found the UX designer has a committed time allocation of about 60% support and 40% define/work ahead. SAFe requires and promotes collaborative efforts. If the designer finds themselves in down-time, they should reach out to their product owners and other teams to see where they can add help for a successful sprint. This could even necessitate a knowledgeable designer to aid in CSS/HTML.

In short, UX inhabits SAFe to understand why and what within a framework that executes how. The value of a UX designer in SAFe is to protect, ensure, and define design within the product. Without this role, UX quality suffers and others inherit additional workload outside of their roles. To conclude with some insight, I’ll share what Erika Hall states in her book Just Enough Research:

From a user experience perspective, the primary problem with Agile is that it’s focused on the process, not the outcomes. It doesn’t offer guidance on what to build, only how. As stated, UX is a brand new concept within the SAFe environment.

We at Universal Mind have implemented our own UX+SAFe approach with our clients and have seen great success. Each day we continue to discover improved efficiencies and dynamics within teams. This, as any product team knows, is a living entity. We will continually engage and share our experience with those who have the desire to kickstart their own SAFe organization. Good luck!

Please contact us if you have discovered improvements, learnings from your SAFe teams or simply have a question about our experience.