The Secret to Making UX a Top Priority in Agile

By Roy Man

Published: May 19, 2014

“Everyone speaks of meeting the needs of users as the single most important thing. But when it’s time to put together a budget, many managers think of hiring a UX professional as a nice-to-have….”

Has anyone ever had to publish a list of companies that hire coders or marketers? Of course not. Everyone hires coders and marketers. Companies that hire UX professionals, on the other hand, are harder to come by. This has always been mind boggling to me. Everyone speaks of meeting the needs of users as the single most important thing. But when it’s time to put together a budget, many managers think of hiring a UX professional as a nice-to-have and leave it out of their budget. Unless, of course, a manager is in the gaming industry.

Gamers are unforgiving and vocal. The competition in gaming is fierce. And on top of everything, games must actually be complete when they’re released. This is probably why game developers pay extra attention to user experience, and the leading gaming companies always have UX professionals on board.

What Did You Do with My Cheese?

“What is cheese? Here’s a rule of thumb: if you’re arguing about whether something is a bug or a feature, it’s cheese!”

Within the gaming industry, Blizzard is particularly well known for its impeccable user experiences. They hire the best designers and are always looking for top-notch UX professionals to join their team. Blizzard also has a rule: Games don’t get shipped until they’re perfect in every way. This means zero UX annoyances—otherwise known as cheese. What is cheese? Here’s a rule of thumb: if you’re arguing about whether something is a bug or a feature, it’s cheese! Blizzard doesn’t allow cheese. They continuously strive to perfect their games until there’s no cheese left. Even if this means missing an important release date—even a Christmas release date. Don’t you wish all companies were like that?

But if, as at my company, daPulse, you’re working in an agile environment, you’re not shipping complete and perfect products. Far from it. More likely, you’re working with a team that swears by continuous deployment and is always releasing. In today’s world of software development, with agile methodologies and the latest Web-development technologies, releasing features at a fast pace is easy. In fact, at daPulse, we release software several times a day. But let’s face it, there’s always a good chance of some software cheese creeping in.

One problem with doing such frequent releases is that the cheese accumulates—and soon enough, you have a product that’s full of UX annoyances. Another problem is that R&D works on releases relentlessly, and it seems impossible to persuade companies to attend to the cheese. For the owner of User Experience in such a company, this can be very frustrating and stand in the way of getting your job done.

How to Implement Blizzard’s UX Perfection in an Agile Environment

The cheese accumulates—and soon enough, you have a product that’s full of UX annoyances. … R&D works on releases relentlessly, and it seems impossible to persuade companies to attend to the cheese.

Since my passion for founding and leading startups stems from my love of developing great products, I wanted to be able to eat my cake and have it whole, too. I wanted both to be agile and to create excellent user experiences. But like in most companies, it was always hard for me to prioritize taking care of the cheese—until I came up with a solution inspired by Blizzard. We call it Cheese Day.

As the name suggests, Cheese Day is a whole day when our entire R&D team puts everything else aside and storms the accumulated heaps of cheese until it’s all gone. Cheese Day is the yellow brick road leading to perfect user experiences. It’s also a great way to manage an R&D team. Note that Cheese Day is not about fixing bugs. Bugs get killed on the spot. Cheese Day is for all of those things that, while not bugs, are annoying to your users. These are the things that stand in the way of delivering amazing user experiences.

But if you’re not in charge of your company’s R&D team, how can you persuade whoever is in charge to put everything on hold and dedicate an entire day to user experience? Especially when you can’t even seem to get them to give user experience an hour or two?

Getting Management to Embrace Cheese Day in 4 Easy Steps

You can do Cheese Day at your company. Here’s how.

“Cheese Day is a whole day when our entire R&D team puts everything else aside and storms the accumulated heaps of cheese until it’s all gone. Cheese Day is the yellow brick road leading to perfect user experiences.”
  1. Make a project out of it. Management likes and understands projects. They are well defined things, with well defined goals and timeframes. The value of this project—Cheese Day—which will eliminate tons of UX annoyances, is making your users happy, simply by taking care of everything that’s annoying them. Be sure to stress that this will take only one day, and you’ll all get so much done. Getting a lot done in just a little time is very appealing to management.
  2. Prepare the cheese list. A month before Cheese Day, ask everyone to contribute to your cheese list. Keep your list in a shared place where everyone can see it and contribute to it. Everyone likes to rant about product annoyances. Now they’ll actually be helpful while doing so. This will also make Customer Support, Sales, and Customer Success happy, because they can contribute the feedback that they get from users. At daPulse, we use our own system to create this list on a dedicated Board that we call Cheese, shown in Figure 1. But you can use whatever works for you—whether an email address to which everyone can send messages, your support system, a Google doc, or a private Facebook group.

Figure 1—Our Cheese Board

Cheese Board

Tip—Once you have your list—and it will be a long one, I promise you—prioritize your list by putting the easy tasks that result in quick wins at the top. Quick wins always make everyone happy—especially coders who feel the satisfaction of getting tons of things fixed in a short time. Some of our coders proclaimed that Cheese Day is their “most productive day all year.”

  1. Prepare for Cheese Day. Set a date. Promise—and deliver—food at the beginning of the day. This will ensure that your entire R&D team will be there at the same time to kick off the day. We buy expensive cheeses to celebrate Cheese Day, as well as nice things that go along well with them, as you can see in Figure 2. This also makes everyone happy.

Figure 2—Delicious cheese

Delicious cheese
  1. Make the most of it. This step is very important because it ensures that everyone in your company enjoys the fruits of Cheese Day. And this will make it easier for you to turn Cheese Day into part of your company’s culture. Remember to celebrate. You’ve just solved a ton of UX annoyances that were bugging your users, so send out an email message to all of them to let them know what you’ve done for them. This is a good way to score some points with your users. You can even use this news to get some churning customers back into the funnel. Share the feedback that you receive from happy users and stats about new signups with the rest of your team—especially R&D.

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