workbook with some user experience ideas sketched out
PHOTO: José Alejandro Cuffia

You have one programmer on your team who is backed up with work. Maybe estimation was a bit off, maybe an emergency popped up, maybe she needed a sick day. Perhaps the programmer has a specialty whose work is required on a number of projects that have all suddenly become priorities. All of this will likely lead to a bottleneck.

In an effort to fix the bottleneck, would you require this programmer to train other people on the team to do her job? If so, who should do her job? Should we teach the product owner how to do some coding? Should we have the QA person put their work on hold to do the coding even though that might throw off the QA's timing, which would create a different bottleneck?

None of these are viable solutions.

This type of scenario was raised in the AgilePainRelief.com article, “The Team Gets Bottlenecked." One solution is to create a Skills Matrix so that in the future, the right work can be balanced by people with the correct specialties. The article also suggests pair programming and allowing more team members to do exploratory testing so developers get feedback more quickly.

The article does not suggest the programmer creating the bottleneck should teach others how to do her job. So why do numerous books, articles and coaches suggest that if the UX designer is the bottleneck, they should teach others how to do her job?

Related Article: Good Design Is Intuitive

Should UX Specialists Train Agile Teammates to Do Their Jobs?

Great UX designers have a natural talent for UX work, so the suggestion that UX designers can or should train teammates raises a number of questions:

  • Is it reasonable to ask someone to teach Agile teammates to do UX tasks that require high visual creativity, empathy and a solid knowledge of cognitive psychology?
  • Can a higher-level UX architect with many years of experience be temporarily replaced by someone who has never done UX work, but just got some “quick training”?
  • How will asking other team members to stop what they are working on and switch gears to learn and then do UX work affect the project's time table? Productivity and efficiency would suffer for multiple team members.
  • Will it hurt culture if UX is thought of as a job "anybody can do"?
  • What would the work product be if we gave a non-UX role some quick training and then had them do UX tasks? Would these satisfy UX work reviews? Quality and standards would surely suffer.

Related Article: Find the Gaps in Your User Experience

Solutions for UX Bottlenecks

Reasons UX might become or create a bottleneck include:

  • UX wasn’t given enough runway ahead of time to start their processes. UX is a creative and cyclical process that requires more time than engineering, product or project managers normally would like to give. The main solution here is to give UX weeks of advance time so that they are ready to deliver vetted designs when engineering is ready to start. Work with your UX practitioner or leadership to learn how long UX needs to deliver finalized designs.
  • You have one UX designer on the Agile team and she is overworked. Too many features, fixes or ambiguities require her attention. UX’s version of pair programming is pair design. Work with UX resourcing, allocation or HR to make sure your embedded UX designer has someone from her department she can collaborate and iterate with.
  • The UX designer might struggle with his own external bottlenecks. At some companies, UX designers cannot do their own research or testing and must wait for specialized teammates to fit the desired research or testing into schedules. With smaller teams, a UX designer might wait weeks to learn where his designs are flawed and require iteration. The main solution here is resourcing. Whether your company works with UX specialists as employees, contractors, freelancers, or an outside agency, the key to Agile timing and lean (or leaner) UX is to hire the right number of specialists to do the work. You might work with T-shaped UX designers, who can do their own research and testing, or you might need dedicated experts who do the research and testing.

Related Article: User Experience Debt Is Sapping Our Productivity

Bottom Line: Great UX Work Requires Specialists

The idea that UX designers should train software developers to do UX tasks, they have had extensive training to learn, distracts developers from their jobs and expects them to successfully complete tasks far outside of their job descriptions. The true way to improve productivity, efficiency and culture is by allowing each person to work within the boundaries of his or her specialty.