• Insight
  • User Centred Design
  • User Research

Introducing Agile & User-Centred Design for non-technical teams

By Felix Guzkowski5 February 20244 min read

The challenge

The Brilliant Club is a charity that aims to support less advantaged students to get into the UK’s top universities, and is a truly fantastic bunch of people. You can read about their mission on their website.

As an organisation, they had already implemented elements of Agile in their IT team and seen the benefits that this way of working provides. Based on that initial success, they were keen to upskill other areas of the charity in Agile and User Centred Design (UCD). They had already had conversations with some traditional training organisations – but they weren’t quite delivering what they needed. So they contacted us.

The challenge was, could we design and deliver a concise yet comprehensive introduction to Agile and UCD that would empower non-technical teams to implement these ways of working in their day jobs, without overloading with jargon, and appreciating the flexibility and pragmatism needed at a relatively small charity? The answer to that challenge was yes!

As professional Agile delivery people who coach and champion Agile day-to-day, it’s easy to forget that it isn’t perfect everywhere (or indeed anywhere!) and that Agile is implemented in various states of maturity. Spend any reasonable amount of time around Agile teams and you’ll see anti-patterns like fragile, scrummerfall, and waterscrum (you can read more about some of these in this great post by David Thiel). Variations on Agile aren’t inherently bad, but often they introduce more complexity, and don’t deliver the real benefits an Agile approach is designed to bring – so end up being counter productive. We were careful to not be too dogmatic about a particular approach, whilst retaining the benefits Agile should bring.

Planning the training

It was important we delivered a series of training sessions that introduced key concepts, allowed participants to try them out, and also apply them to their own problems – to bring the theory to life.

We felt that by sharing ‘the foundations’, we would empower the teams to design, plan, and implement the rest of the house however they saw fit. They would know best which of the concepts we introduced would benefit their work and we could guide them to find further reading to support that journey.

We designed a training package that would demonstrate the benefit of:

  • starting with a ‘problem to solve’, not a solution
  • delivering according to user needs that are couched in evidence
  • delivering iteratively, lowering cost and risk, delivering value quickly
  • using a multi-disciplinary team.

We wanted team members that took park in this training to:

  • have a new approach to projects and new, creative methods in their toolbox
  • be more comfortable working in uncertainty
  • understand the benefits of Agile delivery and human centred design and how to apply this in their work
  • be outcome focused
  • be shifting into a learning mindset
  • have the confidence and psychological safety to apply these techniques in their day jobs.

Day 1

On Day 1 we focused on introducing core Agile concepts, namely the value of iterative delivery (a team delivering work frequently rather than all at once) and how this delivers value faster and reduces business risk.

We demonstrated the value of self-organisation in teams and provided participants with a toolkit to help them define the handrails to help them become a high-performing team in a complex environment.

Finally, we introduced human-centred design and the double diamond approach. This will equip participants with the basic understanding of how Agile teams discover, test, and deliver work.

Day 2

During Day 2 we took a more in-depth look at the theory of Agile and human-centred design, delving into how a team can apply the Scrum methodology, and how planning is done within an Agile team.

In the afternoon we introduced a case study and participants were set an interactive task that helped them understand what they’d learnt so far may look like in practice.

Day 3

As participants now had a good understanding of the core concepts and how they look in practice, Day 3 built on this and through activities they were introduced to new tools and ways of working that helped them to tackle difficult problems head-on.

The second half of the day focused on implementing Agile in real life and on the problems that participants are facing in their day jobs. Participants began to apply some of the techniques they had learnt to solve these problems.

What people thought

Naturally at the end of each day we ran a retrospective (retrospectives help teams examine what went right and what went wrong on a piece of work) to help us iterate the next day to be more tailored to our participants.  We received a lot of great feedback:

“Very hands on and interactive”
“Fun activities to demonstrate concepts”
“Very engaging!”

And we also identified some areas that we can improve for next time!

If you think something like this could benefit your team drop me an email on felix.guzkowski@methods.co.uk