Inclusive, collaborative, Agile UCD


boundary-spanner   When thinking about how teams work very often there needs to be a person who can become the glue that holds it all together.

A person who can do this has a special talent, not only can they motivate a variety of personalities but they can bring it all together for the common good.

They are given the name boundary-spanner in a white paper on the subject (paid for content) by Rizal Sebastien.


As much as they span the boundaries of different disciplines they are much more than just a project manager. They have to represent the needs of the users at all stages of the project process and be aware of (and make the business aware of) risks posed from technology choices, lack of research funding and cultural difficulties that every business experiences.

Agile vs UCD

Unfortunately many businesses embrace processes that have proved a success without encouraging their further development. Agile, in certain situations is an absolute must and a great methodology for ensuring web development is effective and efficient. But it does have its draw backs. The user gets lost in the development cycle, their needs are encapsulated in user scenarios but developer solutions do not always listen to the voice of the user.

UCD can also be guilty of too much testing, too many iterations, a lengthy, complex and expensive process that to the business owners feels expensive and slow. I have talked before about this here but lets open up the argument to the wider environs of the other major players in a project.

Who wins?

You need a well organized development group and Agile is just fine to ensure that they work in a way that will get the job done. But that really is it. It goes no further than that. It is not a panacea for all previous ills in web development. The problem is that you need UCD people overseeing this development, so at every stage when a new widget appears on the site it has been reviewed by user testing – the purpose has been defined and you know it will be used and is useful to the user. To make sure that both play well together we need to ensure that our developers have a UCD mind-set and that our UX people are aware of the agile methodology.

Filter the noise – listen for the voice

Be aware of Agilistas – every company has them and they may undermine the voices that should be heard from the other groups. All voices are important, but as we say time and again, the user’s is the voice that matters. If we learn to listen and act on what they tell us, design and implement it for them, then the business looks after itself.



The launch manager

One person (or group of people) needs to ensure that this happens but also that all the other issues are addressed. Namely the SEO implementation is in hand, the business requirements are satisfied and a strategy here is well-defined and in place. The vision needs to be owned, the clarity communicated again and again until the whole team know how the solution is shaping up.

To get the right person is the real challenge for any company. I have worked on a project which is due to go live soon. The site itself had several teams collaborating constantly for 6 months to get this product right. From sales and marketing, user research, web development and web design, IA and SEO teams. This project has been steered by one person, who has worked throughout, with the user at the heart of all their decisions. This is the only way you can ensure the user will be heard through product development – to employ somebody who listens to user voices and never forgets what they said.


Frankly yes. There will probably be somebody in one of these teams who could fit the bill nicely. But to ensure collaboration at all the right touch points their diplomatic and motivational skills must be as good as spotting risks to the project and their knowledge of their user groups. Getting the right people of course, is not easy, but its the most important investment that a company can make to ensure the quality of its products.

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