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Mar 2006

Get Used to Extreme Programming

The following comment appeared on the CHI-CONSULTANTS user list January 25, 2006:
Don Norman (Norman-Nielsen Group) would have us know that Agile and other extreme methods (Extreme Programming) are here to stay, and that we’d better get used to it. Either that or we’ll miss the boat on the new generation of applications. He says that the old guard should not resist; that it should in fact be open to these methods, as they can no longer be ignored.

This wouldn’t be the first time we’d have to adapt to new methods:
usability engineers are by definition professionals who adapt themselves to the different methodologies used in their different projects. All ergonomists are required to adapt their activities and tools to their clients’ design and development processes.

Like Don Norman, I believe the advent of extreme methods represents a shift in paradigms, similar to structured programming in the 70’s and object-oriented programming, as imposed by Rational Unified Process (RUP) at the end of the 90’s. If RUP is any example, then user-centered design (UCD) can adapt to this new paradigm too. But as Norman says, the ergonomics community has its work cut out for it. We’ve got the tools to do it, and are by now accustomed to these evolutions.

Agile is a very creative method and, although it may seem a priori to contradict the fundamental principles of UCD, both methods have the same
goal: delivering an application which meets the user’s needs, while respecting limits and constraints. On the surface, Agile seems to contradict the principles of UCD, as it involves very little or no analysis before development begins and design is very closely linked to development, which, for usability engineers like us, might seem like skipping steps. However, the literature on Agile recommends the end user preface the project with contextual analysis, thereby validating on-site information gathering. For example, the leaders in Agile development favour Cooper’s Personas method and willingly include it in their method.

Will extreme programming be that disruptive for us usability engineers? I don’t think so; not any more than other shifts. In my experience, it’s better to be involved in projects that applies any methodology, rather than those that appliy none. And so again in 2006…

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