The Effect Backlog

This article is the second of three about how to implement user experience design in Scrum or any other agile method, concerning the product backlog.

Using the method Effect Management (by InUse) creates a good base for the Product Backlog in Scrum. The method steers the project towards the expected effect (or the user experience) of a product, using a five step method and four key concepts: Effect, usability goal, target group and action.For example, a hotel branch would like to make more money, i.e. get more customers. This is the expected effect. To achieve this, they would have to convey different feelings to attract the customers, like being classy but at the same time affordable and secure. This is a usability goal. So, when creating the main entrance for the hotel, you would of course like it to function properly, i.e. open inwards to let customers in as well as open easily outwards for panic situations, as well as welcoming the customer and ensure his/her safety. This is the action. This has to be tested to ensure the effect, with real customers. This is the target group. And of course, this target group helps with finding the usability goals and the necessary actions to fulfill the goals as well.


Putting this into the five-step method: Firstly, describe the expected effects. The description should contain how to measure the effect, otherwise it is of low use. Secondly, clarify the user's goals. Translate the user's goals into usability goals and measure them. Thirdly, create possible solutions (i.e. the action) to the usability goal. The easiest way is to create some kind of prototype. Fourthly, test in actual use, otherwise the effects will not relate to the actual situation. Especially if you test with a prototype, try to do it with actual users where they would use a real solution. And last, visualize all of this in an effect map, it will be a lot easier to track changes and understand correlations. 


It is widely spread amongst Agile practitioners that, while describing what to do in a backlog item, it is a good idea to explain why this has to be done. This is where Effect Management fits. Combine the effect mapping that we did above with the common format for a product backlog (and replace Description with Action, as well as adding whatever columns you usually have). It might look something like this (in your spreadsheet application of choice):

As an example, from the beforementioned Product Backlog-link, the first item in the Product Backlog is Finish database versioning. Using the Effect Management method, this description (or action) would be explained/motivated by the corresponding usability goal. At the same time, it would be easy to understand which users that would benefit from this backlog item and what effect this backlog item would have on the software in the long run.

An even better approach is to write user stories on a slightly different formats, so that every story on the agile board will show for who the feature is created, why it is good for them and why it is good for the company.


For the whole Agile team, it would then be a lot simpler to estimate each item as well as easier to understand how and why a certain item is prioritized the way it is. This user story will then truly guide the development towards the right product. It's a win-win situation since UX practitioners also like to connect actions (i.e. production code) to usability goals (and effect), e.g. for easier validation or usability testing.

Written by Martin | Friday 31 July 2009 | 42 | Top


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