The relentless march to digital means much more than simply layering new technologies over the existing organization. It means a fundamental rethink of how processes are organized, and how customers are served.

However, many insurers run into an organizational roadblock pretty quickly as they attempt to move forward. Those working on back-end technologies are not communicating very well with those developing customer-facing applications. In other words, those associated with two well-intentioned initiatives formed to make organizations more responsive – Agile teams and user experience (UX) – don’t mesh as they should.

In a new ebook, Richard Cecil and a team of Agile and UX specialists talk about the rising demand for superior user experiences, and how Agile methodologies can bring this about.

The insurance industry needs to copy the best practices of startup culture to advance digitally
The insurance industry needs to copy the best practices of startup culture to advance digitally Bloomberg

Here are the four fundamentals for bringing Agile and UX together:

Research your users: This is the first hurdle that needs to be overcome is making efforts to understand users or customers. “User research and agile do not play well together,” Cecil and his team point out. “The time to conduct field research is not during development. Research should occur before any design or development work begins.” While many developers may see conducting user research as slowing things down, customer insights is key to all stages of design. What kinds of apps do agents use? What’s useful to them when customers are on the phone reporting claims? How do customers prefer to pay, and what will make it easier for them to do so? Cecil advises bringing in a software engineer to participate in the user research process. “By seeing users in the wild, engineers will develop some empathy toward them,” he adds.

Prioritize features: This is where the most important product features are selected, and everyone has a role to play here. “Feature prioritization is important in agile, because it lets engineering focus first on the features that make up basic working software.” Stakeholders should rank the importance of each feature to the business, UX professionals rank the importance of each feature to the users, and technical analysts rank the feasibility of implementing the feature.

Design with users and other teams in mind: This is where designers take over the process, and all design should start with the creation of detailed user stories. At the same time, it’s important to keep pace with the software development team, Cecil says. “Designers should focus their efforts on designing the features in the next one or two iterations. If you get too far ahead of the engineers, you run the risk of requirements changing, necessitating a lot of rework. However, you need to stay far enough ahead so you have time to do usability testing and remedy any usability problems in the previous iteration, support development on the current iteration, and design for future iterations.”

Develop and test, often: Cecil and his co-authors adhere to a basic formula when it comes to testing new releases: “If you do three rounds of usability testing, testing five people in each round, you can discover the majority of usability problems. With agile development, you can test and revise a feature over three iterations, allowing you to discover and correct most usability problems before launching a product.”

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