A Licence to Kill – On Agile and Software Development

One can conclude that uses centred systems design (UCSD) has much to gain when integrated into Agile systems development. Agile is the de facto Standard of systems development whereas UCSD is it not at all as commonly used. However when looking into the UCSD activities in agile processes in practice one can see that this integration it’s not that easy.  In a paper by Jan Gulliksen, Marta Larusdotter and me we therefore conclude that UX professionals need a more explicit role and more authority when working in the agile projects.

We have contacted numerous interviews studies and survey studies on agile and UCSD, and we decided to bring together all these published studies together with additional experiences to make some general conclusions about agile and UCSD.

Research method

No of participants

Study 1 (S1)


82 IT professionals in country 1

Published paper: Larusdottir et al. 2009 – [37]

Study 2 (S2)

Survey and interviews

25 IT professionals from 18 software companies working on Scrum projects in country 1 in the survey, 6 IT professionals in interviews

Published paper: Larusdottir et al. 2010 [33]

Study 3 (S3)


49 IT professionals working in Scrum projects mainly in country 2

Published paper: Jia et al. 2012 [29]

Study 4 (S4)


21 IT professionals interested in usability and UX in country 2

3 Published papers: Cajander et al. 2013, Larusdottir et al. 2012, Larusdottir et al. 2014 [11, 34, 35]

Study 5 (S5)


10 IT professionals in country 1

Published paper: Larusdottir et al. 2014 – [36]

Table : An overview of the studies that are analyzed in the paper presented in this blog post.


In the paper we analyse how findings according to th for values presented in the agile manifesto To understand the constraints that the scrum process imposes.

Based on our theoretical analysis on UCSD and Agile, the studies analyzed and the experiences gained we would like to suggest the following general guidance to projects adopting an agile methodology, such as Scrum, that has the goal to focus on usability and UCSD, sorted under the respective heading:

Individuals and Communication

  1. Define the responsibility for Usability and UX for all roles; team members, Scrum master and PO.
  2. Team members responsible for Usability and UX should regularly have face-to-face communication with the actual users and at least once during each sprint.
  3. Team members should make use of multiple channels for feedback, such as social media, user forums or tweets to include the users in parallel with face-to-face communication

Working software

  1. State a clear vision for Usability and UX in an early phase and refer back to it regularly to check, if it should be changed.
  2. Define measurable goals for Usability and UX and evaluate regularly with users, if the goals are met

Customer collaboration

  1. In evaluation with users, it should be checked if the system fulfills the user requirements.
  2. Evaluations should be conducted regularly to measure how satisfied the users are and how valuable the software is for them – at least every second sprint.
  3. Give the person responsible for evaluating Usability and UX a mandate to influence the subsequent project planning – Give them “License to kill”!
  4. A communication plan should be established, for the PO, Scrum master and the team to understand the results of the evaluations.
  5. The result of the evaluation needs to lead to measures that must be commissioned and followed up.

Responding to change

  1. Define themes for the retrospective meetings and make improving the Usability and UX as one of these themes.
  2. Prioritize change requests from users highly, that support a competitive advantage for the users perspective.

If you want to know more you find the paper here:

Larusdottir, M., Gulliksen, J., & Cajander, Å. (2017). A license to kill–Improving UCSD in Agile development. Journal of Systems and Software123, 214-222.

Visualizing Financial Futures – A PhD Thesis by Susanna Heyman

Susanna Heyman did a splendid job defending her PhD thesis last week. The thesis is about visualizing financial futures. She has worked in the area of designing for people to understand how their economy will look like when they retire. Susanna Heyman had done a classical iterative design process with several interesting iterations and methods to understand the user. The methods used were both qualitative and quantitative, and in her thesis she describes how the design has evolved. In the thesis you can also find some of the dead ends and that one also run into when you do design or a creative work. This is not the conventional way of writing a thesis, but it was nice to see how non- straightforward design work can be.

I found the background section extremely interesting and well-written. People really think in old ways when it comes to understanding economy and being affected by context. The background section connected to areas of research that were unknown to me, and I’m always interested in learning new things :-). I also appreciate all kinds of research that aims at understanding people and their thinking. People are really fascinating and interesting!

The PhD contributes to a pressing issue in society, at least in Sweden. The opponent at the defence started out by telling that 50% of all women in Sweden only get the minimum retirement sum, which is not at all a lot of money. Many Swedes don’t even think about their retirement and since economy has changed, in parallel with other things such as us living longer, the budget for a retirement is much lower than it used to be. People are also very lazy and don’t find out about their retirement economy and they don’t have the Financial literacy to understand many tools. Hence Susanna Heyman’s thesis is a very important piece work and I really hope that it will be used by banks or other companies in order to make people understand their economy of me in the future.

In the morning before the defence KTH had organised seminars given by the three people on the committee and by the opponent. Their seminars were 15- 20 minutes long which sounds like quite a short period, but I really appreciate it giving short insights into different areas. It was also obvious that the members of the committee and the opponent at excellent presenters, and experts over their different fields. I really enjoyed listening to all this and I’m looking forward to listening to the opponent and the committee at next week’s PhD defence.


Developing Intercultural Skills with Helena Bernáld – The IT in Society Class

Every year we invite the knowledgeable and inspiring Helena Bernáld to give up seminar and workshop about intercultural skills and communication to the students in the IT in society class. If you ever want to listen to a good lecturer in this area I strongly recommend her! Her lecture is full of eye opening experiences and good examples. Helena Bernáld is also a certified coach with lots of experience from different organisations and contexts, and she is an expert in a stronger personal leadership and time management tools. She is indeed an inspiring and knowledgeable person.

The students in the class are collaborating in a distributed software engineering project with students from Uppsala University and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. The students at the two universities come from a number of different countries in the world. This sets the scene for a great learning opportunity related to intercultural skills! It also set the scene for all kinds of communication problems, so that the students can practice and learn to handle cultural differences.

The main purpose of the seminar is to inspire students to acquire global people skills necessary for a successful career as a global professional. In the seminar presentations are mixed with discussions and reflections. There is a focus on understanding of cultural profile and preferred communication style. Often Helena Bernáld dig deeper into the Swedish and American cultures as most students come from these two countries.

A side track: Helena Bernáld is also are talented interior styling expert and photographer. You can find her very inspirational blog here

A few years back we wrote a few papers related to this experience. You find two of the papers that we have written on this topic here:

  1. Bernáld, H., Cajander, Å., Daniels, M., Laxer, C., (2011). Reasoning about the value of cultural awareness in international collaboration. Journal of Applied Computing and Information Technology15(1), 2011.

  2. Bernáld, H., Cajander, Å., Daniels, M., Kultur, C., Löfström, A., McDermott, R., & Russell Dag, L. (2012). Intercultural competence in global collaboration courses in computer engineering. Advances in Design for Cross-Cultural Activities: Part I.


The Background to the IT in Society Class

Now we have kicked off this year’s IT in Society Class. There will be a series of blog post about this course this fall.

Some of the things that make this course very special are:

  • Region Uppsala act as a real client to the student project
  • We get a topic for the course from the client very year
  • It is a global distributed project.
  • The students come from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and from Uppsala University.
  • It is based on a pedagigical concept called Open Ended Group Projects

The IT in Society unit was introduced into the IT engineering degree program as a response to industry feedback collected using questionnaires and meetings prior to commencement of the degree program in 1995.  This input emphasized that scaffolding the development of teamwork and communication skills were high priority areas for our industry stakeholders.

Running this course unit has been a challenge every year since 1998, and it has been a quite inspiring challenge.   The open-ended group project idea suited this course unit well. But the (for the students, who had experienced a highly technical preparation in most of their other degree course units) unusual content (e.g. societal aspects) added complexity to setting up a productive learning environment.  Much effort over the years has been put into devising appropriate scaffolding to support the students, without compromising the underlying ideas behind the open-ended group project concept. There will be more info about this concept later on. 

There is a whole series of research publications based on this course. The most prominent one is Mats Daniel’s PhD thesis found here 

Experiences from Attending a Writing Retreat

Last week I attended a writing retreat that we organized in my research group. For us this was a new experience, and we made use of this online recourse in setting it up. We spent two days writing together sitting at the same table using a set schedule for coffee breaks and work.

I must say that I was very surprised by how powerful it was to work in this way. I seldom have problems concentrating, but in this setting, it was even easy to concentrate and we did lots of progress with our CHI submission.

Positive things about this way of organizing work:

  • It is easy to concentrate
  • It is satisfactory to focus on one thing only (writing)
  • You get LOTS of things done
  • You have people around you to ask in the break if you get stuck on something
  • Seeing others writing gives me lots of inspiration

The others attending the retreat were also very positive. This was really reflected in the answer to the evaluation form, see figure below.

writing retreat .jpg


The User’s Perspective in Scrum Projects

Scrum is seen by many as user centred, but how does it really work in practice? Me and Marta Larusdottir set out to investigate this question through an interview study with 21 people who worked with usability in Scrum projects. Marta came from the field of usability evaluation, and she was especially interested in what usability techniques they used in industry.

When we started doing the interviews we were really surprised to find out that the answer to the question: “What usability techniques do they use in practice?” is that there are very few formal evaluation methods that are used at all, and that the methods used are indeed all very informal. The user perspective in Scrum Projects in Practice was indeed only existing, and not explicit.

Conclusions from this study are also that the responsibility for the user perspective is very unclear in Scrum projects. Often the user perspective is neither discussed nor described in the projects. However, the user perspective is often present through informal feedback used to understand the context of use and inform design.

You find these results in this study:

Åsa Cajander, Marta Larusdottir, Jan Gulliksen. Existing but Not Explicit – The User Perspective in Scrum Projects in Practice. Paula Kotz´e; Gary Marsden; Gitte Lindgaard; Janet Wesson; Marco Winckler. 14th International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (INTERACT), Sep 2013, Cape Town, South Africa. Springer, Lecture Notes in Computer Science, LNCS-8119 (Part III), pp.762-779, 2013, Human-Computer Interaction – INTERACT 2013. .

What Usability Methods are Used in Scrum Projects?

There are a whole bunch of usability methods out there, and we teach many of them in our courses. However, one can wonder what methods are really used the context of Scrum?

We investigated this question in the paper:

Jia, Y., Larusdottir, M., & Cajander, Å. (2012). The usage of usability techniques in scrum projects. Human-Centered Software Engineering, 331-341.

Not surprisingly the most used method is “Workshops” according to the survey we sent out. The second most common method was lo-fi prototyping. The most commonly used usability technique in Scrum projects is workshops, followed by lo-fi prototyping, interviews and meetings with users, all used by more than half of the participants.You see the whole table from the paper below:

How many have used each method.png

The technique that is most frequently used is lo-fi prototyping used by more than half of the participants two to four times a month.

When we asked practitioners what is the best usability method they answered that formal usability evaluation is one of the best methods, but one can note that few use it!

Conclusions from the study are that the most popular usability techniques are informal. They can be used quickly without much preparation. Formal usability evaluation with users is a highly ranked technique. HOwever, it is not commonly used.

EIT Health/ACM SIGCHI e-Health Summer School 2017

This summer I helped in organizing a summer school in user centered design and eHealth. The summer school was organized for PhD students and junior researchers in the area, and there were many who applied to the around 35 available positions.

Organizing a summer school was really great fun, and I got to meet a lot of interesting people who do research related to my own eHealth research area. It was also very good to see that the group taking the course became such a well-functioning community of practice during the week, and I am quite sure that they will stay in touch after the summer school has ended. One of the members of the summer school will be visiting my research group for six months as a part of her PhD Education, and for us that will be a great chance to get a new colleague.

My collegue Jonas Mol has written several blog posts about the summer school and all the fantastic lectures. You find his blog posts here:

  1. Day 1 (Intro, action research,…)
  2. Day 2 (Patient accessible electronic health records,…)
  3. Day 3 (Game demoes and workshop,…)
  4. Day 4 (Soma design, sustainable development,…)
  5. Day 5 (Project work and lectures)


What is Scrum and How is it Scrum Used?

I will kick off the fall by writing a series of blog posts on Scrum, Agile and User Centred design. This was one of my favourite research topics a few years ago, and I collaborated with excellent Marta Larusdottir from Reykjavik University in a studies around this.

Without doubt Scrum is the dominating systems development method in Sweden today. The name “Scrum”, is borrowed from Rugby where a Scrum formation is the one in the image of this blog post. The team is supposed to work tightly together as in this formation, one could guess :-). One can also guess that you are supposed to be male as a member of the team, as the majority of people who play rugby are male 😛

Scrum is really a very simple set of rules, as defined by for example Mike Cohn and presented in the image below:

Scrum .png

Scrum contains a whole set of roles and procedures too that you are recommended to follow, and of course these have unique and special names to make the concept more unique.

Many companies say that they use Scrum, or a Scrumish method. This could mean that they use one part of Scrum, or all of Scrum. We really did not know how organisations used Scrum, so we set up a study to find some answers.

In one of our studies Marta Larusdottir, Yuan Jia and I therefor tried to find out what parts of the Scrum method people use and hos usability is incorporated in the work. You find the below presented results in the following publication:

Yuan Jia, Marta Kristin Larusdottir and Åsa Cajander. (2012). The Usage of Usability Techniques in Scrum Projects. International Conference on Human-Centred Software Engineering, Toulouse, France.

We found out that the usage of the different fundamental activities and roles varied quite a lot. This is presented in the table below. A very large majority used sprint planning, whereas quite few used the burn-down charts. However, one can conclude that the percentage of people who said they used the different methods was generally quite high. There were no companies that claimed that they used Scrum, and then skipped large parts of the fundamental activites.

scrum activities .png



Summer Vacation

It’s summer in Sweden, and most people are on summer holiday 3-6 weeks. I will be working on a few things that need to be finished, but I have decided to take summer holiday from the blogging and I will be back with blog posts on the EIT summer school in Uppsala and Stockholm by the end of August.