When and how is design work done in an Agile project in relation to development?

Hey guys.

I've been researching when and how design work is done during an Agile project and how it works in relation to the actual development, but the various suggestions and explanations I've found on how both phases work together are quite vague.

I'll try to phrase the various suggestions below as well as my concerns and questions. I'll use Scrum as an example for simplicity.


Doing design as part of the development sprint

This is the simplest suggestion of them all, as it fits nicely with the already established Scrum development process with next to no modifications, but it's not very efficient as the designers have to finish the design of the user stories before the developers can start working on them, which leaves developers to twiddle their thumbs at the start of a new sprint.

Designers have separate sprints parallel to the development sprints

This suggestion is quite similar to the above suggestion in that the design work will still be a bottleneck for development, as the design work has to be done before the developers can get started, but it might result in a more structured process for the designers, as they can have their own board with their own guidelines. I can't find any good resources explaining the exact process and steps on how the designers' sprints work however. Will the user stories enter the developers' board once they've reached "Done" on the designers' board?

Designers have separate sprints ahead of the development sprint

The idea behind this suggestion is that designers have their own sprints that are at least 1 sprint ahead of the development sprint, which allows them a bit more time to design and test their mockups without bottlenecking the developers. This seems like a good option, but again I can't find any good resources explaining the exact process and steps on how the designers' sprints work and how it works together with the development sprints. Does it work just like a development sprint? Do they have sprint planning meetings? How does this process impact the development sprints? Will the developers do sprint planning based on a partial product backlog that only consists of the user stories that have finished the design phase, where as the designers will do sprint planning based on the entire product backlog?

All design is done up front before development

This is a simple suggestion that would be easy to implement as it's largely separate and done before the development phase, but it's not very Agile by nature, as you might end up wasting time designing stuff that isn't going to be developed, because it's being designed up front, as well as miss out on the other benefits of Agile, like change management. I guess you could do design up front using an agile approach with sprints, meetings, etc. but you can't really know beforehand when to stop and how much of it will actually get developed once development starts.


The above 4 methods seem to be the main suggestions when researching how to handle design work in Agile development, but none of them seem to be optimal and there's not much material describing how these processes work in detail together with agile development.

I would very much appreciate if you guys would me get a better understanding of the various methods and help address my concerns and questions. Do you guys use any of the methods above or something else entirely? How you guys handle design work in relation to agile development?

Hopefully this doesn't all come off as an incomprehensible mess.

Thanks in advance!

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