We're constantly experimenting with and exploring how to work better and so we're learning all the time. One of the ways we share what we've learned - at conferences, from our projects, or from other endeavors - is our monthly brown bag sessions. We thought we'd share some of the takeaways from these conversations we're having, in hopes that they’ll help you as well.

One the places we're doing the most learning and experimenting is fully integrating design into an agile development methodology. The development side of this way of working is relatively mature, but including design is still a work in progress.

At our most recent brown bag, lead interaction designer Ryan Harasyn and lead developer Greg Musick talked about their experience together on a point-of-contact software project we'll call Pancake 52. (Yeah, it's silly, but the project was pretty high-profile and super-secret. No, it wasn't for IHOP).

Here are their takeaways, some more tactical, others more philosophical. If you’re noticing a theme of collaboration that means you’re paying attention.

1. We're all designing.
The silo between designers and developers doesn't really exist when you're working collaboratively. Design is happening whether you are sketching layout, creating an icon, or writing a user story. Yes, even writing user stories is an act of design - design with words. It takes more than pixels to design an experience and your entire team should be concerned with and weighing in on the bigger picture.

2. Iterate on features and process…together.
In keeping with the above, strive to have design and development work in parallel on the same feature. It can be challenging, but it allows for both disciplines to explore design solutions together. As one team member said, "As we get together to define our 'done when' criteria, we are actively problem solving, baking design decisions into the story.”

3. Make the best of what you have.
In a lot of cases, especially on complex projects with multiple players and level upon level of stakeholders, decisions and information can be difficult to come by. Waiting for those decisions can often mean you’re losing valuable time that could be spent building toward a solution. You should definitely be proactive about asking questions, but when answers aren't available you can still validate technical and design perspectives, make assumptions, and test them out with the client…which can lead to getting the information you needed in the first place.

4. Deliberate. Share. Discuss. Argue. Communicate.
One of the most valuable things we do at Substantial is talk. With each other, with our clients, and with users. Sometimes it can be challenging to balance the need to get work done and the need to talk about it. Many organizations handle this by waiting to talk until meeting times, which means a day or more can go by before decisions are made, thus slowing progress. At Substantial we put a priority on frequent but brief communication, and sharing reality openly and honestly. On this project, the priority on talking openly and honestly about what we were doing and why allowed us to get aligned on solutions much more quickly than if we'd waited for meetings, and to turn our challenges into manageable actions.

Ryan summed it up best when he said that when you work the way we do, "There is a lot that is unknown, and it's a little uncomfortable. But this brings us closer as a team and enables us to design and build together."

Main image from Flickr user Official U.S. Navy Imagery.