Integration of UX into the Software Development Life Cycle



Date Completed

December 2023

Leadership Team

Christopher Moorehead   Head of User Experience
Marlene Aubin   Product Design Manager
Ian Stewart   Design Operations Manager



My first priority as the incoming (and Caseware’s first ever) Head of User Experience was to integrate the various UX functions seamlessly into the company’s software development life cycle (SDLC). As a 35-year-old software company transitioning from the desktop to the cloud, Caseware’s SDLC was very fragmented and siloed, and UX’s role within it was unclear. Under this siloed system, Product began the process without input from UX or Development, then handed it off to UX (our team referred to this as “throwing it over the wall”), who completed the design phase in relative isolation, finally handing it off to Development for completion.

Problems with Operating Model

This siloed, waterfall SDLC presented some serious challenges to both operating efficiency and product quality. As the “new kid on the block”, UX was often left out of the process entirely. Even when it was included, design work was often performed in isolation without the necessary business context. Because of the lack of up-front communication, the finished designs were not always compatible with Development’s technology stack.

Cross-Functional Collaboration

Working with Product and Development leaders, we established a cross-functional collaboration model for the product “triad”, consisting of representation from Product, UX, and Development. In this model, Product, UX and Development each act as a leg supporting a three-legged stool. Each role influences and contributes to the output of the others.

Each element of the triad plays an important role throughout the SLDC. To continue with the metaphor, “remove one or more legs and the stool falls over”. Product’s role is to ensure all products align with business requirements and long-term corporate strategy. UX ensures that products align with both the overall vision and user expectations, the product is not excessively complex, and the user experience is intuitive. Development is required to align the technical architecture with the expected user experience, and, ultimately, to ensure that all products work as intended.

Our cross-functional approach was divided into three phases. Each phase was led by one of Product, UX, or Development, although all parts of the triad played a role throughout the entire process.

The three phases of our cross-functional approach.

Each phase requires involvement from Product, UX, and Development, though not necessarily at the same level of effort.

Phase 1: Define the Problem

In this phase, the problems to be solved are defined and the business case is developed to build the solution.

While all three parts of the triad play a role in this phase, Product takes the lead, as they are ultimately the “keepers of the business requirements”. Without them, there is no guarantee we are building the right thing. Working with the UX Research team, they identify the problems to be solved, ideally focusing on solving small number of meaningful customer problems and pain points.

The outputs of this stage are created primarily by Product, but involve key contributions from UX (particularly Research), Development, and Industry.

Phase 2: Discover & Envision

The purpose of this phase is to understand, explore, prototype and evaluate potential solutions. The Discover & Envision phase is led by UX, with contributions from Product and Development. As with the previous phase, UX Research plays a significant role.

The outputs of the Discover & Envision stage are not limited to UX.

Phase 3: Build & Reflect

This phase is owned primarily by Development, with consultation from Product and UX.

The process starts with a “happy path” prototype communicating a vision of the desired end state. This prototype is not a detailed design, but represents an ideal state, communicating just enough detail to validate the vision. It is also an excellent tool for communicating a vision of a possible end state to the product teams, industry experts, and other stakeholders.

UX creates and refines the design at the epic level ensuring that all use cases and possible error states are accounted for, with Product and Development as engaged partners throughout the entire design process. The adoption of team-based collaborative tools such as Figma and Miro have given Product, Development, and other stakeholders the ability to review designs in progress and provide feedback.

Design should lead development by a minimum of one sprint — and ideally two or three. While this is not always possible in practice, it is our goal.

As soon as there is something to show, feedback is obtained from UX, Product & other interested stakeholders.

Once ready, the details of the epic and the associated design are reviewed with the development team. Product and UX walk through the reason for the epic, the goals, success metrics and detailed design. This is the opportunity for development to ask questions and to challenge the design to ensure all possible use cases have been accounted for and to ensure everyone is on the same page.

UX Review

A UX Review is the process of reviewing what has been implemented by the development team against what was designed. The purpose of the UX Review is to allow Product and UX to provide feedback during the development process to ensure business and user requirements are met the first time through. It aims to ensure that the expected design output is acceptable when the feature is released at the end of each sprint.

A UX review should be performed as soon as there is an interactive build that allows UX and other interested stakeholders to get hands on with what has been implemented.


The UX Review is intended to build collaboration between the Product, UX, and Development teams. To this end, every part of the triad plays a role in the process.

The product owner is responsible for ensuring that the product meets the business goals and objectives. They have a deep understanding of the target audience and user needs. During the UX review, the product owner can provide feedback on how the design aligns with the business goals and whether it meets the user’s needs. They can also prioritize features and enhancements based on user feedback and business priorities.

The UX designer compares the original design of the feature to the developed version and captures design, interaction, accessibility, and gaps in the user experience.

The development squad then works together to prioritize the UX review feedback and update the developed feature before it’s merged into the upstream.

Issues Identified

When issues are identified during the UX Review, they are categorized according to their frequency and severity.

Must Fix
Issues that aren’t aligned with the design, clearly negatively impact the user experience or negatively impact the user’s perception of product quality.

Nice to Have
Proposed improvements that may improve the perception but do not have a significant impact on the user experience.

“Must fix” issues must be addressed immediately, before the UX Review is marked as “done”. “Nice to have” issues may be deferred until a later Product Increment (PI) if fixing them immediately would delay the product delivery schedule.

The UX Design Checklist (created by Ian Stewart) is a key component of the UX Review.


This cross-functional approach eliminated silos between functional areas, resulting in improved communication and more consistent results. It combined multiple perspectives, leading to more accurate identification of problems and improved insights into solving them. Decision-making was improved significantly, since the team’s diverse range of skills and expertise made them more effective at solving complex problems. The collaborative approach also improved knowledge sharing, reducing secrecy and “information hoarding” while improving the development of new skills across the team.


No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a team.

Reid Hoffman

Overall, the cross-functional, collaborative approach facilitated the seamless integration of UX into the SDLC. It increased collaboration among designers, product managers, and developers, resulting in improved project control and a significant decrease in technical and design debt.


None of us is as smart as all of us.

Ken Blanchard

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