Lean UX: the Concept, the Priorities, the Specifics

“Focus on outcomes rather than deliverables”, - said Jeff Gothelf one of the most famous Lean UX thinkers.

Indeed with Lean UX it is more important how much business value a newly-coded web page generated than the fact that it was designed at all. The core shifts from quantity of deployed features and ready app screens to quantity of users and revenues.

What is Lean and why should you love it?

Some would argue that Lean UX means stripping UX work of all the unnecessary things and leaving just the essential elements. That’s not entirely true. Lean UX is closely interconnected with the concept of lean development in general: as it allows for reaching the market in no time with limited resources.

Instead of following a preapproved list of requirements Lean UX looks for hypotheses and validates them: good ones get incorporated into the app, the others are pushed aside. So, there is no making perfect every pixel, no thorough paperwork describing every pixel and no failing in the long run.

On the contrary, light and editable design concept is delivered to the rest of the team, the PM and the product owner as soon as possible.

Failing early can be a good lesson, while failing at a later stage may become a tragedy.

Although Lean UX is usually connected with the design part of the project development it is more about the complete overhaul of the business model in general. The basic idea is creating an app which ensures quality and success of users’ experience. Starting with a minimum viable product, every new feature or design upgrade is delivered on the base of the user feedback. Thus early fail apart from problems at stages close to release is not a bad thing as it provides extensive knowledge and valuable experience.

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How to become or stay Lean?

  • Outcomes rather than delivered features or outputs should be in focus

Every step to make should be evaluated, while the final goal remains the same – user success. Being goal-oriented helps the team keep the general vision of the whole project and move forward. The design may shift; functionalities may be added or deleted while the focus should remain intact: more new users per month; more time spent with the app or anything else of the kind. 

  • Participation and feedback from the team is welcomed

The team can be the first and the most ruthless critics. Whiteboard or paper sketches, wireframes or prototypes can provide a basic idea of design, a hypothesis, which first of all is to be tested and examined by the colleagues. The more people get familiar with it at the initial stage, the deeper context and understanding is brought to the idea. Knowing little of design specifics, developers can provide an insight from a user’s point of view. Besides, as the designer’s product is revealed at the earliest stage, all features can be discussed over and over again to avoid technical difficulties. All that does not make a designer less of a hero. The collaboration process unites the team, makes people more interested in the project while remarks and voiced concerns help eliminate possible issues at the very root of it.

  • Think -> Deploy -> Validate or Build-Measure-Learn

Every design hypothesis has to be validated through direct communication with users (qualitatively), or different types of user metrics (quantitatively). In fact, you do not need many reviews.

Jakob Nielsen from Nielsen Norman Group is assured that refined usability tests are a complete waste of resources, while 5 users and many small tests can work wonders .

So, concept validation does not require much as well. Metrics to assess it can also be easily found. After each iteration it is necessary to assure whether the upgrade proved useful, user-generating or not. A failure is not the end of the world, yet, a valuable piece of knowledge and expertise.

Lean UX is cool for in-house IT or design departments where excessive documentation of every step is not necessary. If we add a client to the equation, the situation becomes much more complicated. Outsourcing companies actually spend much time to deliver the documentation for the client and the latter is billed for that. Though, the process can be simplified here as well. A bit of determination and a slight shift in the business model can involve the client into the actual product development while end-users will get their solution much quicker and provide valuable feedback faster.

Lean_UX_Process

There’s an interesting postscript to this all…

Though the Lean UX idea is extremely popular today, backed by such gurus as Jeff Gothelf and others, there are individuals who try to reflect unbiasedly.

Their key concept is as follows: to arrive at a final solution fast is of vital importance, but arriving there at a high price, compromising quality, can be product killing. To tell the truth, they are right. If the initial version of the product is really below audience expectations, there will hardly be users either eager to help improve it or download an upgraded version.

By the way, there are situations when Lean UX is hardly acceptable. For example, third-party vendors most of the time need precise documentation to keep to and introducing the idea of experimentation, quick iteration and failing/learning to their clients can be an extremely complex task. Moreover, some companies and domains are in general not suitable for such experiments. In general, Lean UX is a very empowering idea. It makes the whole development team united by the single goal and striving for perfection. It adds encouragement, inspiration and thirst for state of art solutions. However, the road to it is not easy. How can one manage it? - One piece at a time.

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