What is all the buzz about?

A Lean UX approach can be considered part of the Agile methodology as it shares the same basic principles. Lean methodologies came from Toyota’s approach to manufacturing processes; Producers should aim to cut out waste, and “waste” is anything that customers wouldn’t pay for.

The book “Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience” by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden was published in 2013.

The essence of Lean UX, from a business point of view, is to focus on “results” (short term goals, which may or may not be tangible), rather than on “deliverables” (typically a large-scale end product).

You should create/build just enough to prove your idea works before rolling it out in front of real clients to gather their feedback. From there, you analyse the results and either start over again or continue experimenting.

These days, when everything is online, this works for almost any digital product; From a small e-commerce website with just one product to multi-billion dollar giants. Lean UX is design thinking in real life.

Lock-n-load. The core principles of Lean UX:

Cross-functional production teams

Small units of like-minded people, who are able to cover most of the expertise fields related to the product.

Having a range of expertise within a single team allows these guys to work autonomously without needing to “book a meeting with that guy from marketing next Friday” before being able to progress to the next step.

Results before deliverables

Measure your progress by results achieved, not by lines of code written or buttons created.

That is to say, writing a hundred lines of code, or designing a particularly beautiful button doesn’t count as great progress if the same results could have been achieved with ten lines of code, or a more simple button. In most cases, a client business doesn’t care what is under the bonnet, they want results they can see and measure.

When efficiency is a core value, the smallest, targeted change can have the biggest impact.

Problem-focused approach

Identifying a problem gets you halfway to a solution.

When Lean UX principles are applied to finding a problem, finding a solution to that problem usually has better results than starting with a solution and trying to find a problem to suit it.

This applies not only to the purpose of your project as a whole, but also to each step within your project process. A problem can be hidden in plain sight, which could be the genesis for your whole project. Equally, a problem buried deep under layers of code, causing part of your solution to work less effectively than ideal. By seeking out problems to be solved, you are constantly striving for the most efficient result.

Minimise waste

I repeat, and this is extremely important: Don’t do anything that users wouldn’t pay for.

Adding value must stand before everything else;

  • Personal ambitions
  • Bureaucracy
  • Standard industry processes

If these, or any factor, gets in the way of an efficient result for your customer, move past it. The first principle of Agile methodology – “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools” works just fine here, people innovating together to find a solution are far more valuable than working through a standardised process “because that’s the way it’s always been done”.

Roll out small updates at a time

Small updates are faster to develop and implement, work well with continuous deployment, and (most importantly) are easily trackable and measurable. Furthermore, in relation to the final point below; smaller, incremental updates are much easier to roll back and unpick than a major update with myriad changes.

Don’t be afraid to fail

Accept that not every idea is a win and try to learn from your mistakes.

Small changes are usually easily reversible (as you planned them to be, right?) and you will still have precious feedback from your failed idea. When it comes to really risky stuff – get a small sample of your audience and test the changes on them. Always be ready for feedback!

Lean UX practises to keep in mind for small teams:

  • Be careful defining metrics
    Set crystal clear targets. Without defined targets, you can do a tremendous amount of work with no real results.

    A good practice is to dig deeper into the main goal like this;

    • Your goal is making a profit and let’s say, you operate a small e-commerce store.

      • To make more money, you need to sell more (to put it simply)

      • To sell more you need to find how users use your store, what their pain points are and try to fix them

      • To fix them use Lean UX

  • Focus on one thing/process at the time.
    Avoid massive functional updates, as these make it harder to track progress.

    Once you’ve found things preventing you from getting more profit from the example above, you’ll have a list that can be easily be broken into a bunch of small tasks. Complete one or two of these tasks at a time and gather feedback for each change as early as possible. Frequent feedback will give you a clear understanding of whether or not you are going the right way and the ability to quickly make fixes if you’re not.

  • Make adjustments for different user groups, seasonal changes and concurrent marketing campaigns.
    Conditions of experiments must stay the same.

    Because you are making changes to one part of your sales process, doesn’t mean that all other marketing strategies must stop. Instead, continue your marketing practises as normal, but be aware that they may affect the results of your concurrent experiments and adjust your expectations accordingly.
    Let’s imagine you are about to start a Facebook marketing campaign. Something like “Buy one, get three free”. The idea is not bad in and of itself, but I would recommend excluding some products from the scope. Track their sales results separately at the time of the campaign and some time after, to see if their sales were affected despite not being included in the campaign.

Final thoughts:

Changing regular processes is painful.

By adopting a Lean UX methodology, the biggest potential failure you can face is that your assumption fails; You find that whatever process change or idea you have tested, the result remains the same. At least this way, you have spent as little time and effort as possible to implement your idea.

You get to know that the idea you have tested was a mistake and likely there is no point digging deeper in this direction. Get over it, move on. There is still heaps stuff to improve.

Take the ideas behind Lean UX and apply them everywhere; Experiment. Iterate. Adopt the best.

And, may the Force be with you.