10 Questions and Answers about Lean User Experience

Recently, thanks to my friend Janice Fraser, I’ve had the good fortune of being exposed to the Lean Startup movement. I’ve been thinking and writing and talking about Lean User Experience for a few months now and have noticed that there doesn’t seem to be a simple explanation of the concept on the web yet. So this post is an attempt to fix that.

1. What is Lean User Experience?

Lean User Experience (LUX) is simply an approach to UX work that has been tailored to work in the context of a Lean Startup.

That’s it. It’s not a new, fancy thing. It’s not some special UX-on-a-diet, or UX-at-hyper-speed. It’s simply a context-appropriate way to do UX work.

2. That’s it? Why is that interesting?

It’s interesting for two reasons. First, for UX professionals, working in a Lean Startup culture offers some unique opportunities to do amazing work. And for entrepreneurs who are seeking to create value for their customers, the ability to do good UX work is key. UX people have been perfecting the core Lean Startup techniques of Customer Discovery and Customer Validation (the critical early phases of Customer Development) for 20+ years!

3. OK, so what is Lean Startup?

Lean Startup is term coined by Eric Ries to describe a process for building a business. It combines Steve Blank’s ideas about Customer Development with Agile Software development, the free, open-source software movement, and the ideas of lean manufacturing. At its core, Lean Startup is a way to find market opportunities and to create products and services that serve those markets in a sustainable way. (More on Wikipedia.)

4. And sorry to ask, but what is User Experience?

Simply put, User Experience (or UX) is a set of design activities that defines how people use and experience a product or service. UX is an umbrella term that shelters under it a vast array of design specialties.

5. How is all this related to Agile Software Development?

Lean Startup is founded on the idea of using rapid cycles and short iterations to create and test ideas. This makes it a natural match for the rhythms of Agile software development. Lean Startups tend to use Agile methods to build their technology.

6. Why all this “Lean” anyway?

“Lean” here doesn’t mean skinny or slim or light. Instead, is used in the sense of Lean Manufacturing. Lean Manufacturing is a way of thinking about manufacturing process that is based on the Toyota Production system, or TPS. The core principles of TPS are:

Continuous Improvement

  • Challenges – Form a long-term vision and meet challenges with courage and creativity.
  • Kaizen (continuous improvement) – Improve business operations continuously, always driving for innovation and evolution.
  • Genchi Genbutsu (go and see) – Go to the source to find the facts to make correct decisions, build consensus and achieve goals at best speed.

Respect for People

  • Respect – Respect others. Make every effort to understand each other, take responsibility and do your best to build mutual trust.
  • Teamwork – Stimulate personal and professional growth, share the opportunities of development and maximize individual and team performance.

(Source, Wikipedia)

Both user experience and agile practitioners should be able to recognize the ways in which these principles align with the core ideas of their practice.

7. What are the guiding principles of Lean User Experience?

As articulated by Janice Fraser, the key principles of LUX are:

  • Design + product management + development = 1 product team
  • Generate many options and decide quickly which to pursue
  • Recognize hypotheses & validate them
  • Rapid cycles: think/make/check
  • Research with users is the best source of information
  • Focus on solving the right problem
  • Externalize. (Make your work and your process visible to the rest of your team.)

8. What kinds of methods work well for Lean User Experience?

Again according to Janice, methods that work well in Lean User Exerience work tend to have these characteristics. They are: lightweight, low-fi, lo-tech, external, face to face, collaborative, generative and decisive, fast, repeatable, routinized, goal driven, and outcome focused.

9. What’s the most important thing to keep in mind when practicing Lean UX?

The most critical concept in Lean UX is that every design decision you make should be considered an hypothesis until proven otherwise. Your job as a team is to reduce the risk of any decision you make by validating the hypothesis as quickly as possible. This is the heart of the Lean Startup iterative cycle: hypothesis, test, learn, revise.

With this in mind, designers have a wonderful opportunity to go through the think/make/check cycle on a continual basis. By choosing rapid, lightweight methods and working with a team that is inclined to do the same, teams can move rapidly through many many concepts in a short period of time. They can make decisions rapidly and easily because the cost of being wrong is very low. They move forward with confidence because they go to the source–their customers–for their information.

10. Where can I learn more?

Stay tuned here, of course. And follow @jseiden, (me), @clevergirl, @thinknow and @LUXrco on twitter.

(Note: this entry also appears on the LUXr blog.)

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