Lean Lean UX

First Published July 8th 2013 Lean UX is a new name for things many are saying are not new. It is an attempt to refocus user experience, to make it, well, leaner. This is a good concept but not without it’s problems. Here is my take on good and bad of Lean UX as the version in Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden’s Lean UX Book (amazon).

The Good Stuff.

  • Not delivery focused - it focuses on getting the right level of deliverable, even if it’s just a whiteboard sketch. Less quarter of a million pound powerpoint presentations (I’ve been there).

  • It’s quick - no need to get everything ‘right’ first time. Solutions evolve. Iteration leads to a lot of ideas being tried out and keeps a heartbeat to a project. There is always something to discuss and talk about.

  • It encourages all team members to validate work with end users as much as possible.

  • Getting all stakeholders / team members to discuss their assumptions in a workshop so that all ideas are used and any disagreements are highlighted. Is focused upon the outcome of the project not the feature set (Alan Cooper would approve) See About Face 3.

  • It encourages small co-located teams. I know this works as we used that approach in 1999 for a project for Boots.

  • No rock stars! In other words ‘It doesn’t matter whose idea it is’. Responsibility but not complete ownership. Makes more use of more brain cells within a team.

  • It’s a handly buzzword to get all kinds of existing and less risk sensitive practices into play.

The Bad Stuff.

  • It can lead to a focus on interface over UX strategy (sitemaps, IA and solid concepts can suffer). This can lead to large projects failing as they ignore the vital messy middle.

  • Can become a bun fight with the wrong team - too many opinions leads to falling between two stools. Solid user / universe research is thrown out for testing initial guesses assumptions. A hypothesis, in scientific terms, is not a first guess but is already supported by real world information.

  • The wrong initial assumption will not guarantee you can reach a good end result, just something less worse. Proto-Personas can lead to bad personas because they are assumptive. See (http://www.90percentofeverything.com/2013/04/28/assumptive-personas/)

  • Rapid iteration can drive developers crazy as the requirements keep changing.

  • It still doesn’t solve the UX vs. Agile problem as the stories become a bottleneck.

  • It still isn’t a fully defined, which does fit with the idea but is also self defeating.

  • Lean Startup, like agile, is very development focused, which could lead to UX being taken less seriously or seen as just Interaction Design (which is only part of UX).

  • Too much user testing just leads to paralysis by analysis as much as big up front research.

  • The book is very clearly written from a product manager perspective and goes into great details about stakeholder management as if this is something new to Lean UX. That’s being a good manager.

Lean UX needs to iterate and, er, Pivot.

Lean UX is not finished, ironically. It’s full of old ideas, which is good as many old UX ideas are great. I would recommend exploring reading up on it but don’t believe the hype. Those who say Lean UX equals Lean Startup I think have oversimplified things. Lean Startup overly simplifies UX and is very development focused. It’s the engineering solution of building something and seeing if it works. This is not User Centered Design, or Task Centred Design, it’s Solution Centered Design.

We need to keep evolving UX and cannibalise Lean UX for the good bits. The bad bits, like Proto-Prototypes I recommend we throw out. It’s heart is in the right place but the real Lean UX book still needs to be written by someone with far more experience and knowledge of UX.

A quick update May 2014

The effect of Lean UX and lean Startup in the industry has been mixed. Terms like 'MVP' get chucked around with abandon but with little real deep understand of what that actually means. For some it is about creating something that doesn't work properly just to see if people will use it (this is, in my view, very bad), and I've also seen it used for technical demos with a bootstrap visual layer on them.

Within Lean UX is often translated to 'sketch more and don't do wireframes'. I have taken it to mean 'find the right level of deliverable'. Others have taken it to mean 'don't do your homework', resulting in still born startups and a the chances of failure going up. In my view not doing the homework on a project is crazy. To reiterate - if you starting point is wrong there may be no way to get to where things are right.

I have taken unboard the ideas but just used them to refine my approach to a project. It's also interesting to hear the collective groan when 'MVP' is used in a place where there is a collection of UXers!

See Also:

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