Design

9 Principles You Should Know Before Participating in a Lean UX Session

July 20, 2015

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“Working collaboratively to iterate an endless, shifting path towards product perfection.”

According to the podcast, “99% Invisible”: the best design is so intuitive it appears invisible.

Mobile designers, developers, and product managers confirm this theory by constantly iterating and refining digital products, removing waste from the design process wherever possible and leveraging innovative ux patterns however feasible. Lean UX is a process that helps make product as intuitive as possible. It relies on experimentation, iteration, and collaboration to help ensure that the ideas that have the most value, get the most resources.

This practice has become one of our most helpful and productive exercises and has enabled our teams to build some of the most iconic mobile apps in the marketplace. Lean UX almost always results in better products and stronger relationships (between clients and their mobile agency/team) and even tends to save time, resources, and budget.

What is Lean UX…exactly?

“Lean UX is the practice of bringing the true nature of a product to light faster.”

Lean UX is a deeply collaborative practice that harmonizes our ecosystem of designers, developers, product managers, and marketers into one collective team. It boldly brings non-designers into the design process and advocates for continuous engagement, allowing us to veer away from heavy deliverables in favor of techniques that help us build a shared understanding of problems within the space.

It is an unorthodox effort that not only includes developers but also brings our partners in business to the whiteboard to work with us on discovering the best solutions out there.

Before Lean UX

Before Lean UX, ideas are considered guess work from the designers. Their suggestions are likely based on feature set requirements and based on what they think the clients want. 

Before lean UX, only the designers idea is put into motion –creating an initial wireframe of that idea– then eliciting reactions and feedback from the whole team. This often prompts many changes and sometimes scrapping the idea completely. Before Lean UX, the number of iterations can be excessive, which subsequently burn hours and increase cost. 

In short, traditional design practices – essentially pre-Lean ux–favor heavy documented handoffs and extensive presentations with stakeholders, and less focus on the actual product itself. 

Nine Principles You Should Know

Ready to make a meaningful difference to a real product that is crucial to real users?

This article will provide you with a working knowledge of Lean UX that will help you successfully navigate the process and offer meaningful feedback during your next Lean UX session.

Find here, what we consider to be, the eight most vital lean UX principles, extracted from Jeff Gothelf’s recent book, “Lean UX” (basically our Bible):

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1) Cross-Functional Teams (no more than 10 people)

We know that the idea of meaningful cross-functional collaboration seems more like a fairy tale than an actual method of going about solving some of the most complex digital problems. However, contrary to standard product development practice, continuous cross-functional collaboration is paramount with Lean ux.

This relatively unorthodox collaboration allows for team members to share ownership of the project and fully understand reasoning behind certain product decisions, working to save time and money in the process.

To generate the best ideas, it is imperative to include team members of varying roles. Part of this practice is about getting people outside of their comfort zones and encouraging people to think differently. Cross-functional collaboration serves to yield ideas that are bigger and better than those of individual contributors. Designing together increases the design intelligence of the entire team and gives designers a much broader set of ideas to draw upon as they refine the user experience. 

Ideas must be exchanged frequently, freely, and fluidly.

A lean UX session is meant to provide an opportunity for all opinions and concerns to be heard much earlier in the process. Because it is much more prudent and cost effective to voice product concerns in the discovery phase as opposed to post development.

2) Problem Focused Teams

Lean UX professionals are not just advocates for the user. In this practice, we aim to understand and define the business framework and product vision, and find where that specifically intersects with customer needs and current pain points.

Therefore, part of our teams are more focused on how our ideas will explicitly achieve our business goals. Since Lean UX measures success and progress by achieving business outcomes, it is important to know how every proposed idea will benefit our defined business outcomes.

3) Removing Waste

One of the most important principles of Lean UX is the removal of anything that doesn’t lead to the ultimate goal.

In this process the ultimate goal is improved business outcomes, and therefore, anything that doesn’t contribute to this overarching goal is considered as waste and should be removed from the team’s process and from the product’s direction. 

At its core, Lean UX is about streamlining the digital product and clearly solving the user’s problem with as few UX steps possible. The practice seeks to “remove waste” by veering away from heavy documented handoffs, and stepping towards a framework that creates only the design artifacts to move the team forward.

4) Continuous Discovery

Continuous discovery is the “ongoing process of engaging with the customer during the mobile design and development process.” This is achieved through regularly scheduled activities conducted throughout the process.  Collaborating with your customers (as well as your teammates) builds a shared understanding of the problem space and validates and invalidates proposed solutions.

Continuous discovery helps create a census behind decisions and helps the team discard certain ideas, and put money and resources into the right ideas. By constantly engaging with customers, we get authentic feedback on our proposed solution and are able to iterate more quickly and see validated learning. 

The consistent input from the marketplace keeps us agile–nudging us more in the right direction and helping us reduce waste–so that we don’t include a feature that a customer might not even really want.

In short, this principle helps us test our ideas and avoid making incorrect market assumptions as early as possible.

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5) GOOB: The New Centricity

First things first, GOOB is an acronym for what Stanford professor Steve Blank calls “getting out of the building.” His theory argues that meeting-room debates about user needs don’t be settled definitively within the office. Instead the answers lie in the marketplace aka outside of your building. Blank encourages us to to give potential customers a space to offer feedback on ides sooner than you might have in the past ( a whole lot sooner).

Gothelf advises, “Test your ideas with a strong dose of reality while they’re still young.” Since it’s much better to realize your ideas aren’t quite there you’ve spent the time and resources building a product that misses the mark. Because, ultimately, the success or failure of a product is in the hands of the consumer.

6) Shared Understanding

This principle might be our favorite.

Shared understanding is the–ever evolving– collective knowledge of the team collects and builds over time as they work together. It’s a very in-depth knowledge of the “space, the product, and the customers.”

Gothelf calls this shared understanding “the currency” of Lean UX. The more the team understands what it’s doing and why, the less it can depend on second hand reports and long winded documentation to continue work, increasing efficacy and team cohesion and resulting in better products. 

A strong shared understanding of the problem and potential proposed solutions, helps the team figure out which solution is the most viable.
A lean UX session will help us build a certain esoteric framework, that only people in our team will be able to understand and work off of.

7) Making Over Analysis

Lean UX advocates the creation of rapid prototypes designed to test market assumptions and uses customer feedback to evolve much faster than traditional software engineering processes.

Our team is comprised of doers. While the idea of debating a design direction for a half day has its mild appeal, we hold more value in creating the first version of an idea.

The answers to our most perplexing questions will hardly ever be answered in a conference room. That is why it’s imperative to let the market test out an idea and either validate it or give us explicit feedback on how we might iterate. This principle allows us to take the guess work out of selecting a product direction. In order to get these answered, we need to make something that people can respond that helps make our ideas more concrete.

8) Permission to Fail

It will be important and sometimes difficult to overcome the feeling of showing work that feels “unfinished” or “not ready.” It’s important to remember that, as a team, you’re not going to get it right the first time, and that you’re all working together to “iterate your way forward.”

Entrepreneur, Mary Cagan further this sentiment and has notoriously noted that “Most ideas are bad, so embrace ‘continuous discovery.’ This perspective advises us to expect to fail, and to even embrace it as a part of the process.

Our team works hard to create a safe space where people feel comfortable to share their ideas openly, and maintain a feeling that it is okay to fail. Because in order to find the best solution to business problems, Lean UX teams need to experiment with lots of ideas. And inherently and logically speaking, most of these ideas will fail.

Gothelf argues that this principle encourages a culture of experimentation. This culture of experimentation leads to creativity which in turn yields the most innovative solutions.

When people feel comfortable within their teams they are more likely to take risks, which ultimately lead to those big ideas were all searching for.

9) Getting Out of the Deliverable Business 

The traditional deliverables framework has come to represent bottlenecks within the creation process.

And thus, Lean UX refocuses the design process away from heavy documented in favor of prioritizing the outcomes the team is achieving. With increased cross-functional collaboration, intermittent stakeholder conversation become less about what artifact is being created and more about what outcome is being achieved.

In short “documents don’t solve customer problems-, good products do.”
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After Lean  UX.

After a successful Lean UX session(s), our team becomes much more certain of our product direction. 

After Lean UX,  collective ideas are assessed and narrowed down, aligning with expectations of the end product and serving both customer needs and business goals.

After lean UX, all ideas have been accounted for and funneled down to a few collective directions, before the wireframing process begins. This makes the wire frame and iteration process productive from the start, while empowering the client as being a key contributor in the ideation phase.

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