Autodesk development teams that once requested design specifications up front now are collaborating with user experience designers to design, build, and test software in rapid cycles. This incremental approach offers more opportunities to gather user feedback and optimize the product. Success depends on practicing “Lean” UX, in which designers stop attempting comprehensive documentation, and embrace “just-enough” design combined with constant iteration.
The idea of working lean comes from “Lean Manufacturing” at Toyota and more recently The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. Lean companies minimize wasteful business processes that don’t add value for end user. They also get products to customers faster, even with fewer features, so they can learn from their target audience and build the most value into the next version.
I am a passionate believer in Lean UX, so I was pleased to attend the Lean Day UX conference in New York on March 1. In the morning, seven speakers from different industries described how they navigated the switch to Lean practices.
Key insights from these speakers:
- Ries’ The Lean Startup treats product development as a series of quick, experimental launches. However, transitioning an organization to this lean workflow requires a cultural shift from “experimenting to validate” to “experimenting to learn.” As a UX professional, you may be accustomed to usability testing a complete product. Now, though, you may need new methods to help the product team quickly adapt to user feedback.
- Changing mindsets is critical for Lean UX success, but it’s not easy. Simple rules can help change your organization’s behavior. One speaker’s group outlawed surveys and mandated that all teams meet face-to-face with real users.
- At another speaker’s business, the priority is building lean entrepreneurial teams that take risks and learn from them. To help achieve this goal, managers at this company must present failures and suboptimal outcomes to the entire organization.
- Designing for delight requires building user empathy on your team. One recipe for success is generating many ideas and iterating solutions, moving from broad to narrow focus as you learn more about user needs. “Delighter” features create promoters for your product and brand.
- To paraphrase Bill Scott of PayPal, Agile is a good “engine” for delivering products, but it has no brain. Lean UX leadership can be the brain that ensures the team builds the right product. (see image below.)
After lunch we participated in a rapid prototyping exercise. My team designed an app for public transportation users to refill their passcards anywhere. We focused our design time deciding exactly what user problem to solve and how little we could build to solve it – also known as Minimum Viable Product (MVP). I was impressed by the POP app for iOS for rapid mobile prototyping. With this app you can photograph your paper prototypes, select hotspots for navigation, and link them into a flow.
Here are links to the presenters’ topics. Some of the presentations are online, and links are provided:
Lionel Mohri, Intuit: Getting Dirty With Design Thinking - How Intuit Is Enabling a Culture of Entrepreneurship and Experimentation
Farrah Bostic, The Difference Engine: Research Rebooted - Why Most Market Research Is Broken, And How Lean Can Help Fix It
David Panarelli, LivingSocial: Iterating Forward: Maintaining Alignment and Focus Across Multiple Lean Teams
Tom Illmensee, Snagajob: Build A Recipe For Better UX Process With Fresh Lean Ingredients
Andrew Crow, GE Healthcare: One To Many: Designing For Scale
Emily Holmes, Hobsons: Iterative Innovation – Small Guerilla Projects Can Lead To Big Successes
On the train back to Boston, I reflected on the speakers’ ability to promote user-centered change in their organizations. When UX professionals are willing to abandon potentially wasteful up-front design practices and embrace lean workflows, they are leading by example and increasing their influence on the whole organization. I like that being a change agent and a user-centered designer are mutually reinforcing aims.