Lean UX: Getting the User Experience Right

If James Bond is the British Secret Service’s answer to weak intelligence operations, Lean UX is the design industry’s answer to drawn out and risky product development protocols. If you had a design team that could test ideas quickly, respond to user feedback and make necessary changes in swift iterative cycles, nailing the product outcome like James Bond sniffs out a villain, you would have all the elements of a Lean UX product development process. In an age of tight competition, the software company that focuses on the user experience and capitalizes on sudden market opportunities is the one most likely to come out ahead.

The Driving Goal of Lean UX

Up until recently, the standard product development paper trail—the elaborate workflow charts, extensive documentation, and other administrative red tape—were as seemingly necessary as the product itself. Product design and development followed a lengthy and multi-step trajectory with minimal collaboration among team members and minimal interaction with the end user. A product could be near its final form before any user feedback was collected, if at all. Lean UX changes this process and strips it down to its most essential. It is built around the following principles:

  1. Product development must capitalize on the many skills of the team, all focused on creating the best solution for the customer; and
  2. A core product must make it to market as quickly as possible with minimal waste of resources; and
  3. Most importantly, the product must succeed in creating a particular user experience for the customer.

The Customer is on the Design Team

Well, maybe the customer is not ON the team, but he or she is figuratively at the conference table. Under Lean UX design principles, the customer is the planet around which team members orbit. Lean UX gets direction from feedback that is frequently solicited from target users. If the client is dissatisfied with the design, the team is toast and needs to take action swiftly. You might as well have the Queen of Hearts in the room, proclaiming “Off with (their) Heads!” The goal of Lean UX is to constantly keep an eye on the end game: a satisfied buyer willing to part with some serious cash. Ways to incorporate qualitative and quantitative feedback from the user often and at key points in the process via interviews, user analytics, surveys, and so forth is front and center to the Lean UX process.

The Team that “Turns on a Dime”

If customer feedback shows that the team’s approach is misdirected, the team needs to be able to switch tracks, reorganize and set off on a new course as expeditiously as possible. Short bursts of team activity are followed by user feedback. Trial and error and iterative refining of product design in response to user data is central. Design ideas and major presumptions are checked frequently. In fact, the expectation is that design direction will change significantly during development. Presumptions need to be examined or the team is “flying blind”. This is risk-management built into the development process. It is this characteristic of Lean UX that ensures that the final product will be as close to “pitch perfect” as possible when finally released.

Lean, Mean and Collaborative: Lean UX Team at Work

In the spirit of moving as efficiently as possible through a design process, Lean UX doesn’t have the luxury of getting different skills involved at different points in time. Lean UX is all about focused collaboration and creating an all hands-on deck effort. All members of the team are needed to take ownership of the problem and inject the insights of their own particular skill set. All weigh in to create a better solution and shape the product. Each voice is valued, and communication is fluid and informal. Another point to stress is that the team is largely autonomous with respect to the parent organization. A Lean UX team must be able to move quickly with minimal oversight and therefore has the independence, trust and resources of the larger organization to move forward when necessary.

Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

The development of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is the end goal of a Lean UX process. Everything that defines a lean UX process so far points to a methodology that uses minimal resources to create a no-frills, basic product that meets customer expectations. If your objective is to build a go-kart, you build one that has a working steering mechanism and the momentum to go downhill. It doesn’t need the extra, non-essential features—the lights, the padded seat. An MVP ensures that the project stays within budget, has minimum working features, and creates the experience the user is looking for.

The End Product: What Lean UX is designed to Do

This is a lean, focused team with a lean and focused objective. This is a process whose goal is to maximize consumer feedback and validate design specifications early and often. All of this is accomplished with speed and efficiency. Lean UX is about bringing to market a product that is likely to be a winner while reducing corporate risk as much as possible. This is a process even James Bond would be proud of.