Imagine you are at the top of a snowy hill.
You're strapped into a pair of skis. Your knees are violently knocking together. It's a long way down.
You take a deep breath, and push off down the hill. As you hurtle at a breakneck speed, a tree is now rapidly approaching you.
What do you do?
You have to make a quick decision.
Do you turn left, or right? You decide to turn right. You're still going! The path is clear again. You've made progress. You feel a bit more confident now.
Another obstacle approaches. This time it's a large rock.
You take a left this time, as it seems the clearer route.
Racing downhill, making quick decisions in the face of obstacles is a lot like Lean UX.
The only difference is, there is a small group of you, all on the same pair of skis. It doesn't sound manageable. But the beauty is in experiencing the same downward journey together. The decisions are clear to you because you all have the same information. However, we treat those decisions as experiments. Who knows? Maybe going left is heading toward a dense forest - but let's find out together.
Creating a shared understanding, and rapid experimentation are the core principles of Lean UX.
What exactly is Lean UX?
Lean UX (user experience) is a design process, developed by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden. Rather than a step by step approach, it requires employing a mindset of experimentation, and inclusivity in the practice of design and research.
The mindset of creating a shared understanding makes employing Lean UX as your design process easy. It means getting everyone in the team involved in all aspects of the design. By co-designing, co-researching, co-engineering, it puts everyone on a level playing field.
Doing things together means there is less need for documentation.
Sitting down and documenting stuff, for the sake of having it stored - is a necessary evil in large organisations. But in small teams, when everyone has an equal amount of knowledge - writing things down for the sake of seems like a waste of time. This is where the "Lean" part of Lean UX comes in.
What makes Lean UX "lean"?
The process promises to move fast, much like skiing down a hill. Lean UX demands that you test your assumptions early and often. Getting out of the building and observing your users is research in action. It means you don't need to spend three months on lengthy field research. We find our riskiest most unknown assumptions and go and test them as soon as possible.
The faster you create prototypes that help you validate or invalidate your assumptions, the faster you'll move to the right solution.
And by doing it together in a small multi-disciplined team, the less "communication overhead" you'll have. Test and learn as soon as possible.
How do you start with Lean UX?
The first thing to begin the Lean UX process is to grab as much information about the problem that you already have. Such as previous attempts at solving the problem, competitor analysis, and any data you have that is relevant.
The initial process is broken down into these steps (and handily, there is a Workshop Tactic for each):
Capture the project's goals, problems and measurable success criteria.
A problem statement gives your team a clear focus for their work. It also defines any essential constraints. It would be best if you had constraints for group work as they provide guardrails that keep the team grounded and aligned.
Collect assumptions that reflect what you and your team think might be true about the project.
You declare assumptions at the start of the project so that you can identify project risks. Having everyone's assumptions visible early removes any surprises later on.
Prioritise your assumptions based on certainty and risk.
Once you have a bunch of assumptions about your project or task, you need to figure out which ones are the riskiest so that you can work on them first.
Treat your assumptions as experiments by turning them into testable hypotheses.
Expressing your assumptions in this way is powerful; it takes the personal and political conversation out of the decision-making process, orienting the team towards feedback from users and customers.
Try to predict who is using, or will use your product and why, so you can start testing with the right people.
Instead of spending months interviewing people, spend a few hours creating personas. Ongoing research quickly tells you how accurate your initial guesses are.
Generate many ideas quickly. Eight crazy ideas in eight minutes!
Coming up with ideas is hard. This tactic uses an eight-minute time limit to force ideas out. Encourage your group to come up with any zany, crazy or wacky ideas that come to mind.
7. Assemble and test (get out of the building!)
By combining the outputs of the previous sessions, you can then create a clear and concrete statement:
We will [create this feature] for [this persona] in order to achieve [this outcome]
You should then be in a position to start creating a prototype or MVP that will test if that feature, for that persona, does, in fact, achieve that outcome. Then its a case of iterating the design based on what you've observed, or pivoting to something else if it didn't work.
To reiterate again: get out of the building and test your assumptions!
- The entire point of the Lean UX process is to reduce the risk of doing the wrong thing.
- The core principles behind Lean UX is to test and learn quickly and create a shared understanding in small teams
- The initial workshops are a jumping-off point; the real work comes from getting out of the building and testing your assumptions.