How to Get Started With Lean UX

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In today’s fast moving economy, successful organizations are finding ways to do more with less and react to shifting circumstances more quickly than ever before. For many of them, Lean UX strategies combine the best of both worlds, leveraging the creative resources they already possess and adapting them to deliver outcomes more aligned with what their customers actually want from products and services.

But implementing Lean UX is seldom an easy task. It can be especially challenging for highly structured industries that aren’t accustomed to letting the often messy creative process play out organically. If you’re wondering what impact Lean UX may have on your organization, it’s worth considering a few key ways this methodology reframes people’s expectations.

Anticipate Skepticism & Fear

Shifting to a Lean UX methodology is a big change even if you’re accustomed to traditional UX processes. Implementing the type of dynamic, often cross-functional teams that Lean UX demands can leave designers, researchers, and managers unclear of what their new roles will be under the new approach. If they feel like they’ve been successful under the existing system, they may question why changes are even necessary. Even if they’re unhappy with the current way of doing things, they may not automatically embrace a new workflow process.

Communicating the rationales behind the change is actually a good first step to fostering the type of open collaboration Lean UX methods need to thrive. Allowing people to ask questions and understand how the new approach will help them produce better outcomes should help to secure the initial buy-in.

Even if everyone commits to the change, there’s bound to be some fear and worry after any Lean UX process is implemented. For teams accustomed to focusing on deliverables, Lean UX projects can feel a bit like dancing on ice. Once people have had the opportunity to run through the process a few times, they will get a sense for the unique nature of Lean UX and become more comfortable with it.

Get Ready to Fail

But part of that learning process involves learning to fail. It’s a given when adopting a Lean UX methodology that a large number of concepts and ideas will fail to pan out as intended. Of course, failure is a natural byproduct of any design process because it’s impossible to know if some ideas will work before they’re subjected to testing.

Lean UX accelerates this process. Rather than laboriously developing ideas and prototypes as far as possible before putting them in a potential user’s hands, Lean UX focuses on rolling out a minimum viable product (MVP) for testing as quickly as possible. The resulting data can lead to further refinement or cause the idea to be scrapped altogether. This continuously iterative process allows teams to churn through ideas as rapidly as possible, eliminating dead ends before too many resources are invested in them and ensuring that surviving concepts are driven by data and research.

For people accustomed to a more long-term development process, the potential of rapid and repeated failures can be discouraging. They need to keep in mind, however, that each failure isn’t really a failure; rather, it’s a step in the direction of eventual success.

Lean UX is more concerned about solving the problem in the best way possible, which means it can’t afford to become fixated upon a single solution

Less Meetings, More Workshops

Lean UX is a very hands-on approach to development and design. In an effort to trim the fat from the traditional design process, people will spend less time planning or talking about what they want to accomplish and more time figuring out how to actually do it. Speed, flexibility, and adaptability are the principle qualities of Lean UX design; meetings that don’t contribute to the iterative research and design process can create a bottleneck in the workflow.

Since Lean UX teams are often cross-functional, they’re able to share information and exchange ideas much more dynamically than would be possible with a more silo-oriented structure. If teams were more specialized, regular meetings that allowed them to share updates and concepts might be necessary, but for a Lean UX approach, these sessions can actually create an impediment.

That’s not to say people won’t be coming together to share ideas. Far from it. But the principle goal of these sessions is brainstorming problems and ideating solutions. These workshops are incredibly valuable to the Lean UX methodology.

Focus on Outcomes, Not Outputs

Along with increasing tolerance for failure, one of the biggest adjustments for people switching over to a Lean UX approach is learning to focus on outcomes rather than outputs. The overall goal is not to produce a deliverable, but rather a desirable outcome. This is a subtle, but important, distinction. An output or deliverable is typically a fixed concept, a concrete idea that is conceived and then slowly nurtured into life. The traditional design process follows this model, creating products and services in a closed environment and the presenting them to potential users as fully fledged prototypes.

Lean UX is more concerned about solving the problem in the best way possible, which means it can’t afford to become fixated upon a single solution. By emphasizing the importance of the outcomes, Lean UX designers take nothing for granted and hold nothing sacred. Any possible solution is on the table until it’s ruled out; and even then, it might come back later. This can be a big shift for people used to honing in on an initial idea and basing every subsequent decision within that idea’s parameter of possibilities. Lean UX removes these constraints and keeps the team focused on producing the desired outcome by the best means possible.

Testing > Expertise

Since it takes nothing for granted, Lean UX emphasizes testing over-relying on assumptions. Even if something seems obvious, if it can’t be backed up by data produced by actual testing, then it’s no more likely to succeed than any random shot in the dark. For this reason, Lean UX undercuts the stereotypical image of the “innovator,” the one person who makes brilliant insights by the power of their own creativity.

While Lean UX certainly encourages and relies upon creativity, that’s just the starting point. It’s impossible to know the difference between a great idea and a terrible one until it’s been put to the test. Some of the most promising lines of development can prove woefully wrongheaded once they undergo testing, while unexpected insights can emerge from those same tests that no one would have considered previously.

Making the switch to a Lean UX process can be a difficult transition for any organization, but it’s also one that provides tremendous benefits. By embarking on that journey with an open mind and taking steps to prepare people to work without the usual constraints they’ve become accustomed to, you can make sure that design teams will be able to get the most out of Lean UX methodology as quickly as possible.

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