Complete Guide to Lean UX
Justinmind’s Lean UX guide gives you the 360 on the methodology revolutionizing product design
- Chapter 1 – How to Apply the Lean UX Methodology
- Chapter 2 – 4 ways companies can scale a Lean UX process
- Chapter 3 – Lean UX vs Lean Startup: Are they the same thing?
- Chapter 4 – Lean UX principles for large companies
- Chapter 5 – How to choose the right Lean UX Metrics
- Chapter 6 – 5 Essential Lean UX tools: A curated list
- Chapter 7 – 5 Lean design hacks to improve product success
Designers have a lot of effective methodologies they can apply to product design. There’s Agile, Design-driven development, Kanban, Test-driven development… the list goes on.
And then there’s Lean UX. Toyota, the car manufacturer, created the Lean method. It helped revolutionize the Japanese industrial economy after World War II.
Since then, it has transformed into what we have today: a robust software development methodology that’s helped minimize costs and maximize profits for companies all over the globe.
Lean UX focuses on continual improvement and experimentation. This shifts the focus towards creating products that users actually want instead of spending money creating a product nobody will buy.
In this post, Justinmind outlines the key features of Lean UX. We’ll go into what the processes are in a Lean UX methodology.
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What is Lean UX?
Lean UX is an approach to designing and crafting user experiences. At its heart, Lean UX is about validating the hypotheses you have about your users and your product.
A hypothesis might read like this:
“I believe that people like persona A have a need for (or a problem doing) XYZ”.
Why is validating your hypotheses important in Lean?
Think about this: you’re in a meeting with your other colleagues and you’ve all decided that the one idea that Mike had is a definite winner. Thanks, Mike!
You and Mike and everybody else on your team go to work on this Big Winning Idea. You spend a ton of money, you work a lot of hours, the code goes from rough to ready and eventually, you have a product to release.
What do you do?
You release it. You put your Big Winning Idea out into the world and slowly await the tech write-ups, five-star reviews and the revenue flowing in. But, wait… is that radio silence? Tumbleweed?
Soon you realize that the Big Winning Idea isn’t so big and it’s definitely not winning. What gives?
Hypotheses and validation help know if we’re making products people want. That’s what makes the method Lean. We have space to pivot and change.
You might think that not speaking to your users (or potential users) is a disastrous thing but many companies are still out there creating products that nobody wants and losing a ton of money in the process. In fact, 42% of startups fail because there’s no market need.
Lean UX is a methodology that helps you avoid making products nobody wants. Laura Klein writes in her book Lean UX for Startups:
“Instead of thinking of a product as a series of features to be built, Lean UX looks at a product as a set of hypotheses to be validated. In other words, we don’t assume that we know what the user wants.”
Why use Lean UX?
Designers have many methodologies to choose from when creating products. But let’s take a moment to understand why you should use the Lean UX methodology in your design process.
You save money by adopting a Lean methodology. Instead of wasting 3 months of your life working on a product nobody wants, test your hypothesis. Validate every decision before anyone starts working.
Laura Klein, the author of Build Better Products, mentions the company Webvan in her book. They spent $400 million on an automated warehouse system only to discover that people weren’t ready to do their grocery shopping online yet. Think of all the time and money wasted.
It saves you time
In addition to trimming your budget, Lean UX is also a time saver. Lean is collaborative in nature and foregoes heavy documentation. This means no more lengthy documents or endless back and forths with developers.
“Functional software is more important than comprehensive documentation” – Jeff Gothelf, Lean UX
Lean UX focuses on quick and rapid solutions instead of months and months of development on a fully designed feature.
Lean is iterative. Research and design move quickly and don’t require months to be delivered to engineering. Product owners, designers and developers are all involved in the Lean UX process. Everyone has ownership of what they produce, making everything go much quicker than a traditional design development process.
There is a lot of overlap with User-Centered Design (UCD) and Lean UX. UCD is iterative like Lean and are both processes which focus on the user and their needs at each phase of the design process. UCD also involves the user in the design process, just as Lean UX does.
You can have assumptions in Lean UX but those assumptions will be put to the test using research. Instead of making guesses about potential new features or designs, Lean UX relies on data to inform any decisions. This helps prevent making something inadvertently worse.
“Here is the worst possible way for you to try to figure out if your idea solves somebody’s problem: Ask them. The vast majority of entrepreneurs seem to think that explaining their concept in detail to a few people and then asking whether it’s a good idea constitutes validation. It does not.” – Laura Klein, UX for Lean Startups
But, more than that, if something does get worse, you can use this data to investigate what went wrong and uncover which assumptions were incorrect.
The Lean UX process
Lean UX is driven by 3 main concepts: think, make and check.
Think refers to creating assumptions about any given problem and what you think you know about that particular area.
These assumptions are important because eventually, they provide new knowledge which will be turned into hypotheses to be tested. Other aspects of the think stage involve:
- Mental models
Make involves designing a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). An MVP is the minimum you need to engage your audience and start an iteration-feedback loop.
An MVP might be a landing page to a product that doesn’t exist yet to gauge customer interest.
This stage is iterative (that is to say you make the minimum and continue to build upon it). Here are other ways you can create your own MVP:
- Value propositions
- Landing pages
- Deployed code
“Lean UX is where prototyping shines. As with the initial sketches, focusing the prototype on critical components of the experience is essential.” – Jeff Gothelf, Smashing Magazine
Check is the last stage in the Lean UX loop. This is where you test your MVP with your audience and validate or invalidate it, taking your newfound knowledge back to the think stage to start over again. Here you can expect to carry out:
- A/B testing
- Site analytics
- Usability testing
- Feedback system
- Customer meetings
The main tenets of the Lean UX methodology
We touched on assumptions earlier but as assumptions play a fundamental role in Lean UX, they deserve to be understood a little further.
The reason that assumptions play a big role in Lean UX is there is a shift from the traditional requirements/deliverables method. Instead of relying on requirements, the focus is turned towards creating a problem statement.
A problem statement can take this form:
We have observed that [product/service/organization] isn’t meeting [these goals/needs], which is causing [this adverse effect]. How might we improve so that our product/service/team/organization is more successful based on [these measurable criteria]?
This helps you to know when you’ve solved the problem. It’s likely you might have multiple problem statements. It is you and your team’s job to decide which problem statements are most pertinent to business and user goals and pursue that route.
From your problem statement, you can start to make assumptions. When creating assumptions, it’s best to have your problem statement in front of you. Now you need to think about needs, users and solutions.
Use statements like these to help guide you as you create assumptions:
- My customer needs to…
- I believe I will acquire the majority of my users through…
- The biggest risk is…
- What features are important?
- What problem does the product solve?
After you write a problem statement, identify and select your main assumptions, the next stage is developing hypotheses.
To test an assumption, you simply make it into a hypothesis. This is useful for identifying any gaps in your thinking.cupc
A hypothesis statement template looks like this:
We believe this [business outcome] will be achieved if [these users] successfully [attain this user outcome] with this [feature].
And this is what it might look like when you’ve created your hypothesis:
We believe that conversions will increase by 25% (business outcome) if new customers (your target audience) successfully identify a larger call to action button (feature).
Once you’ve created a hypothesis statement, it’s time to put it to the test. As you can see from the hypothesis statement you start with what you expect to happen (more conversions), move onto who will help you achieve this (new customers) and how (big, shiny call to action button).
The beauty of creating a hypothesis is that if you ever hear someone say the dreaded “I don’t think this idea will work”, you can put it to the test and either drop the idea or pursue it – effectively quashing any infighting or disagreements.
Minimum Viable Product
An MVP is what prevents you from going out and designing a fully fledged social network that nobody asked for. instead, you design the bare minimum and expand on that, little by little.
By building an MVP, you’re creating a small product that functions. You don’t need flashing lights just yet. Your MVP can be so stripped back that a landing page alone can be sufficient. You just need to have something to satisfy early customers and gain interest.
“As you consider building your own minimum viable product, let this simple rule suffice: remove any feature, process, or effort that does not contribute directly to the learning you seek.” Eric Ries, The Lean Startup
MVPs are best described using a picture, so here’s the cupcake analogy that drives home the idea of an MVP.
MVPs make you validate each hypothesis before you spend any time building something large that has unlimited features. Start small and build on success.
Testing is the backbone of Lean UX. Testing is what gives you answers. It will help you understand why your users interact with your product in the way that they do.
It’ll guide your design decisions and offer clarity. Testing doesn’t have to involve a lot of people either. It can be done with 3-5 people as well as internal staff.
Unmoderated testing is lean because it is cheap to do, quick to find recruits and can be scaled. You can use a variety of artefacts from lo-fi prototypes, HTML and clickable wireframes. The lower the fidelity the better because you have a product to launch and there’s no time to waste.
Unmoderated testing just means that a user can complete a testing session without needing a UX researcher in the room. This can be done on a service like Userzoom and users can do it from the comfort of their own home.
Complete guide to Lean UX – conclusion
Lean UX is a paradigm shift. It creates efficiency and removes any waste unlike other common design methodologies.
By reducing the reliance on deliverables and focusing on small wins over time, products can get to market faster with the knowledge that your customer really wants what you have to sell them.
Any design-driven product team should use Lean if they want to enhance their workflow and boost the user experience of their products.