I attended Leancamp London 2 last weekend because Rob told me about this really excellent book he was reading, and that he was attending Leancamp to learn even more about it. This book is “The Lean Startup” book by Eric Ries, which has taken the world by storm. So I needed to find out for myself what it meant for me.
In that process, I realized that “Lean UX” is really a term targeted at a business audience, but it somehow got misinterpreted as a “new” way of doing UX. I don’t think it’s a new way to do UX. But I think it’s a more focused way to do UX. In short, Lean UX is a way to apply UX for Lean Startup practitioners.
What is Lean Startup?
Lean Startup is mostly a combination of Agile (mostly with a big A) and Steve Blank’s Customer Development, tightly integrated into one machine. Subjectively, it is a model for operating a business with an entrepreneurial mindset where the there are a lot of unknowns – so the successful execution of a lean startup is more art than science.
Lean UX is a disciplined effort to play by the Lean Startup rules. In that sense, I think it’s good because it’s a way to embed UX into a system. How successful it will be, I’m not sure we can tell yet. I think it’ll take awhile to see if it sticks.
Should we all do Lean UX now?
However, I’m still not sure about Lean UX as a way to “get out of the deliverables business“. I think we need UX designers who are able to play well in an Agile environment, but I also think we need UX designers that work in rocket-ship environments, where it may not be so practical to run an effective Agile shop. Maybe your teams are not co-located, or the effort to integrate silos are too costly, who knows.
Do agencies need a modified version of Lean UX? I think many already do – this is why this I think “Lean UX” is really a term for the Lean Startup community, and while those outside that can and should learn from this partnership, I don’t necessarily think we need to jump into the same boat. I think there’s a lot of room for all of us to grow and provide value.
Don’t stop until you succeed
Lean Startup also applies very well to environments where teams continue to work and iterate over a (somewhat) indefinite period of time, usually expiring at the time the business is mature and developed enough (i.e. it’s business model is validated to be profitable, repeatable, valuable).
Not all UX practitioners work in this kind of environment. Freelancers and agencies are hired for a period of time to solve thinking problems – e.g. planning, design, strategy. I think agencies want to move away from pure delivery work, but delivery work is here to stay and more, not less, UX will be needed in the future – for delivery work or otherwise.
Lean UX is an opportunity for us to learn
I think what’s exciting about Lean UX is the opportunity to bring focus to some of the following issues:
- what skills, knowledge and aptitudes does a practitioner need to have to succeed in highly collaborative teams?
- how work spaces, artifacts, information systems and the coordination of all those come into play
- how UX can integrate deeply with development and business
- in the spirit of Lean Startup, what can UX communities learn from other industries to be more successful? (Lean Startup borrowed elements from Toyota’s manufacturing system)
- how can we measure UX output and effort more effectively? How do we use these metrics to improve traction and value?
I see Lean UX as an area that’s contained and focused enough that we can observe and learn from, possibly even emulate, steal from or modify.
Note: I’ve uploaded my presentation on how to use Diary Studies for customer validation (part of the Customer Development framework). My sketchnotes for several leancamp sessions I sat in are also up now.