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What Is Lean UX And Why Does It Go Hand In Hand With Agile?

Maryna Cherednychenko - May 14, 2020 - 0 comments

In the post-war period, Toyota managers came up with the idea of lean production. At that time, the demand for cars was down. The company was not able to focus on the mass user. In this regard, stakeholders needed to find a solution to attract and retain clients. To cut costs, they revised the production approach. For that, they shortened the time of manufacture by removing some processing steps. All in all, they optimized the workflow and increased the KPI.

What Is Lean UX And How To Adopt It?

Toyota managers inspired Jeff Gothelf to create a new-look model of UX design. However, the reason for such a creation lies deeper. The traditional UX wasn’t able to cover Agile development demands when the team worked in short cycles and corrected goals before each sprint. Lean UX abandoned making long specs. It took the idea and translated it into action. If it didn’t work, it was put away.

The main difference between classic UX and lean UX is that the first is based on requirements while the latter – on actions. If you want to adopt the lean UX, follow these steps.


Difference between lean UX and classic UX

Classic UX vs. Lean UX

Combine Design Thinking, Agile Development, And Lean Startup

In most companies, designers act as a separate team. They receive a worksheet, discuss the requirements, and choose a unified solution. Direct work does not begin immediately. First, they agree on all the details with developers and stakeholders. This process may take up to several months.

In lean UX, every team member takes part in the UX design process. Designers, developers, support managers, QA engineers work side by side. They generate as many ideas as possible and put them in an app prototype. In such a manner, the team uses 

  • design thinking to get out of the box and find the most suitable solution from the client’s point of view
  • agile methodology to work out the hypothesis within a short period and replace the bad ideas in the next sprint
  • lean startup concept to reduce the risk to refactor the product after it is released in production

If you peeked into the design sprint and said, “Wait, it’s just a speedy classic UX,” you would not be far from the truth. The difference (and genius) is that it is a typical UX with incredibly low accuracy. An artistic masterpiece vs. a napkin sketch, but it works.

Define Desired Effect, Typical Users, And Features Set

So, how to apply the lean UX process in practice? You need to take all your guesses and perhaps and see how the user can benefit from them. The purpose is to transform ideas into app features for certain users. Let’s see an example.

Take a bank, for instance. The assumption may be that the clients will use their service to check balance, transfer money, and apply for loans without visiting a branch bank. While it seems obvious for a banking app, it’s still only an assumption that should be put in action and tested. There are three aspects you want to define: outcome, personas, features.

The outcome, in our case, is to increase demand for banking products by providing easy access to the mobile app. Also, we intend to facilitate the work of the office staff.

A persona might be a middle-aged person who works from 9 till 6, has a family, and doesn’t have spare time. Let’s name our person David and assume he is 36. David doesn’t want to go to the bank each time he needs to transfer money to his wife’s card or buy a juicer on credit.

The features that would solve David’s problems are P2P transfer, available credit limit, and convenient balance management tools.


Creating personas is one of the UX design steps

Personas define future app features

Involve All Team Members In Design And Put Them In Equal Conditions

In a lean UX design, all team members create a user experience. Note that we talk precisely about UX, not UI. That is, everybody decides on the most suitable features, but the colors and fonts remain on the artists’ taste.

An important aspect of collaboration is to put all participants in similar conditions. For that, give everyone a piece of paper and a pencil — no Illustrator for designers, coding for developers, or Powerpoint for sales managers. 

Once everything’s ready, start brainstorming. At Softensy, we often use a design studio technique for idea generation. The method covers three steps:

  • create
  • present
  • critique

Give 5 minutes to create an app sketch, 3 minutes to present it to colleagues, and 3 minutes for others to criticize. It is possible to produce several hundreds of design concept versions within a few hours in such a manner.

Test Your Ideas At Early Stages To Pick Up The Good Ones

Why is the UX design cycle “lean”? Because, first, we take a skinny but viable product (that is, with the necessary functions that may be of interest to someone). After that, we gradually build up meat, muscles, and fat on it – new functions and properties.

Let’s imagine that we want to embed a newsletter subscription into our existing site. First, we can make a subscription form and see how many users will apply. If the demand is high, we can implement a tool that will actually send a newsletter to users. If users are not interested in the newsletter, we remove the subscription form from the site.

Another example is a payment option in a banking app. If we notice that many users make payments regularly – pay house bills or subscribe to some services – we can add a field “make payment regular.” This option will withdraw a certain amount of money at a certain date and transfer it to the defined destination. Thus, the user does not have to remember that they must pay the rent or dancing classes on the 10th of every month.

Create Supportive Working Environment

In “usual” companies, employees perform tasks within their defined job roles. Such an approach limits potential and kills creativity. Encourage people to use their secondary skills to contribute to product development.

What do UX designers do? They work on a smooth user experience. So, why not listen to the concerns of creative developers as for possible features? Or why not take into account the comments of the support team?

If you want to motivate people, give them ample opportunities. To start with, offer a supportive working environment. Here are the possible solutions:

  • Open working space to bring all team members together
  • Spacy whiteboard to sketch things, leave feedback, and share insights
  • Remote tools like Slack or Skype to discuss the work details anytime, anywhere

What Is Lean UX Canvas?

Broadly defined, the lean canvas is a way to record the essential hypotheses regarding business development efficiently. In mobile development, the lean UX canvas is a means to find the best possible solution to solve users’ problems. The good news is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There is a standard template that has proved to be effective. Usually, it consists of 8 parts:

  1. Business problem
  2. Business outcomes
  3. Users
  4. User outcomes and benefits
  5. Solutions
  6. Hypotheses
  7. The most important thing to learn first
  8. The least amount of work to do to learn the most important thing

Let’s get back to our banking app and see how we can shape it with lean UX research.


How to make lean UX canvas

Lean UX canvas

UX Design Process Steps At Softensy

At Softensy, we adhere to Agile methodology for software development. Lean UX principles fit perfectly into this system. They allow working in short iterations and set near-term goals for each upcoming sprint. However, except for traditional steps used in world best practices, we deploy extra techniques that we believe bring more benefits to the UX process flow.

Defining before solving

Any UX design methodology is, in fact, an adapted methodology of problem-solving. There are many such techniques, but the first step in each of them is to identify the problem. Often, we forget about this step and immediately proceed to the search for solutions. Well, this is fundamentally wrong. 

Do you remember the tale about the space pen? It tells that NASA spent millions of dollars to create a pen that would write in space while Soviet engineers used a pencil. Of course, this is just a fiction, and the pencil was a cheap substitute for a quality solution. However, it makes clear that first, we should ask: “Why?”, and only then “How?”

Kano Model

Fifty years ago, Noriaki Kano suggested that perhaps each product has qualities of three levels:

  • Must-haves. Without these qualities, no one needs the product.
  • Performance benefits. The qualities that the user would like to have.
  • Delighters. The features that the user does not expect to see.

If there is a lot of competition in the market and we need to attract customers, delighter is our trump card. Imagine our mobile banking app again.

The obligatory features are authorization, P2P transfers, balance management. Without this functionality, the banking app cannot exist.

The extras include in-app chat, cashback, push notifications. While these are not the basic options, the users would like to have them in place. The wow-option may be the coin sound or funny animation when money is credited to the account. Such an option does not have anything to do with the main function, but it cheers up.

Magic Wand

Here comes the question – how to come up with delighters? It is not always easy. At Softensy, we choose to wave a magic wand. This technique encourages us to throw away the rules and generate as many ideas as possible, no matter how crazy they seem. Later, we will filter the fantasies and pull out some rational kernel. There is a big chance to come across functions that really can and should be implemented.

To Sum Up

Lean design is a proven method that brings UX and Agile together. It helps use time efficiently and prevents investing in possible failures. Anyhow, there is hardly any technique that is used in a pure form. Each company customizes it according to the specificity of the workflow. At Softensy, we add creativity with the help of Kano analysis and the Magic want approach. First of all, we seek a problem. Only after it is defined, we suggest solutions.

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