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GuidesUser experience (UX)Lean UX 101: what you need to know

Lean UX 101: what you need to know

Last updated

27 April 2023

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Jean Kaluza

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In the fast-paced world of product development, a relaxed approach to UX is a luxury. Fast-paced digital products require suitable UX design methods.

Enter Lean UX.

Lean UX is a collaborative approach to design that values iteration over planning and roadmaps. Instead of focusing on requirements, research, and contemplation, Lean UX seeks to solve problems – it minimizes development time through low-fidelity prototyping.

Let's take a closer look at what Lean UX is all about and why it conquered the world of design without making an effort.  

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What is Lean UX?

Lean UX essentially alters the structure of the workflow. Rather than a heavy, up-front, time-consuming, and sometimes roadmap-producing planning phase, the team is tasked with solving the data they have in the leanest way possible. Once the barebones first iteration is released, data collected from that iteration is used to produce the next, and so on. 

Conversely, the agile design methodology simply breaks down design requirements into phases that match the agile sprints the team needs to follow. With Lean UX methodology, teams save time, money, and resources while allowing the product design team to produce highly efficient results.

When using the Lean UX design methodology, designers assume that the initial product prototype requires improvement. Accordingly, they create a minimum viable product and dive into the design process to find solutions that turn the initial design into a robust result.

During the development process, designers source feedback, brainstorm, apply changes, evaluate errors, and streamline their approach. By gaining immediate feedback from users and team members, designers spend less time in the initial stages and instead iterate rapidly based on incoming results.

Overall, Lean UX is an incremental design process that focuses on minimizing wasted time and resources. Today, product teams rely on Lean UX to provide faster and more efficient results while supporting the rest of the development processes.

How the Lean UX process works

The Lean UX process consists of several parts. It's imperative to understand and accept that, unlike traditional UX design, Lean UX is based on assumptions. While this may sound weak at first, these assumptions speed up the process while adding precision to the design.

Phase 1: Think

The first part of Lean UX is thinking and brainstorming. Instead of diving into complex research, designers begin with assumptions. 

At this stage, the design team arranges several brainstorming sessions to help them understand what they know or think they know. The team gathers assumptions about the product's user, its applications, the most important features, top functions, and more.

These assumptions are important because they generate new knowledge. Later, this knowledge turns into a hypothesis (or several of them), which in turn requires testing.

A hypothesis may look like this:

"We think that our weather application users need the option to see the weather in several locations simultaneously. Giving app users this option can increase the number of downloads and provide extra space for paid ads. We can prove this by measuring the increase in the paid ad revenue over two months (currently, monthly revenue is $1,000).

The key to providing a high-quality hypothesis is measurability. You need a straightforward metric that can help you evaluate the results in the future. Otherwise, you can't figure out if the hypothesis is viable.

Phase 2: Make

The key to Lean UX is starting the creation process as early as possible. At this stage, you create a minimum viable product (MVP). This is the minimum you require to begin getting feedback from the audience. Once the feedback starts coming in, you can make adjustments and streamline the product until it becomes highly viable and perfectly suits the users' needs.

An example of an MVP is a new landing page for a product you’re planning to build. This can help you evaluate the customers' interest and start gaining feedback. Returning to the example in Phase 1, an MVP could be a prototype of the new app feature that has the option to add another location to the interface.  

Once you release an MVP, your next iteration should also be just the minimum of the next phase’s additions or adjustments to check its corresponding metric.

The main features of an MVP are speed, simplicity, and the ability to check your hypothesis or metric. Anything you can build quickly to get you to the next stage works.

Phase 3: Check

Once you have an MVP ready, you can proceed to test it. During this phase, you source feedback about the MVP from users to see how well it fits your initial hypothesis. You can do this by evaluating the metrics you defined in Phase 1. You can use a/b testing, PPC analytics, and other methods.

Based on the information you gather, you have to go back to the first phase and make adjustments, for example:

  • Change the hypothesis completely since it doesn't yield the desired results

  • Adjust the hypothesis according to the new findings

While it may seem that these phases take place in perfect order, it couldn't be further from the truth. The Lean UX process is a cycle. These phases keep going around and stimulating product improvements continuously. As one phase of the cycle ends, the new one starts and brings more benefits to the design picture.

Key principles of Lean UX

At first glance, it may seem that Lean UX is an easy way out. In reality, it can be highly efficient due to its user-based approach. 

To make sure Lean UX works for you, you must keep its key principles in mind:

  • Data-backed. Instead of doing robust research (there’s nothing wrong with research), you leverage direct observations of what users need from typical user tests and in-app data or short surveys that are embedded into the released feature.

  • Cross-functional teams. Lean UX involves continuous collaboration between team members, most commonly including product managers, data scientists, product designers, and software engineers. This essentially takes the typical team structures based on roles and instead breaks teams down into what feature or product they’re building.

  • Continuous brainstorming. What Lean UX lacks in initial research, it makes up with in-app data and continuous brainstorming. During each stage, team members come up with ideas to streamline the hypothesis, solution, and experience. A/B testing can often replace user testing.

  • Problem-solving. Lean UX is a never-ending problem-solving process. New solutions raise new questions. Eventually, the cycle produces dynamic, high-quality products effectively and organically designed by users.

  • Fast iteration. During the Lean UX design process, you can implement hypotheses to validate or invalidate them. This can be done on a phased approach (alpha, beta, full release) or through A/B testing. They're monitored specifically to meet a metric and only released further if they meet it. This prevents errors from turning into costly mistakes and downtime.

One of the pillars of Lean UX is permission to fail. When you implement this approach, you shouldn't be afraid of failing. The initial hypothesis often turns out to be flawed and requires adjustments.

The structure of Lean UX methodology allows for these failures because it saves a lot of time on other UX elements. You gain an opportunity to fall and pick yourself up repeatedly without losing time, money, or resources.

Benefits of Lean UX

Lean UX is an efficient methodology that comes with a variety of benefits, including:

Cost-efficiency

When you calculate the expected cost of a product development project, you understand the importance of all cost-cutting opportunities. Using Lean UX is one of them. By implementing Lean UX, you’re reducing waste and financial risks to the project.

With the right approach, Lean UX nearly eliminates the possibility of failure. With 90% of products eventually failing, this is an impressive benefit.

If something goes wrong during the project, the agile method fixes it in the process. Eventually, you get a viable product without wasting time and money on failed versions.

Better collaboration

Lean UX depends on high-quality collaboration. Since Lean UX teams are mostly cross-functional, this approach improves collaboration in the workplace. This, in turn, contributes to faster work, higher employee satisfaction, and better productivity.

By implementing Lean UX, you’re investing in teamwork quality, bringing team members closer together and allowing them to create higher-quality solutions. Teams streamline communications and coordination while honing engagement and prioritizing collaborative teamwork.  

Time-saving

Traditional UX design consists of many elements that don't always contribute to the final result. The Lean UX approach eliminates all the waste and allows team members to focus on essential parts of product development. This cuts the design and development time substantially.

Even though the Lean UX approach is cyclical, it manages to be more time-effective than traditional linear methodologies. The think-make-check formula streamlines collaboration and speeds up the design.

Improved outcomes

The principles of Lean UX design allow teams to come up with better product outcomes. The user-centered approach that leverages user feedback improves final product quality and ensures client satisfaction.

When implementing traditional UX methods, designers often don't know whether the consumer will find the new feature or function useful. Once the user gets their hands on the product, designers may learn they need to redo the entire solution.

With Lean UX, continuous feedback and frequent opportunities for adjustments make it easy to achieve user satisfaction.  

User learning

The close collaboration between developers, designers, and users allows you to learn more about customers' needs and preferences.

Besides being highly useful for fast and effective product development, this collaboration generates valuable data that you can use for different needs in the future.

The information you gather while using Lean UX methodology can help you generate ideas and hypotheses for your next project.

Traditional UX vs Lean UX

While Lean UX is highly effective, many product developers still use the traditional UX approach. The key differences between these two methodologies are:

  • Traditional UX is result-oriented

  • Lean UX is process-oriented

With traditional UX, you invest time, money, and resources into creating a viable design. You don’t develop on anything that you haven’t researched thoroughly. Lean UX, however, uses the development process in the research efforts by developing on much smaller phases, essentially using the releases as the testing ground itself.

With Lean UX, you create an MVP and use the continuously-flowing feedback to improve the product and come up with the final result quickly.

While Lean UX may seem a much better option than traditional UX, it's not always the best solution. The design methodology you choose depends on the project. In many cases, making reasonable assumptions and getting continuous feedback from users at the MVP stage is simply impossible. Other times, you may not have a team to support people from every role for every feature of your digital product or service.

Lean UX is popular among startups and small businesses that don't have large development budgets but need to get products out as soon as possible. 

Larger companies with solid financing can invest time and money for each feature to have its own ‘lean UX team’ to go through the cycle. If small businesses have a lot to lose, they may be more likely to invest in more traditional UX studies. It depends on what’s at stake, who’s on the team, and what makes sense to leverage.

Leveraging Lean UX for new product development

Lean UX is an excellent design methodology that saves companies time, money, and effort. It leverages user feedback and cross-functional teams to come up with a viable product faster.

While it can be an excellent approach to product development, Lean UX isn't applicable to all projects. It works best in tandem with the agile product development methodology. However, in some cases, traditional UX may be a better option.

Lean UX is a methodology of choice for companies structured around it. Companies without the agile methodology in place, where business requirements become a hindrance or access to feedback is limited, may benefit more from traditional UX methods.

FAQs

What is the lifecycle of Lean UX?

The lifecycle of Lean UX consists of three phases: think, make, and check. First, designers come up with a hypothesis based on the assumption about the user's needs. Then they make a minimum viable product and start testing it. Finally, they make changes based on the feedback received during the testing phase.

What is the goal of Lean UX?

Lean UX’s goal is to create a high-quality product while reducing waste and saving money. This design methodology works well with the agile product development approach.

Is Lean UX a framework?

Lean UX is a user experience design methodology that implements and develops hypotheses straight into the product rather than validating them beforehand with user testing and more traditional UX methods.

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