Lean UX? Maybe.

19 Jul

None of the projects I work on follow an Agile process. Imagine that.

That’s not to say it’s all waterfall but the team I work in, in particular, has too many separate projects on the go to be able to make the most of Scrum or Kanban, sprints and burn-down charts. Our open-plan office would quickly be wall-papered with those charts, if we had one per project!

All this is to say that I have largely ignored discussions about “how do we combine traditional UXD practices, especially up-front user research, with the Agile process?” and more recently, the development of lean UX. There are people whom I respect (people like Adrian Howard, Jeff Gothelf and Johanna Kollman) who know a whole lot about these things… but I’ve rather let it pass me by.

Then I was at UX Lisbon in May, 2012, where Jeff Gothelf spoke about lean UX and building a shared understanding, and I really sat up in my seat. “Hang on,”, I said to myself, “given Jeff’s 5-part definition of lean UX, it looks as though I’m doing that already!”

Whodda thunk?

Lean UX in action? Developer, domain expert and UX designer

Lean UX in action? Developer, domain expert and UX designer (me, taking the photo) at the EBI

Do what works: people not process*

I’m involved in a lot less user research or usability testing these days than I used to be, so I focus on other areas and rely on other sources of user info (server logs and helpdesk requests, particularly – gotta love those numbers!).

Given a) my penchant for starting with paper and pen, and sketching interactions and layouts and b) my background in web design, I find that these days, on some projects, I tend to go from sketches and conversation, to HTML+CSS prototypes, and then work with developers to plug that into real data.

That means I can synchronise my work with developers, validate ideas with domain experts (scientists, in my case), and keep the discussion and co-design going. I’ve been thinking about this three-part relationship quite a lot (I gave a proto-talk about it in Cambridge a while ago), and I think the aspect of shared learning is really key. From my perspective, it gives me a way to learn more about a domain, more about what is technically possible (or not), and to help develop the design literacy of my team-mates (and that has to be good, right?).

But I digress… In Jeff’s talk, he described Lean UX like this:

Inspired by Lean Startup and Agile development theories, it’s the practice of bringing the true nature of design work to light faster, in a collaborative, cross-functional way with less emphasis on deliverables and greater focus on the actual experience being designed

Sounds pretty good to me. I still don’t think I have anything to do with Agile per se but it really looks as though I am practicing lean UX in some projects. In those cases, where my colleagues and I have a shared understanding and appreciation of each others’ work, it functions really well. In the meantime, work continues on the EBI digital style guide.

* thanks to Ian Fenn for making me think more about “people not process*

How about some sketchnotes?

Sure. Here are my sketchnotes from Jeff’s talk at UX Lx 2012:

Lean UX - Jeff Gothelf, UXLx 2012  - sketchnotes
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4 Responses to “Lean UX? Maybe.”

  1. ash July 19, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

    Having started working in a very agile environment recently this article hits a lot of chords. It certainly depends on the people involved and a willingness to understand different areas of the business.

    I like the sketch especially the 2 asterisk points at the bottom. I do think though that revolution is possible through evolution, at least that is what I am aiming for here. Nice post

    • Francis Rowland July 19, 2012 at 4:13 pm #

      Thanks for your comment, Ash.

      I get the impression that one needs to be agile (with a deliberately small “a”) and do what works and what has the most impact.

      Another key thing is communication. If that’s not frequent and effective, then all this starts to fall apart. I suppose that’s true of any relationship! :)

      • Michele Ide-Smith July 19, 2012 at 10:08 pm #

        Great post Francis! I think there tends to be too much hype about new methodologies and people on our industry seem to love inventing new terminology to describe how they are working. But you are right that people, communication and collaboration are always the key to successful UX projects. This reminds me of Johanna’s talk at GoTo in Copenhagen, entitled ‘It’s all about people: how agile and UX can play well together’. Here is a video of her talk: http://www.infoq.com/presentations/It-s-about-People-How-Agile-and-UX-Can-Play-Well-Together.

      • Francis Rowland August 1, 2012 at 9:47 am #

        Thanks for the link, Michele.
        My experience is that the people and communication aspects are what make the difference, and after that, it is appropriate use of whatever tools we have in our individual UX toolboxes. Of course, if all you have is a hammer… :)
        It kind of also makes me think of some discussions I’ve seen on the subject of UX design being a lot about facilitation… oil in the cogs.

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