Continuing our interview series with some of the leading voices in Lean, today we’re speaking with Jeff Gothelf, the author of Lean UX. Applying Lean to user experience is exciting and, in my opinion, is an area of Lean that is sorely lacking attention. Most Lean practitioners focus on operations, but there’s not as much attention paid to the user experience. In today’s interview, you’ll learn the following:
- What a Lean UX person has in common with a Lean guy on the manufacturing floor.
- What Respect for People looks like in the context of Lean UX.
- What are the 7 Wastes of Lean UX
Enjoy the interview with Jeff Gothelf and hope you will benefit from learning about Lean UX Process and Principles. Learn more about Jeff immediately after the interview and be sure to check out our other interviews with thought leaders in lean.
Hello Jeff, and thanks for taking the time to speak with me. Could you please introduce yourself and your work to my readers?
I am an interaction designer who, over the last 16 years, has worked on a variety of products, apps and services. In the last 7 years I’ve been focusing my efforts on bridging the gap between great product design and agile engineering. This effort led to the publication of my book (along with co-author Josh Seiden) Lean UX: Applying lean principles to improve user experience in March of 2013. Today I work as a Lean evangelist for a digital product and strategy company called Neo out of their New York City office.
You’re a recognized expert in Lean UX. If you were speaking to someone on a manufacturing floor that was also a practitioner of Lean, how would you explain what you do to that person? Which areas would you both have in common?
We’re both focused on increasing the efficiency of our efforts specifically by removing components of our process that don’t add any value. On the manufacturing floor this likely manifests, for example, as minimizing efforts to source and utilize the raw materials for the object being manufactured. In Lean UX we’re limiting the amount of design documentation (our raw materials) being created in favor of more efficient practices like cross-functional collaboration.
In addition, we’re both working hard to mitigate the risk of building the wrong or inappropriate (defective) thing. In an assembly line, for example, a worker is empowered to stop production if a defect is detected. Similarly, lean designers work in small batches to ensure what they’re building is continuing to meet customer needs. They then have the ability to pause the process and call out potential defects that shouldn’t ship.
Can you explain how user experience design is practiced traditionally and how Lean UX is different?
Traditional user experience design has been practiced as a timeboxed (usually a few weeks or months) stand-alone process staffed largely only by designers. The input into the design process was a requirements document and the output has typically been polished visual design comps (mockups) that convey a finished product. The process to get from requirements to polished design was a mystery to non-designers. In fact, in most cases the rest of the team, specifically the engineers, would only see the proposed designs when they were finished leading to lengthy, painful and often confrontational negotiations about what the team could actually ship in the time allotted.Lean UX opens up the design process by encouraging cross-functional collaboration from the moment a project starts. It pushes designers, engineers and product managers to state their assumptions early about the business problem being addressed, the audience being targeted and the potential feature sets that could meet that audience’s needs. The team then works together, creating the smallest experiments they can conceive to push their learning forward minimizing the amount of time they spend working on ideas that don’t deliver customer value. The process reduces the wasteful activities of upfront specifications and detailed design processes that aren’t based on market-sourced evidence and direct customer value. Finally Lean UX, lets the customer pull features and designs from the team based on direct interaction with the early experiments. This helps the team focus only on issues that can positively affect customer behavior.
One of the pillars of the Toyota Production System is Respect for People. Within the context of Lean UX, how is Respect for People put into practice? Do you have some examples that might resonate with my audience?
The digital product design process has traditionally been a closed process reserved only for experts, aka designers. It was assumed that other team members – product managers, software engineers, sales people, customers etc – could not offer any real value to these design efforts because they weren’t trained in design. By opening up the design process, Lean UX shows respect for all disciplines and points of view. Without these insights the team wastes time conceiving designs that may not be feasible, on target with corporate vision or meeting real customer needs. By respecting the opinions of this diverse group of contributors the team can make better decisions earlier in the process which leads to less time spent on efforts that don’t stand a strong chance of shipping.
Generally, can you share how some of the better known aspects of Lean looks like in the context of Lean UX? For example, Poka-Yoke, Kanban, Andon in Lean UX? Do you have specific examples of each that you could share?
Kanban: Lean UX encourages a short, continuous feedback loop with your target audience. Teams that exercise this well build a stream of knowledge that can help them prioritize their work and adjust, mid-stream based on this insight. Releases go to market when they’re ready as opposed to an arbitrary deadline.
Seven years ago we interviewed Aza Raskin on the Humane Interface and the influence of Lean on his dad’s book. Are there parallels between Lean UX and the Humane Interface?
I haven’t read the Human Interface but from the little that I do know I would guess there are significant parallels in the philosophyof the two ideas. Lean UX puts the customer at the center of the process with the goal of only building features the customer needs to solve real problems that customer actually has. By creating short, frequent customer-centric feedback loops the needs of the customer are regularly checked against the product being developed. Most importantly, as feedback bubbles up that contradicts the team’s current direction they have the ability to change course and further optimize the user experience of the product.
If we were to identify the 7 wastes traditional user experience design, what would they be? Do you have specific examples Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Overproduction, Overprocessing, and Defects in Lean UX?
Interesting. I’ve never thought about UX in this context. Let’s take a stab at each one:
|Transportation||Lean UX teams are transparent. They are constantly reporting back out to the organization on what they’re doing, learning and where they’re succeeding and failing. Working this way, there is very little any stakeholder has to do to receive this information. It’s being radiated out continuously thus reducing the need to “transport” it too much further.|
|Inventory||in Lean UX our inventory consists of our untested ideas. The sooner we can work through those assumptions checking for their validity the sooner we can spend more time on the path that stands the best chance of success.|
|Motion||Teams practicing Lean UX work best when they are collocated. In this sense they are reducing the motion required to initiate and sustain productive conversations and decision-making.|
|Waiting||Lean UX teams are small and data-driven. Where they excel is the removal of downtime waiting for decisions to be made or insight to be collected. The team is continuously learning and prioritizing what to do next.|
|Overproduction||Feature bloat can kill a new software product. The feedback loops in the Lean UX process ensure the team is only working on the essential feature set as determined by objective outcomes – i.e., measurable changes in customer behavior.|
|Overprocessing||One of the underlying principles of Lean UX is to prioritize making over analysis. Many teams will sit around arguing over which direction to pursue followed by further churn around how best to implement and design this direction. Lean UX teams are reconciled to the fact that they don’t know what the right path is or what the end state (if there even is one) will look like. Instead, these teams value learning and quickly pick something so they can collect feedback and move forward.|
|Defects||The risks Lean UX teams do take are small. So, even if a decision, feature or design ends up being “defective” – i.e., doesn’t do what it was intended to do – the impact is often small with a strong learning upside.|
You describe traditional UX as a deliverables-heavy process, whereas Lean UX requires the designer to interact often and iteratively with his or her stakeholders for feedback. In the former, the “solitary designer” continues working in a waterfall-like manner. In the latter, the designer is required to interact with others. Will Lean UX work for creative individuals who prefer to work alone?
There will always be opportunities for creative work to take place in solitude. However, the inputs that drive that creativity must be shared and conceived collaboratively. The Lean designer doesn’t abdicate their design responsibilities to the team. Instead the design empowers the team to contribute to the design process in whatever way they can and then takes those contributions and synthesizes a more informed approach.
In many ways, Lean UX really parallels Product Development at Toyota, where there is a strong creative aspect with industrial designers, but is also a very iterative process requiring interaction with engineers and manufacturing leaders. They call it design for manufacturing. What do you think?
Designers can’t work in a vacuum and be successful. It’s the collaboration with other teammates coupled with rapid iteration that makes the product successful. On those terms, these ideas sound very compatible.
Any final words you’d like to share with my audience?
High quality software engineering is not enough to make products successful today. Coupled with it, great design brings products to life and makes them stand out from the competition. In the past, compartmentalizing the design process was acceptable to companies because the feedback loops were long and laborious. With the benefit of continuous deployment systems, easy access to customers and global distribution of code via the web and mobile ecosystems, that feedback loop can now be reduced to mere seconds. Because of this, our old wasteful practices of design need to be updated to reflect this new reality. Lean UX is that reboot.
About Jeff Gothelf
Jeff Gothelf is a user experience designer based in metro NYC. He has spent his career designing engaging experiences for clients big and small. He is currently the Director of User Experience at TheLadders.com where he helps executive jobseekers and recruiters make meaningful connections with each other. Previously Jeff helped shape the designs of AOL, Webtrends and Fidelity. Jeff publishes his thoughts on his blog and on Twitter.
Check out our other interviews in our Lean Series: