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Lean UX – can design be Agile?

lean ux

Before I tell you about Lean UX, let’s remember how software development looked like at the beginning of the 21th century and earlier. It was similar to, for example, furniture manufacturing. This and that used the so-called waterfall model. Initially in the project, the client provided guidelines. Then, based on them, the designer projected the look and functionality of the product and passed on designs to the development team. After finishing their work, the team transferred the product to the testing or inspection phase. This is not what Agile looks like.

What is Lean UX?

Before answering this question, it is worth providing some context.

Agile approach to software development

In 2001 a group of software developers published The Manifesto for Agile Software Development, which was a real milestone and brought a lot of changes. Since then, more and more development teams have begun to build products using the Agile approach, which characterized by an iterative approach, continuous improvement, and customer collaboration.

Lean UX – definition and explanation

Although nowadays most companies have implemented Agile approach to software development, it often applies to teams made up of developers alone, whereas designers are forgotten. Meanwhile, in the book “Lean UX – Designing Great Products with Agile Teams” by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden you can read:

It’s (Lean UX) the practice of bringing the true nature of a product to light faster, in a collaborative, cross-functional way”.

So if you’re committed to Agile software development, if you want to introduce a Lean UX mindset, you need to make sure that the team has truly cross-disciplinary skills and includes a User Experience specialist from the start.

What are the benefits of the Lean UX approach?

  • Increased collaboration – the team is made up of people with different competencies so that it is multidisciplinary and able to solve a problem. This allows for better collaboration.
  • Reducing waste to a minimum – the whole team collaborates from the beginning, participates in meetings, so all members understand the product equally. Faster discussion of the designer’s proposed solution in the context of technological possibilities, etc.
  • Getting feedback faster – by applying Lean UX principles, you accelerate feedback both within the team (e.g. designers change a solution slightly, because they know it will save a lot of effort for programmers), and from users. The team can conduct tests on the target group already after the first weeks of working on the product, so the team learns faster which way to develop the product, what not to do, etc. This combines with saving the client time and money.
  • Greater commitment to the product – in the Lean UX approach the team focuses on ensuring that the product meets its business goals and solves the users’ problems in the most optimal way. That’s why team members are not just ordinary contractors, but creators who have an impact on the final shape of the product. This strengthens their commitment to the project and increases their involvement.

How to implement the Lean UX approach?

First of all, you should be aware that there are no ready-made guidelines that you just need to implement once to say that you are working according to Lean UX. Nevertheless, I’ll try to present some principles that will help you achieve the right mindset.

collectivism in Lean UX

Problem-solving attitude

In the spirit of Lean UX, the team shouldn’t think about the feature set to be implemented, but about the problem the product is supposed to solve. Instead of asking only “what” is to be done, it also thinks “why”. This often generates ideas for new and better solutions, and the team becomes more connected to the product.


A team that is focused on a problem should have all the competencies to solve it. It’s not enough to have people on the team who know programming, because you still need to design the look of the product, develop a scheme of how it works, and test how users use it.

Testing hypotheses

In Lean UX, anything not proven by research is just a hypothesis. Nothing to add, nothing to take away. Experience may tell designers what solution will work better, but until it is tested on users, it’s just a hypothesis that should be verified as soon as possible (and changed if necessary).

No place for a “unicorn” in Lean UX

This enigmatically named principle simply means that the entire team is responsible for the entire product. So it shouldn’t be that e.g. only UX designer creates the whole product concept, and the rest of the members enforce it. Everyone in the team should have an impact on the product vision and co-create it.

Permission to fail

Accept that failures happen and treat them as lessons for the future. As I mentioned before, all assumptions that haven’t yet received feedback are hypotheses. So expect that the feedback you receive will be negative. Users may simply not like your version of the product. The important thing is to be able to draw the right conclusions and constantly try to improve what has already been worked out, as well as to make a U-turn and change the concept when necessary.

Going beyond your own backyard

Development teams usually consist of young people, well familiar with modern technologies. If they create software for the 60+ age group, then instead of relying only on their beliefs about the target users, it’s worth conducting research among them, do some research, and only on that basis make decisions. This applies to any audience.

How to use collectivity in Lean UX?

The definition of Lean UX said to bring the product to light collectively. So I have two quick ways for you on how to achieve and leverage this collectivity in your team.

Collective design as a part of Lean UX approach

At the stage of creating the product concept, e.g. during the determination of its MVP version, it is worth applying collective design. It consists in the fact that each team member draws solutions. Neither artistic nor manual skills are needed for this. If you can draw a circle, a rectangle, and a straight line, it is enough to prepare an outline of a given solution or interface.

no artistic skills are needed to design collectively
The advantage of collective design is that the team sooner starts to understand how the product is supposed to work and begins to talk about solutions faster (e.g. designer and developer discuss technical possibilities). It also saves time on preparing extensive documentation, which won’t be necessary for team members.

Collective research as a part of Lean UX approach

Lean UX approach assumes that the whole team can and even should participate in testing what they have prepared so far. It is about really quick tests, which can be conducted even once a week for 2-3 people, but they always provide valuable feedback. This way, after a few weeks of work the team will already have feedback from several people who have tested the product.

TL;DR – MUST remember!

The designer should be part of the development team from the very beginning. His or her participation in product meetings and collaboration with developers will quickly produce benefits.
Designing is a team effort. The designer should not be the only person responsible for the final design, product concept, but the whole team through numerous discussions and tests.

By the way, if you found this article interesting, you should also check it out: WHY SHOULD YOU HIRE A PRODUCT OWNER FOR YOUR STARTUP?

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