Book Review & Notes: Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf & Josh Seiden

In the novel Utopia Avenue, a character says, "The word 'faster' is becoming a synonym for 'better'. As if the goal of human evolution is to be a sentient bullet." And this thought of questioning the purpose of efficiency, speed, and lean processes leads us to today's review, Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience by Jeff Gothelf with Josh Seiden. Read on for my notes on the book.
Book cover – Lean UX (Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/58546863886621688/)

These days I am reading the novel Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell, I love his style of writing. In the book, Leonard Cohen, a Canadian singer, and writer appears as a character, and he says,

The word ‘faster’ is becoming a synonym for ‘better’. As if the goal of human evolution is to be a sentient bullet.

And this thought of questioning the purpose of efficiency, speed, and lean processes leads us to today’s review, Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience by Jeff Gothelf with Josh Seiden. The book covers three main areas: An introduction to Lean UX and the founding principles, the Lean UX process, and integrating Lean UX into organizations. 

Overall, I would recommend the book mainly for people who might be working in start-ups with simpler products, and work with Agile. If you work for complex products, it can give you a glimpse of what is possible at the other end of the spectrum or inspiration to incorporate more collaborative practices at work. It is not a book for learning how to do rigorous user research or robust design. But I like some of the founding principles a lot (see below).

Below are some notes and thoughts on the book:

Founding principles of Lean UX 

I like the founding principles of Lean UX at the beginning which include: Continuous Discovery throughout product development, GOOB (Getting out of the building) and talking to your users, working in Cross-functional Teams, Learning over Growth, and Permission to Fail.

I think the above can be excellent founding principles for any team because they encourage iterative and user-centered design, emphasize the importance of communication and working in multi-disciplinary teams, and embrace learning from failures, instead of being caught in the trap of perfection.

Lean UX Process 

The Lean UX process is based on the agile way of working, and design thinking, one of the design processes I talked about a few weeks ago. 

They define the Lean UX process in four major parts:

  1. Declare Assumptions, where you define the problems you are trying to solve and assumptions that you have, including the people you are designing for. These assumptions later become hypotheses to be tested.
  2. Create an MVP, where you collaboratively brainstorm on ideas to address the problems you identified and also build a shared understanding across the team.
  3. Run an experiment, where you determine the focus of your product design and if needed, prototype the smallest thing that you can make to learn whether your hypotheses from the previous steps are correct.
  4. Feedback and research, where you use different methods to validate your MVP working collaboratively for continuous discovery.

Lean User Research

For research, they recommend weekly testing cycles, e.g., three users every Thursday, where you start recruiting on Monday, decide test scope on Tuesday, prepare and write the script on Wednesday, test and review the results on Thursday and decide follow-up on Friday.

I like the idea of pre-scheduling regular testing cycles. From my experience, weekly testing cycles are possible in smaller, digital products. For products involving hardware or bigger systems, these testing cycles might range from a few weeks to a few months long, because the product redesign and updates take time, and the research may involve more complex set-ups too.

Also, I have seen such lean approaches work very well for the later stages of usability testing of a product. You can conduct leaner discovery research, but a week might be too little for bigger topics.

Lean User Research methods

They talk about a few lean prototyping and user research methods, like Surveys, and A/B testing but it is not a comprehensive or an exhaustive list that you can refer to. I am not sure that they mention it, but the RITE method is a great method for lean user testing, especially for later-stage research like concept or usability evaluations.

In this method, the whole cycle of user testing and redesign after the test is shortened to include a redesign after every test session, and you test the updated design in the next session. In this way, each test session and the follow-up is a mini-iteration. By the time you complete the test sessions, your design would have been updated too. If you are working on more complex or elaborate systems, you can extend this cycle over a longer period.

Here’s the link to the whole paper if you are interested: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/5340/ef8a91900840263a4036b0433a389b7097b2.pdf

Final thoughts

My Bachelor’s degree was in industrial engineering and that whole discipline is built for achieving efficiency. I have learned that the biggest advantage of looking at your processes/ways of working through the “lean” lens is that it reveals what is absolutely essential or non-negotiable for your work, and what can be removed or replaced. In this way, it questions your default ways of working, and reveals opportunities to be creative, and clarifies your values.

So I would encourage examining your (team’s) work for opportunities for becoming leaner, you’ll probably start understanding your own/ your team’s values better.

These were my notes on the Lean UX book. Do you use any Lean UX approaches at work?

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