Lean UX – Why and How

“Phase 2 is the biggest lie in software development.”

That’s opening line of Josh Seiden’s 2013 book Lean UX. And if you’ve spent more than ten minutes in the web and software business, you know the truth of that statement. So often, UX designers work hard to create a fully functional, achingly cool interaction design only to have the developer, or worse, the client come along and tell you that they aren’t going to build it or pay for it in “phase 1”. The thought is that we will come back and polish things up in phase 2, but phase 2 never seems to come.

Sound familiar? It’s not anyone’s fault, really. It’s just that the software and web businesses function on tight timelines and almost non-existent budgets, so often the finer points of interface and interaction design are lost in the charge to deliver the product to market, by any means necessary.

But there’s more to it than that. The problem is deeper in the process. The problem IS the process. Traditional UX design has occurred in a silo just like business analysis, requirements creation, graphic design, development, QA – in fact everyone who is involved in the process is working in a cascading flow of siloed work, more or less cut off from everyone else in the process. This has lead to a sort of fantasy process where each discipline comes up with their best plans in isolation, and then tries to make everyone further down the delivery chain adhere to the initial specification. From product owners to business analysts to UX’ers and designers, we have all been building castles in the sky, only to have the nasty people after us take them apart brick by brick.

This process has a name: waterfall. So named because everything flows down, from the client or product owner specifying the requirements on down the chain, with less and less input and shrinking ability to positively affect the outcome at each stage.  This generates a lot of frustration, change orders, extra billing and just plain old disappointing results.

But fear not! Lean UX is here. In the next few posts, I will discuss this new approach to UX design. I will explain why I believe it makes sense for most UX projects, particularly in agile teams, as well as how to apply some or all of these lean principles to your development efforts.

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