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February 24, 2014updated 22 Sep 2016 2:04pm

What is Lean UX?

The agile-based development approach that could perfect your product.

By Joe Curtis

Companies can spend too much on developing a product or service that turns out to be wrong. They can waste team resources on a project that doesn’t deliver what it’s meant to, or something the boss thinks is great but which the customer doesn’t use.

To solve the problem, Toyota came up with the idea of Lean Manufacturing in the 1980s, which basically sought to eliminate any use of resources that did not produce value for the customer.

But in the fast-paced world of software development and product releases, lean has come into its own.

CBR speaks to Jeff Gothelf, the author of Lean UX: Applying lean principles to improve user experience, about the concept of Lean UX and why companies like Amazon are using it successfully.

Gothelf will be speaking at Lean Day London, from March 25 to 26 in Shoreditch.

"The world of software’s changed dramatically," says Gothelf. "We deliver software through the web, through mobile stores and mobile markets and other channels. This has changed the nature of software from software that is done, worked on for a period of time then completed, to software that is continuous."

And continuous software updates underpins the nature of lean in the modern company. It allows you to get two key advantages from the way of working – constant customer feedback and minimised risk.

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"It’s shortened the time of that feedback loop from months to potentially hours," explains Gothelf. "Amazon deploys software to production every 11.6 seconds, which means that they are learning something every 11.6 seconds. It’s incredible.

"The implication there is they’re not launching site-wide redesigns that often; they’re launching small things. So the risks they’re taking are tiny. So if they’re wrong the impact of being wrong is tiny. And if they’re right they can scale further and further."

Principles of Lean

Moving from doubt to certainty

Lean requires a change of mindset with companies from the top down. It’s about moving from a model where the executive believes he or she knows best, to one in which the executive and their team make an educated guess about what their product should do, and adjust it based on customer feedback. This, Gothelf, says, means companies are moving from doubt to certainty.

This leads to the second principle:


Work in small batches

"You take small incremental steps from doubt to certainty," says the author. "It’s an online process, even if it’s installed locally the updates come through an online channel. So there’s an opportunity to continually test new ideas and new thinking and to take these small steps towards figuring out what works for your audience and your business and what doesn’t.

"It leans heavily on the agile methodology; iterative, rapid, cadenced approach of working for a short period of time, releasing software and moving forward. But the difference is that agile is very good at launching software but not determining what to build and what to launch.

"Building on top of agile, with lean you’re always learning what the next steps should be."

Learn from the feedback

"You learn through quantitative feedback about how people are working with your product. You’re learning through qualitative feedback by actually engaging customers in conversation, and you’re using the 360 degree view of the customer to make informed decisions," explains Gothelf.

"Where the Lean UX part comes in is bringing this designed thinking and user experience into the learning process.


Once you’ve got your feedback, your team can begin making changes to the service and launch another small update.

"Every time you go through that loop you nudge your product in a more accurate direction for what the end state of your product will be," says Gothelf.

"This ends up in the CFO’s office as a conversation because you’re changing the way projects are funded. The reason is because you can now fund these teams in a less risky, incremental manner."


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