Timothy Jaeger - UX / Visual Design and Development

Lean UX – Pros and Cons


Posted on 16th January, by tim in Blog. No Comments

Lean UX – Pros and Cons

There are more and more articles online about ‘Lean UX’ (I’ve also seen Meetups focusing on the topic, as well as numerous conversations amongst colleagues). Is it as simple as working in shorter iterations rather than longer deliverable releases? Does it mean you show deliverables to the client and team(s) more often? Less annotations? First, let’s try to determine a baseline definition of what constitutes Lean UX and move forward from there.

Jeff Gothelf of The Ladders has recorded a Webcast regarding how he uses Lean UX (I recommend you check it out!). Others, including Jared Spool, have questioned whether it is worth giving any attention.

To me, Lean UX is about questioning the nature of deliverables and not working ‘in silo’ in Agile Development settings.

There are three parts to this.

1. Questioning the nature of deliverables: It doesn’t mean that there are no deliverables, it means that having overly documented deliverables in an environment where changes and pivots are happening weekly / monthly / daily isn’t the best use of anyone’s time. Instead, sketches, prototypes, designs, and lots of user feedback / metrics are handed off and discussed amongst all stakeholders. Conversations between teams happen more frequently, and are often encouraged.

2. Working in silo: ‘Working in silo’ means that you are basically quarantined (either by yourself or your organization’s hierarchy) so that there is a division of labor similar to that of an assembly line: A developer or designer gets ‘the parts’ (in this case being wireframes, use cases, etc.) and assembles them into a finished product, often with little or no questioning (especially about big picture stuff).

3. Agile Development settings: Agile is a particular way of working, and refers mostly to Agile Development. Agile, often happening incrementally, means that there are going to be changes. Lots of changes. Lots of releases. Lots of bugs (and bug-fixing). Iteratively and cross-functionally.


Pro: Lean UX is fast


On products with hazy or changing definitions, Lean UX works wonders. What’s better than showing up one morning with entirely different sketches for your app based on what some core customers said over dinner the other night? Lean UX works wonders in these instances (not to mention saves time and money). If you can reduce time spent on¬†unnecessary or irrelevant features and get to the core of what matters, then you can move faster and produce more quality products.


Con: Lean UX doesn’t work well with distributed teams


When you have teams working in silo all over the world (or at least not sitting in the same physical location) Lean UX presents challenges. Sketches, due to their low-fidelity nature, are best talked through rather than ‘handed off’. Add cultural differences and understandings to your remote team and real problems with Lean UX really set in. I remember a project I was working on where the development team was located in Europe. They had their own development schedule and way of working. Collaboration (and even communication) were sparse and nonexistent. There are ways around these problems, however. This article written by Jonathan Follett discuss this point in greater detail and presents software to help mitigate against these differences, such as MindMeister.


Pro: Lean UX breaks barriers


What better way to unite teams of designers, developers, and business stakeholders than practicing Lean UX? Cooper has a great post on Lean UX. They identify Product Stewardship as a real way to alleviate the stress of Product Managers / Owners in making all of the numerous (and often nefarious) decisions. By acting as the glue between multiple disciplines, a team with a great Product Steward is giving themselves a clear advantage in a highly competitive digital marketplace.


Con: Lean UX doesn’t work with hands-off clients


When clients are paying for a product and already have a set way of doing things, Lean UX isn’t necessarily the best option. If money = deliverable and the education process of advocating Lean UX is too risky, working in silo between disciplines might be the only way to finish successfully. Many clients prefer hands-off, and don’t have the same time on their hands to dip into a UX Designers’s sketches and iterations to offer their .02. In-between engagements you can slip them eBooks and Slideshares (like the one above!) so they can wrap their head around this new methodology.

Lean UX links:





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