Lean UX - Apply Lean approaches for UX design


Lean methodologies are widely used in many industries. Most well known ones are “Lean thinking”, “Lean manufacturing” and “Lean product development”. With the application of high efficiency development processes such as Agile, There are challenges for UX designers to adapt.

In following part, I’ll introduce you why we need Lean methodology and how to apply it in our daily work, including some tools to help us work more efficient.

“I’ve revised this design for like 20 times!”, “The requirements are always changing…”, “Too many meetings make me have no time to do my work.”… I’m afraid many of us UX and UI designers have suffered these problems in our work. It seems like only little part of our work time is really productive.

In Lean, waste is anything that adds costs or time without adding value. The ultimate Lean target is the total elimination of waste. Here are eight types of wastes called “TIMWOOD”: Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Over-processing, Over-Producing, Defect, and the 8th, Non-utilized creativity.

We can make wastes tangible through 8 wastes. Also, we can use VSM(Value-stream mapping) to visualize the design process and identify which process contains wastes and find small opportunities. Value-stream mapping is a lean-management method for analyzing the current state and designing a future state for the series of events that take a product or service from its beginning through to the customer with reduced lean wastes as compared to current map. A value stream focuses on areas of a firm that add value to a product or service, whereas a value chain refers to all of the activities within a company. (from wikipedia).


And there are also some other tools we can use to apply lean. Such as, Fishbone RCA, Batch Reduction/ One Piece Flow, and so on.

To apply Lean UX principles and methodologies within Agile environments and effectively work with teams, we need to eliminate wastes as possible as we can. Here are some advices:

  1. Team Work: a common visual language and an overall requirements and design synchronization reduce design debt, accelerate design process, and build bridges between teams working in concert to bring products to life. Tools like Axure team, InVision can make team design work very easy to do.
  2. Quality Control: each process should deliver qualified work even without any supervision. Review and rework can cost so much time to do. Lean UX requires a high efficient team.
  3. Fast Prototype: don’t do any detail work unless you have confirmed the structure and information flow. In a quick pace project, we can draw a fast prototype to confirm and sync with whole team.
  4. Quick Release: to adapt to Agile project, we need to do quick release, priority requirements in importance and feasibility dimensionality. Optimize and iterate design base on user’s feedback.
  5. Rational division of labor: Non-utilized creativity is a new waste that has been noted recent years. People with high ability should take more responsibilities and push the whole process of design work from a higher level.

Prototype is the preliminary stage of a product, and plays an important role in follow-up stages. Lean methodology can be combined with UCD(User-centered design) and other UX principles, such as pain points finding and user journey rethinking. We can use Lean UX to measure our design processes and learn a proven step-by-step way to change our design process acceleration from a mystery to a method.


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