Lean UX: A Guide for Remote Teams

lean ux

Imagine a situation where your team spends months creating and perfecting a product design only to find out after launch that a product fails to meet your customers’ needs. Most product designers, at least once in their careers, have been in such a situation. To prevent this outcome, product teams strive to find an approach that will help them minimize the time spent heading down the wrong path. One of the ways to achieve this goal is to apply Lean UX thinking.

In this article, I will share essential tips that will help you incorporate the Lean UX process in your organization and with remote teams.

What is Lean UX?

Inspired by Lean and Agile development methodologies, Lean UX is the practice of product design that puts less emphasis on deliverables and more focus on the actual experience that customers will have. Lean UX has the same goal in mind as UX design, it's just that the way you work on a project changes.

Jeff Gothelf, the author of Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience, provides the following definition: “Lean UX is about bringing the true nature of a product to light faster, in a collaborative, cross-functional way that reduces the emphasis on thorough documentation while increasing the focus on building a shared understanding of the actual product experience being designed.”

“Lean UX is about bringing the true nature of a product to light faster, in a collaborative, cross-functional way that reduces the emphasis on thorough documentation while increasing the focus on building a shared understanding of the actual product experience being designed.”

The goal of Lean UX is to increase the chances for product teams to create products that users actually want to use. It’s about creating products that are both usable and useful.

The Lean UX process is based on a traditional think-make-check cycle, but product teams try to reduce the cycle time while prototyping ideas and validating them with users. The key objective is to focus on obtaining feedback from real users as early as possible so that those insights can be used to find better design decisions.

lean ux: think make check cycle
Lean UX process model based on the think-make-check cycle. Image source: Welovelean.

How to apply Lean UX to remote teams

Even though Lean UX sounds like a great idea, actually putting it in to practice can be a significant challenge. It's always hard to introduce a new approach to existing organizational structures, especially when the processes haven’t changed for a long time. But given the fact that since 2020 many design teams have moved to remote work—and have continued to work as a dispersed team—it's a perfect time to try a different approach or to hone existing work processes.

Here are a few fundamental things that you need to get right in order to establish an effective Lean UX process in your remote team.

1. Learn to evaluate every product design decision based on its impact on user behavior

One thing that differentiates Lean UX from other methodologies is the fact that while most principles of product design processes focus on features and deliverables, Lean UX focuses on how the product benefits the user.

Lean UX puts the user first.

The focus is not on how to ship more features, but how to produce changes to improve the user experience. Instead of asking questions like, “When will we be able to ship this feature?” product teams start to ask, “Do we really need this feature in the first place?” 

Product teams that want to practice Lean UX need to include the user in the design process as early and often as possible. Getting feedback from users when you work remotely can be challenging, but still, it’s doable. You can incorporate Lean UX research pretty naturally in your workflow. 

Bake qualitative research methods (such as remote user interviews and online surveys) as well as quantitative research (like product analytics and system logs that help you see user behavior) in your design process. It will help you gather information that will help you validate the problem.

You might also like: How to Work Remotely: 4 Tips to Help Your Team Succeed.

2. Find the fastest ways to validate your ideas

Whenever a team forms a hypothesis, they need to validate it by testing with users before committing to building. This process of constantly validating ideas will only happen when team members have an easy way to test ideas.

In other words, you need to create an environment that allows team members to do it.

Long, detailed design cycles should be replaced with short, iterative cycles, with feedback coming from all members of the product team as well as real users early and often. It’s also recommended to bake small, informal, user testing techniques into every sprint. It can be as simple as inviting real users for quick (15 minutes or so) usability testing sessions online to let them interact with your design. 

3. Try to produce less waste

Waste is defined as anything that is not used in the development of the final product. Lean UX is about creating the minimum number of artifacts (design documentation or design assets) necessary to get started on implementation. Thus, product teams should only invest time in creating artifacts that are absolutely necessary. 

At the core of each design decision should be the question, “Does this [feature] really help us create a good product for users?” If the answer is no, then the team should skip it. 

Eric Ries explains why it's important to follow this approach:

“What if we found ourselves building something that nobody wanted? In that case, what did it matter if we did it on time and on budget?”

Product teams who practice Lean UX should use the principles of MVP (minimum viable product) to validate their design hypotheses. 

Eric Ries defines an MVP as, “A version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learnings about customers with the least effort.” 

The idea is to build the most basic version of the concept possible, test it, and if there are no valuable results, abandon it. This is an excellent way to maximize available resources.

lean ux: minimum viable product pyramid graph
The concept of the minimum viable product (MVP). Image source: Jussi Pasanen.

4. Practice cross-functional team collaboration

Lean UX is a highly collaborative process—it requires a greater level of collaboration with all people involved in product design. It’s vital to invite people with different backgrounds for co-creating: designers, developers, user researchers, and product managers should all be involved in the product design process. Diverse teams create better solutions because each problem is seen from many different points of view.

"Diverse teams create better solutions because each problem is seen from many different points of view."

Here is how you can practice cross-functional team collaboration in remote teams:

  • Get all members together. Poorly established communication processes are by far the biggest problem for remote teams. When team members feel like they are not included in decision-making activities, they are less motivated to create great solutions. It probably goes without saying, but remote team players need to see each other. Set up regular reviews or collaboration sessions with team members using Zoom or any other virtual meeting technology so everyone can see the facial expressions and body language of their teammates.
  • State the problem and allow the team to brainstorm and prototype their ideas for the solution. Select prototyping tools that allow team members to prototype online together. Everyone must feel comfortable using the tool and giving their feedback on the design. The sense of ownership team members have about a particular solution will help them to defend the solution during critiques.

You might also like: 3 Keys to Effective Remote Management for UX Designers.

5. Give your team more autonomy

One of the central tenets of the Lean UX process is eliminating external dependencies. Product teams should decide internally how the product should be designed, but that doesn’t mean that the team won’t be responsible for bad design decisions. The team should be held accountable for creating products that are aligned with the business’s vision, without waiting for precise product requirements to be assigned. 

Here’s how to make it happen:

  • The team should be free to decide how to solve the problems that you assign them. Teams have to be free to experiment with ideas. Create a safe cultural and technical environment to experiment.
  • Make the team self-sufficient. Teams should have the tools and resources required to make decisions and ship products without external dependencies.

6. Iterate, iterate, iterate

Iteration is a key ingredient of lean user experience. Every time team members get together, they should notice the evolution of their designs. This progress can be positive (the initial hypothesis was valid, and your team is moving in the right direction), or negative (the initial hypothesis was invalid, and the team needs to change direction). This try-and-fail experience will help the team reach an optimal solution in less time.

lean ux: constant iteration cycle
Constant iteration is an essential ingredient of the lean design process. Teams that practice Lean UX are constantly iterating through cycles, taking learnings from previous iterations. Image source: Smashingmagazine.

Build Lean UX in to your team

The ultimate goal of product design is to create usable and useful products. The Lean UX process helps the product team achieve this goal efficiently. Lean UX is more than just a methodology—it’s a mindset. For this mindset to become effective, it needs to be adopted by everyone in your organization.

How does your team leverage Lean UX principles? Let us know in the comments below!


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