Lean UX: what it is and how it helps users

Gantt charts, SWOT analysis, personas, empathy maps, focus groups, scope canvas… the documentation UX professionals deliver to their customers sometimes becomes an end in itself, rather than a means to achieve a better product for the user.

BBVAOpen4U
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03 Aug. 2018

User experience has for some time now been one of the most highly valued aspects of digital product creation. It is applied in the conceptualization and design of websites, apps, instant messaging and in such wide-ranging sectors as eCommerce, media, banking and the big business of social networks. Lean UX is the materialization of a specific way of understanding the methodology and work processes, focusing on adding value to the user and less on the deliverables.

The ultimate goal is to transfer all the values inherited from agile and lean methodologies to the user experience. To define this idea more clearly, the goal is to generate new dynamics for resource management in order to create minimum viable products that add value to customers and users with less human effort, less capital, less equipment and in less time, without this leading to a poorer quality result and with more mistakes.

User experience professionals often focus their work too much on creating support documentation and less on generating real value. This doesn't mean that deliverables are not part of the logical process of project definition, research, analysis, design, implementation, launch and subsequent improvement. The UX professional is transversal to this whole product development timeline, and with a good methodology he is capable of bringing unique advances to customers and users.

UX specifications: part of the process

All the documentation usually delivered by UX professionals to the customer is known by the name of UX specifications, or "the specs" for short. Companies sometimes present their customers with such a volume of requirements and specifications to justify their work and the cost of their advice that UX professionals become first and foremost experts in creating technical deliverables.

When this trend is combined with a cascade working methodology, it tends to generate excessive noise and what Jeff Sutherland, the co-creator of Scrum, calls waste. The exact term comes from his book "Scrum", where he explains some of the values of this agile methodology using examples of work conceived as short sprints, and the regular delivery of functional products. Waste refers to all those elements that intoxicate the whole process and don't actually provide value to the only really important element: the product to be used by the user.

If the aim of creating documentation is not to satisfy the customer but to establish clear targets in product development and contribute real value to its features throughout the whole process, the specifications are neither noise nor waste, but a key element for guaranteeing successful products.

As a result of the following questions…

  • Who are the users?
  • What are the tasks and goals?
  • What is their level of experience?
  • What information is needed from the users?
  • How is the product expected to work?

… the UX professionals can generate all kinds of documentation:

  • Project goals and targets.
  • Framework for functional specifications.
  • Gantt charts to establish delivery periods.
  • SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) to make studies on the competition, better known as benchmarking.
  • Online surveys and personal interviews.
  • Focus groups: a method for collecting information on group users. 
  • Personas: this method enables UX professionals to map the real users of the product and establish their needs, attitudes and behaviors, and based on this to work to improve a product or use it as a starting point for the design process.
  • Empathy maps: together with the personas methodology, these serve to create a real user with whom it's possible to empathize. Professional can therefore create a product with that user in mind. What that user sees, hears, feels, says and does are the five essential points for successfully creating an empathy map.
  • Customer experience map: the idea is to recreate the path taken by users in their experience with a product or service in order to detect what are the pain points (and eliminate them) and satisfaction moments (to maintain them or else enhance them and increase retention).
  • Scope canvas: this makes it possible to define the essential elements of a project through the needs, motivations and purposes of its users, and the purposes, impact and goals of the business. This analysis will allow us to draft actions and a series of metrics to measure their success

This graph shows the order of the process:   

  • Affinity diagrams: they allow subsets to be generated for a random group of ideas. It's a useful way of organizing a disorganized group.
  • Content inventories: all the content necessary for a digital project –both already existing content and new incorporations.   
  • Content trees: all the content of a digital project is ordered hierarchically through these content trees.
  • Flowcharts: they generate users' real transition flows through the specific features of a product –for example, the shopping cart in an online business– and help detect problems of usability.
  • Prototyping: these are low-level prototypes where the UX designer can fix the basic features of the project, conceptualized in the research and structuring phase, and at a high level to provide more visual precision.  
  • Wireframes: simple user interface diagrams where the features that are key to the users are placed. This is what allows the features (back + front) to be linked with the visual aspect (front).    
  • Storyboards: they make it possible to visualize the interaction process through drawings.  
  • And the conclusion: the value proposal. The set of measures and recommendations UX professionals offer customers so they can improve their product. There is a substantial amount of explanatory documentation on most of these deliverables, with the goals and the tools for creating it.

Lean UX: iterative process

The Lean UX process is based on the process. The documentation is the result of the work of research, structure, organization and design and is to some degree the unifying thread that needs to be integrated in the iterative process without becoming an end in itself, but rather a path. This graphic, which has been shared hundreds of times, summarizes it to perfection: 

The idea of Lean UX is always to generate validated knowledge about a product that's already on the market or has yet to be launched. Valuable conclusions can only be drawn from users who are already using or will be using that product. These user tests finish with data from metrics, normally from some well-defined KPIs with which to assess the success of these conclusions. If positive, the process ends with a minimum viable product (MVP) for the market. If not, the team must make an about-turn and start the process again until valid conclusions are achieved.

This iterative, circular, global process, which is radically unlike cascade methodologies, gives improved results and enables targets to be reached in a much shorter time.  

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