Lean UX

Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf

I come from the software development world where lean is currently a big buzzword. Trying to learn about UX as much as possible, just the title was very intriguing to me.

It must be said that this is not a book for those who want to learn what UX and lean process is. However, if you would like to see how to align UX and lean process you are definitely reading the right book.

To put everything in context, Gothelf starts off with an introduction that explains why now is the time for UX to be lean. He also defines three basic principles that form the core of Lean UX:

  • Design thinking
  • Agile software development
  • Lean startup method

These principles resonate throughout the book and are always good to have on your mind.


After explaining why, the book focuses on how. Gothelf guides us through a continuous four-step process of Lean UX:

  • Declare assumptions
  • Create an MVP (Minimal Viable Product)
  • Run an experiment
  • Feedback and research.

Note that there is no step that mentions requirements. In Lean UX the ultimate goal is to create an outcome, not a deliverable. Thus we deal with assumptions and not requirements. We focus on the grand vision of the product expressed through assumptions, create hypotheses out of them, run experiments and test them until we reach the desired outcome.

This part of the book felt very strange to me. The whole concept of assumptions versus requirements is so different to the way I was used to working. I had to read this part two times to wrap my head around it. Gothelf does an excellent job of explaining those new (for me) concepts. However, depending on how ingrained the “old ways” are for you, it might take an effort to grasp them.

Following the process, Gothelf argues that defining an outcome is not a one-person job. In his view, Lean UX requires a very strong dose of healthy collaboration. Everybody needs to have a chance and an obligation to give an opinion and receive critique to improve the initial idea. Discussion brings a common ground and can lead to immediate work without waiting for each other. If possible, teams should be arranged to be in one place or at least provided the opportunity to meet occasionally in person. Keep in mind that:

No single discipline dictates to the other.

agileIf you thought or hoped that immediate work or lean per se means that there is no documentation to be written you are going to be disappointed. Lean UX process avoids writing useless documentation, but some documentation should be written. The document I found to be worth mentioning is the style guide.

A style guide is a broadly accepted pattern library that codifies the interactive, visual, and copy elements of a user interface and system. Style guides (also known as pattern libraries) are a living collection of all of your product’s customer-facing components.

Whatever approach you take to create it: big bang or slow drip, Gothelf suggests to write this document and to keep it current. He even provides a case study for creating one.

To test assumptions, Lean UX uses MVP. Prototyping is the most common way to achieve MVP and comes in three basic flavors: low (paper or clickable wireframes), mid and high fidelity. Gothelf gives a nice overview of pros and cons for each and suggests a few tools you can use to create them. Of course this is not a definitive list and with time it could become obsolete, but it gives you a nice overview of what’s out there. I like how Gothelf mentions the fact that sometimes prototypes are not necessary for MVP and gives you some techniques in that regard. Nothing is black or white so hybrids and creativity are welcome.

For teams that are already using agile methodologies in their work, Gothelf provides a section explaining how to incorporate Lean UX inside an agile sprint.

I believe that implementing the Lean UX process in an organization takes time, courage and perseverance. Gothelf finishes off the book by explaining the “organizational shifts” that help the process and giving a very hopeful example.

This book doesn’t provide you with a silver bullet for implementing Lean UX. It shows you that it can be done and provides you with techniques and suggestions on how to achieve it. By not going too deep into lean philosophy or the details of UX this book is a real gem. You can clearly see every tree without getting lost in the forest.



5oWK_iuPuAYiWiPZPjog-xNwl22uQCFQ9_6cqPhpDq8Reviewed by Ana Maravić

Ana has over a decade of experience in enterprise software development. She is an independent consultant wetting her toes in UX/IA, reading books like crazy and eating tons of chocolate.
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