Use This Innovation Philosophy to Build a Better Product Every Time
It's a strategic approach that increases value for both users and businesses.
Have your team been in a situation where you invested a lot of time and resources in building a product that ultimately didn't work for users? Most product teams have been there at one time or another, but happily there are multiple ways of avoiding this situation. One is investing time and effort in market research — and only after that building a prototype of a product — because it's simply not true that startups and small businesses don't have enough resources to conduct solid research.
So, how should they go about this? The answer, in my experience, is to practice "lean UX."
What is lean UX?
A strategy that allows product teams to validate design hypotheses quickly, lean UX was explored in detail in Jeff Gothelf's 2021 book Lean UX: Designing Great Products with Agile Teams. When a team follows this methodology, its members work in quick iterations of a think-build-test cycle. Once a team has an idea of what they want to build, they quickly turn this idea into a prototype, then validate it with their users, which will generate an understanding of whether their initial idea works for them.
This approach is especially great for small businesses, since it helps accelerate projects without investing significant resources and without compromising on the initial idea. Lean UX also helps teams to think outside the box, yet not be afraid of failure.
How to practice it
Changing how you think about product design in general is the most important thing you need to do if the goal is to practice lean UX. Think about every design idea as a hypothesis that you need to validate, and do it as fast as you can. In other words, shift your team mindset to building a product based on experimentation. And while the exact process each team follows may vary, there are a few practical tips that apply broadly.
1. Follow a "less is more" approach
The time required to validate a hypothesis is the most critical part of the lean UX cycle, and the fewer hours spent in doing so the better. To shorten the cycle, you need to minimize deliverables and build the most basic prototype that will help you validate an idea. This means not spending much time writing documentation; build a working prototype instead. It also means that you prioritize the features you want to add, and to do this I suggest following the Pareto principle (i.e., 20% of features bring 80% of value for users).
2. Define goals and metrics
It should be clear to your team what you want to achieve and how you will measure a product's success. No matter what metrics you choose to use, define them thoroughly before beginning a design process and use the same set of metrics for each design iteration.
3. Validate a design with actual users
Testing your prototype with people who will use your product will maximize the chances of success. But before doing so, you need to create a user persona (an archetype of your ideal user) and select test participants who match this profile. And the process doesn't have to be strictly formal. It's possible to use techniques like guerilla testing (also known as hallway testing) — a quick way to vet ideas that can be done in a variety of settings and involve as few as half a dozen people. This can produce valuable insights from potential users in just a few minutes.
4. Introduce granular, not drastic changes
Start small, and build. Product teams should analyze user feedback received at the end of each iteration and turn it into incremental changes in design.
5. Practice cross-functional collaboration
In lean UX, product teams should be cross-functional from day one. They should be relatively small but formed of representatives from different departments (i.e., product designers, developers, business analysis and sales and marketing). When people of varying perspectives have an opportunity to share opinions about design, they have a better sense of ownership — feel that they, too, are responsible for creating the final product.
At the core of lean UX is experimenting and practicing to see what works. The great thing about this approach is that it brings people from various disciplines together so that they can quickly create a working solution that brings value both for users and businesses.
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