Insights

Insights from Lean UX NYC 2015

September 21, 2015

Lean UX NYC was held in Brooklyn earlier this year. Johanna and Hannes were in attendance, and will be summarising their highlights and insights.

Lean UX is an approach inspired by Lean Startup and Design Thinking. It integrates empathy and an understanding of the end-users, with technologies for collaborative creation, rapid releases and data-driven design. This method was popularised in a book by Jeff Gothelf released in 2013.

At Valtech, we use the Lean UX methodology in several projects to get faster feedback from the market, stimulate participation on the part of customers, and to help us create better services.

The build trap

An important message captured by Melissa Perri in her speech “The Build Trap” was that a lot of companies place far too much emphasis on building new things without finding out whether they have any value. Project managers want to launch new functionalities and put great importance on the release date, but what are they really getting out of it?

One of the strengths of Lean UX as an approach is this critical line of questioning. Instead of starting a project with a backlog full of things that need to be developed, what we do instead is to treat these things as hypotheses that need to be validated. For every feature we want to develop, we ask ourselves about its value and determine how we can measure whether it will succeed in providing value or not. Melissa also asked a question that a lot of organisations should be asking themselves:

- When was the last time you removed a feature?

Melissa PerriMelissa Perri describes "feature overload" in an office printer

Creating a culture of innovation

Lean UX is mostly about innovation, and about daring to try out new ideas. Ideas based on knowledge of our product and how it is used. Daring to be innovative and a fountain of ideas requires a feeling of security and trust, and an acceptance of possible failure.

Engage everyone in problem finding and continuous experimentation. Give everyone permission to fail and ability to succeed

Holding brainstorming workshops or setting up incubator environments is not enough if you want to create a culture of innovation. These things help, but in order to really create a culture of innovation people must have permission to fail – it’s okay if things do not go as planned. In order to lay the groundwork for the passion needed to innovate, Brant Cooper believes that organisations must first establish a sense of security for their employees.

Tami Reiss said that everyone should look at his or her job the way scientists do. They come up with a hypothesis and harness their curiosity to determine whether it is true, knowing all along that they might be wrong. She believes we should see our jobs in the same way. Changing one’s mindset and cultivating curiosity about how your product will be used makes it psychologically easier to put something out there that you are not entirely sure of. And if you know from the beginning that your hypothesis may not be correct, that makes it easier to shelf your idea when you begin to notice that it may not work as you had envisaged.

Introducing change in your organization

Implementing major changes at a accompany is often painful, and usually encounters a certain degree of resistance from employees. This resistance generally stems from the fact that people do not like change, at least not the type of change that they themselves are not the authors of. Esther Derby presented six rules for ensuring successful and smooth change management:

  1. Congruence – striking a balance between your own needs and abilities and those of others in the particular context you are operating in.
  2. Harness the things that worked in the past.
  3. Find out what is possible based on your current situation and system.
  4. Enlist the help of people who already have influence and open up paths of communication.
  5. Guide the change. It is much more difficult to sell people on it or to force it on them.
  6. Start out with small experiments.

It has a lot to do with empathy, about creating enhanced understanding and awakening a desire on the part of employees to help implement the change. When someone is against change, it is often because they are worried about what it might bring about. Talk to them and try to see their side of the story. And do not try to make all the changes at once. Start with an experiment. See if it works and if you need to make some adjustments before involving more parts of the organisation.

Ester DerbyEster Derby

One warning sounded by several speakers was to avoid copying the methods used by others without adapting them to your own context. Jez Humble told the story of how General Motors tried to emulate the lean Japanese manufacturing processes used at the NUMMI plant, and failed. The success of NUMMI was based largely on its quality-assurance work and constant learning, but those in charge at General Motors were still measured based on the number of cars produced, which caused them to let inferior products pass tests when they shouldn’t have. It was a painful lesson in the fact that the entire organisation needs to be involved in the change and that business executives get what they measure.

Simon Marcus told the story of Spotify’s various shake-ups and where the company is headed in the future. He was of the opinion that their processes work for them but are far from optimal for other companies, which he summed up as follows:

Don’t copy this shit. Many of the worst organisations in the world are organised in a matrix structure.

About the conference itself

Lean UX NYC 2015 made a very strong impression. Over the course of the first three days, 32 different speakers gave presentations that were followed by open space discussions and workshops. It was intense, which organiser Will Evans sees as one of the conference’s strengths. “Urban. Loud. Subversive” was the title of the conference this year. One of its most valuable aspects was its breadth of focus and ability to question many of the topics under discussion.

“Don’t make Lean UX an echo chamber. We need outside influence.” was one of the messages with which the conference came to a close on Sunday.