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Lean UX Design vs. Agile UX Design

December 3, 2018 by James Rafferty

When asking the question “What is UX” it’s hard to think of Lean UX Design and Agile UX Design in terms of one versus the other. To do so miscalculates the value of both, and more importantly, ignores the fact that together they reside as individual paths within the greater collective whole of the Agile movement.

Lean UX Design Process, Agile UX Design Process: Two Paths, One Movement

People often think of Lean UX Design and Agile UX Design in terms of iteration cycles. For example, the Lean UX model is called the Loop of Learning: Build > Measure > Learn, and the product development loop applied in Agile is: Design > Build > Iterate.

Let’s look at the core principles of Lean UX and Agile UX.

Seven Principles of Lean UX

  1. Eliminate waste
  2. Amplify learning
  3. Decide as late as possible
  4. Deliver as fast as possible
  5. Empower the team
  6. Build integrity in
  7. See the whole

Four Principles of Agile UX

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  4. Responding to change over following a plan

As you can see, even if implicitly, the two methodologies are more alike than different. The semantics between them varies from one to the other, but their philosophy and intent are analogous:  Design > Build > Measure/Learn > Iterate.

The Paths Converge

Despite the popularity and adaptation of Agile methodology among UX Design teams, there are (to some) tensions that should not be overlooked. In the NN/g article Agile Is not Easy for UX: (How to) Deal with It we are reminded that the focus of Agile was on solving software development team pain points and was established to serve the needs of engineers.

When UX designers learned of Agile methodologies, they immediately recognized the parallels to their own experiences and began tailoring them to improve their workflows. Is that a violation of the original principles? A misapplication of the original method? I don’t think so. A fork in the path of the original movement for sure, but at that apex lies the key to the evolution of Agile and its parallel integration into Lean.

Responding to Change

Lean UX Design has a strong connection to, and is usually applied in a Lean Startup environment (see Lean UX vs. Agile UX — is there a difference?) but both Agile and Lean philosophies can be (and sometimes inherently are) applied simultaneously in many environments, across teams, organizations, disciplines, and industries. Strict adherence to a single methodology as a matter of process goes against what has become the common tenet between Lean UX Design and Agile UX Design, and is the point where the two paths converge: both seek flexibility while responding to change.

UX takes the lead by advocating for the changes made necessary as surfaced by the user during each iteration. And by including the needs of the user during sprint planning, cross-functional teams more readily define the right goals in order to produce a successful, working product. The end results suffer fewer identity crises with each iteration and serve marketplace needs in addition to finding a market fit.

Conclusion

The broader focus of Agile UX Design is improved efficiency of communication between developers and designers, while Lean UX Design is product-centric and seeks to confirm that there is a product-market fit. But the commonality between the two remains, and in turn, solidifies the connection of each to the greater Agile movement.


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Now that you understand the commonality between lean and agile ux, it’s time to learn what types of organizations can plug into your team’s workstyle.