I saw yesterday that the book Lean UX won an award (a Jolt award for productivity, I think), so I started reading it last night. I thought the following passage was an excellent description of the process, and of design in general:
The third foundation of Lean UX is the Lean Startup method founded by Eric Ries. Lean Startup uses a feedback loop called “build-measure-learn” to minimize project risk and gets teams building quickly and learning quickly. Teams build Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) and ship them quickly to begin the process of learning as early as possible.
As Eric puts it, “Lean Startup initially advocates the creation of rapid prototypes designed to test market assumptions and uses customer feedback to evolve them much faster than more traditional software engineering practices ... Lean Startup processes reduce waste by increasing the frequency of contact with real customers, therefore testing and avoiding incorrect market assumptions as early as possible.” Lean UX is a direct application of this philosophy to the practice of product design.
Each design is a proposed business solution -- a hypothesis. Your goal is to validate the proposed solution as efficiently as possible by using customer feedback. The smallest thing you can build to test each hypothesis is your MVP. The MVP doesn’t have to be made of code; it can be an approximation of the end experience. You collect what you learn from your MVP and then evolve your ideas. Then you do it again.
The practice of Lean UX is: Lean UX is the practice of bringing the true nature of a product to light faster, in a collaborative, cross-functional way that reduces the emphasis on thorough documentation while increasing the focus on building a shared understanding of the actual product experience being designed.
My (Al) personal thoughts are that this is what we do naturally, especially if you’re working by yourself or as part of a small team. I know I’ve been trying to do this since probably about the year 2000, but when you’re working as a consultant, it’s often hard to get clients/customers to buy into this process. At least initially, (a) they don’t trust you 100%, and (b) they want to know what they’re getting for their money.
Another problem I’ve seen is when clients don’t buy into the MVP philosophy. I can specifically remember trying to do this with a client, but they wanted to see the entire thing as the end product every day, with every pixel in the exact right place, even as we were still in development. This is one possible approach, but when the UI is changing daily or weekly, it becomes very expensive. I recommend not putting the finishing touches on the product until your sure that’s what you want. At that point, put all those finishing touches on the product and make it as beautiful as you want. Again, this requires that the customer trust the designers and developers.