Lean and Agile by Design

The software industry is packed with buzzwords and terms. With overlapping names and terminology it can be difficult to get all the stakeholders in a project onto the same page. One of the most confusing areas can be the difference between Design Thinking, UX Design, Lean and Agile. Each has it’s very specific domain focus overlaps and commonalities.

Design thinking

Design thinking has become a serious buzz in the tech industry. Co founder of IDEO and founder of the Stanford Design School, David Kelly, popularised the approach. Heavily focusing on truly empathising with users and iterating towards valuable insights Design Thinking has parallels across many other software industry ideas.

The process at first glance is straight forward with an iterative loop of steps

  • Build empathy with users
    • Research and build definitions of “archetypical customers”
    • Understand their goals and pain points
    • Understand what they are used to seeing and working with in their process
  • Define the problem space
    • Collect all of the empathy work together and look for commonalities
    • Understand the user problem that needs solved
    • Outcome is a problem statement described in user terms!
  • Ideate
    • Using the problem statement and empathy details create potential ideas to solve the users problem
    • At this stage anything goes and the more creative the idea the better
  • Prototype
    • With a short list of tangible ideas start to build small, cut down version of the product
    • The key to the prototype stage is that the users will actually get to use these to test the ideas
  • Test
    • Testing in this sense is giving the prototype to the users and observing them while they us it
    • It’s crucial not to sell a design or solution to the user; if the design is correct the user will intuitively understand the solution

The Design process is iterative and steps should be revisited, evaluated, changed and move in a stepwise fashion to land on the truly valuable solution to a problem.

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User Experience Design

User Experience Design has many parallels with Design Thinking and the industry appears to have a hard time splitting the two disciplines apart. Arguably the easiest way to separate Design Thinking and UX Design is to look at their scope of focus. While Design thinking is a framework to understand and empathise with people UX Design focuses more on how user will interact with a system to solve their problems. Typically this change in focus brings with it more detailed research around information architecture, competitor research, etc. User experience design is often more focused on the Look, Feel and Usability of the product.

You would be forgiven for saying the two frameworks still sound very similar and that’s because they are but with different focus!

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Like the other topics in this post Lean is a huge buzzword across most of the industry. Lean originated in Japanese manufacturing then was popularised by Toyotas success in implementing it with their manufacturing plants to help compete with General Motors and Ford in the automobile market.

Lean is an incredibly deep subject rooted in Japanese thought but in short:

  • Lean keeps a razor focus on Customers and the Value they are looking for
  • By keeping a focus on the Value you can map all the operations that involve delivering value
  • To increase the speed of Value delivery remove anything that does not directly deliver Value
  • Create an adaptive organisation that seeks to achieve perfection by identifying and removing process issues
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Agile is now a software industry stable! The blog roll already contains a deeper description on Agile and it’s idea but as a reminder: Agile is a form of iterative software delivery where the customer is kept in a tight feedback loop with the development team to remove communication barriers and increase visibility. Work is delivered in time boxed schedules of a few weeks or less (called Sprints) which has the added benefit of allowing a change in priorities should new understanding or business drivers affect what the customer actually wants. Agile is the antidote to traditional software development termed “Waterfall” where an error on the initial requirements or the communication of them can cause systemic issues in the delivery that are only found after months of work.

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Finding the sweet spot

With several frameworks all having overlapping ideas but slightly different focus it’s no wonder discussions around them can be fuzzy and misleading. It can help to visually see the overlap and perhaps more importantly what is outside the scope of each framework.

The picture appears complex but in fact is fairly straight forward, at each level of focus during project delivery there are aspects of each methodology that can help improve value, delivery speed and quality while making sure what is being delivered is ultimately valuable to customers. By really clearing up the communications and understanding between the various stakeholders in a project there will be more nodding in agreement than debating over terms during meetings!

Do you need insight into any of these topics? Have you got a room full of great people but need an approach to getting them all moving in the same direction? Get in touch using the Contact form above and let’s discuss the right solution for you.

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