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Lean UX: Making Sure You're Building the Right Product

To ensure your software project doesn't meet the fate of past failed products, consider deploying a UX strategy. You may be surprised to hear what the end users are really looking for and how interesting your product is to them.

Need Help with UX Research?

In practice, there are many ways to do this research. From my own experience, I recommend hiring a graduate or undergraduate student working on a degree in human-computer interaction (HCI), computer science, or user experience design. It's a great way to get short-term help to execute the research plan if your company isn't ready to invest in a full-time researcher. You get assistance in answering questions that need to be addressed, and the interns gain real-world experience in the industry. The interns I've mentored and worked with provided real value by helping define personas and sharing their findings in a meaningful way with the rest of the team.

Lean UX in Practice

The latest project where I was the lead UX designer is a Perforce product called Swarm, which is a flexible code-collaboration platform. On Swarm, we practiced Lean UX from product inception through delivery. Before the project was even a gleam in our eyes, we had already conducted significant customer research and had learned that they were yearning for a new tool from us. They wanted a product to:

  • help them speed up the tempo of their development,
  • extend the functionality of our existing product,
  • bring in social elements that have become standard in software applications.

I created and executed a Lean UX research plan so that we could continuously discover what iterations our product required. This research plan included customer meetings, usability studies, a beta program, and customer surveys. The team gave customers a preview of our product, which included describing primary user scenarios and a demo of the working prototype. All feedback was recorded and shared with the entire team. UX is truly a team sport and most rewarding when the whole group participates. At this early stage, the feedback helped us adjust priorities.

We conducted brief usability studies with internal users whenever new features were added, and the release of our beta program included an extensive usability study. This research helped us identify problem areas with fresh users who had not previously experienced the product. Their feedback carried a lot of weight and helped us learn about usability problems we hadn't encountered.

The beta program was designed to encourage customers to use Swarm in their own environments and provide feedback. Because we had fostered customer relationships through our customer calls, a high percentage of these customers were interested in the early version of the product. We learned more from the use of our product in their environments than we learned from using it on our own. Finally, the surveys we conducted helped us gain quantitative insights into how to prioritize our features.

As we practice Lean UX, we continue to evolve our own internal relationships among our sales, marketing, engineering, and UX teams. By successfully sharing and increasing our collective knowledge about our users, we make our products more successful because we know it helps people do what they need, which is ultimately what provides value to our company.

Nellie LeMonier is a user experience researcher and designer at Perforce Software.

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