Agile vs. Lean UX Guidelines

UX  guidelines are the golden rules when designing any product, service or public construct which will have an active user base. Pretty much all businesses with a consumer, success boils down not so much to the bottom dollar, but rather the user experience. The bottom dollar is governed entirely by UX combined in parallel with efficiency and profitability. The problem here is that efficiency and profitability are gray areas when you try to segregate them from the user experience itself. In truth, they are shades of the same color.

A user experience professional should always be consulted when conducting a new startup, or revising an existing startup for new features or shifting paradigms entirely. They will be the first to point out that there is a rather lengthy list of user experience guidelines to be followed, but that’s not the topic here.
What we’re going to look at is a fairly recent pair of methodologies that are already among the most polarizing in the user experience field: agile and lean user experience models.

These are in and of themselves actual sets of UX guidelines and they are quite different from one another. The names of these user experience guidelines can be somewhat misleading, so let’s take a look at what they are at their cores, and maybe examine the merits of both.

Lean user experience guidelines probably have the more misleading name. These UX guidelines are actually all about uncertainty. Good examples of lean user experience models are startup software companies, game companies and technological innovations firms. These lean models are all about innovation, invention and creativity. It is never known for one fiscal period to the next what new and unique ideas may be put forward and therefore what new and interesting user experiences may be in store. This leads to a somewhat diversified and unpredictable marketing model, as well as a rather mixed bag when it comes to tertiary UX guidelines that are globally applicable. If you consult any general guide to the 10 key questions regarding user experience approaches, you will notice that many of these tertiary points relate to demographics, support models and metrics. When dealing with lean user experience guidelines, however, metrics are very unpredictable and no flat rate of interval or level of tolerance can really be applied with any ease. The advantage of this lean model is that it’s less restrictive, allowing you to be experimental with your marketing and branding, and to test multiple demographics before settling for any particular niche. This can result in multiple demographics becoming aware of a user experience, often ones that otherwise would never notice the experiences existence were the agile approach used.

Agile UX guidelines are in fact about certainty. It sounds like it would be the other way around, agility and versatility usually being somewhat synonymous. However, with agile UX guidelines, specific goals, type of service or product, or revisions and improvements to an existing construct are the subject most of the time. A demographic has been reached, or targeted, and a specific methodology for marketing connection and viability is already set forth. It is relatively rare that a new, upstart user experience follows agile UX guidelines. Certainty is just not something that you have when you leave the gate. However, when revising or reinventing a user experience, agile user experience guidelines can be quite comforting.

When using agile UX guidelines, especially with the common scenario of revision or reinvention, you already know what works and what doesn’t with the user experience. If you’re wise, you’ll receive user input, both positive and negative, regarding their experience with your service or product. You’ve already tested various marketing strategies, advertising strategies and identity branding strategies as well. Yes, with agile user experience guidelines, you’re going from point A to point B, trying to take an idea that works and make it work better. A good example of this would be a redesign of a website, a reboot of a gaming franchise, or a major update to a software suite.

The merits of agile user experience guidelines are relatively obvious. There’s little experimentation, or risk involved. This is merely polishing a gem that’s already been cut. Public awareness already exists, and this means that metrics are much easier to take as well. When following agile UX guidelines, it’s very easy to keep your finger on the pulse of the public, know how well your product is being received, and how well your user experience actually works.

The problem that some user experience professionals have with agile vs. lean UX guidelines is that there are many situations where neither is entirely and exclusively the proper choice. When revising an existing user experience for potential improvements or additional features, it might not hurt to try a lean approach occasionally and experiment. Without experimentation, there can be no innovation, and without innovation, there comes inevitable stagnation. Conversely, lean user experience guidelines can be damaging to rely solely on with startups, because without some sort of goal in place and some sort of initial research and testing, even most innovative and caution to the wind new service or product may wind up shortsighted and fail.

It would be very interesting to see some synergy between these two UX guidelines and see what can be made of a clear-cut goal vis-a-vis agile with a little bit of uncertainty and experimentation via lean user experience guidelines. There has to be an underlying, unifying theory between these two. As recently as 2008, these weren’t even concepts, but since their inception, they have polarized the user experience dynamics field rather rigidly. Perhaps there is a formula for mixing the experimental nature of lean and the clear-cut goal oriented nature of agile.

But then, the more philosophical user experience professional might say that testing such a synergy is in and of itself a very experimental thing and therefore is merely just repackaging lean user experience guidelines.