need to stay ahead of the curve to stay successful. Here’s how UX can help them

Large companies need to stay ahead of the curve to stay successful, here’s how Lean can help them

Large companies that don’t innovate in the digital age will experience a slow and painful death.

A slow climb to the top of the corporate ladder can turn you into a giant but not every big company can be a giant forever.

Big companies ought to know the importance of innovation. Especially in a fast-changing world where one day you can be the king of video rentals only to be usurped by a young, nimble Netflix. Sorry, Blockbuster.

If large companies embrace Lean UX principles their success could be maintained or potentially skyrocket. However, many don’t venture into lean user experience for a variety of reasons.

What is preventing large companies from change and how can they truly begin to innovate properly?

In this article, Justinmind will dive into how these principles can be applied to large organizations, should they dare.

How does Lean UX benefit large companies?

It’s as though large companies can’t see the forest for the trees. There’s the potential for traditional companies to innovate and build on their previous success in a new and exciting way. But their old ways are preventing them from seeing the bigger picture. But some companies are taking a different route.

GE, the 126-year-old company, is learning to embrace Lean UX principles. If a mature company like GE can transform its working culture to produce faster and smarter innovation other companies have little excuse.

According to Gartner, by 2021 50% of established corporations will be using lean UX techniques at the business level to increase the pace and success of business transformation.

GE was able to increase growth and profit and had a cost saving of $2 billion thanks to embracing Lean UX principles.

It appears large organizations will need to embrace this line of thinking whether they like it or not. If these legacy companies want to compete in the digital world, they should take a page out of GE’s book and welcome the change. It could very well save them.

Why Lean UX isn’t just for growing startups

Despite what you’ve read, Lean UX isn’t just for startups. Lean UX was originally geared towards a small company with limited resources that wants to get its product validated and out to market. But there’s more to it than that.

The deciding factor is not whether or not the method works for big companies. Rather, implementing lean UX depends on how willing key stakeholders and decision makers are to potentially revolutionize their product development process. Large companies are often too attached to their current business model to embrace innovation.

One company started off with 3 men who wanted to change how people find accommodation when they travel and now it’s one of the largest companies in the world. And they still use Lean UX principles. We’re talking about Airbnb.

Tendayi Viki writes that large companies will actually be the biggest beneficiaries of the Lean Startup movement:

“What the lean startup movement has done is reveal to the business world how successful startups .

We now know the difference between searching and executing. Slowly but surely, large companies are figuring out how to take this best practice and apply it to the contexts of their businesses.

In other words, the incumbents are getting innovation while they still have a lock on distribution, and a lot of financial resources.”


Big companies can essentially look at the success of startups like Airbnb, Dropbox and Uber and replicate those methods. Since they have more resources, it’s likely that they can beat the startup kids at their own game.

Let’s look at the foundations of Lean UX to gain a better understanding of what exactly it means to embrace Lean UX principles.

Why big companies find adopting Lean UX principles difficult

So, all it takes is thinking about problems from a design perspective, Agile development, and a little Lean Startup magic? Why aren’t all companies using this approach?

1) Fear. Fear of failure, specifically. Lean UX embraces failure as a way to learn and improve. One of the main principles of Lean UX is the permission to fail.

When we know that there are no repercussions from failure, we’re more prone to take risks and these risks could lead to innovation or even disruption.

Business Administration professor Edward D. Hess agrees. He says that failure is a necessary part of the innovation process because “from failure comes learning, iteration, adaptation, and the building of new conceptual and physical models through an iterative learning process. Almost all innovations are the result of prior learning from failures.”

2) The reason that large companies shun innovation is that they’re comfortable. Too entrenched in old business models.

Like a couple in a relationship that no longer put in the effort to impress one another, these companies have found their market fit, they’ve learned what distribution channels work and they understand their revenue model. Date nights are a distant memory.

Entrepreneur Steve Blank argues that companies need to be ambidextrous by balancing execution and innovation (i.e by using proven Lean innovation methodologies).

3) Old school management tactics can prevent companies from adopting the Lean UX principles. Eric Ries told a story in Quartz of how he met with many general managers who think of themselves as truly entrepreneurial in Silicon Valley.

These ambitious managers want to push their organizations and try to do things in an innovative way but traditional management practices push them underground, forcing them to hide that side of who they are.

Ries goes on to say that one manager, in particular, went covert and embraced the Lean UX principles for a particular project.

“He immediately ran into political problems with various middle managers who didn’t like that he was doing things differently. And even though the company was in the middle of this transformation, he himself had to take his project underground and hide it for a while.

It reappeared later after he had enough progress and success. I kept seeing that over and over again; it’s been really eye-opening for me.”

4) Then there’s a branding issue. As mentioned earlier, Lean UX is undeniably geared towards young startups with little resources who want to develop products quickly.

How big companies can learn to stop worrying and love Lean UX principles

These roadblocks can stifle innovation at companies and make managers feel as though they’re simply functionaries instead of genuine innovators.

Jeff Gothelf makes a salient point. One of the ways that companies can overcome these hurdles is through undercover collaboration.

Go undercover

Just like the covert managers in Silicon Valley who had to undertake stealth maneuvering to be Lean, if you want to get over the hurdles it’ll take some undercover work. “This is a situation that requires asking for forgiveness as opposed to permission”, Jeff says.

Create small cross-functional pilot teams

Gather some like-minded colleagues and try and tackle some problems together.  Keep the team small (but still, if possible, cross-functional) and the problem doesn’t have to be large either, just complex enough to maintain motivation and to understand what can be achieved in a short amount of time.

“You want these folks to get to know each other, to build trust, shared language and rapport, and through that simple spending of time together they start to look at different ways of working and respect each other’s opinions more. They start to think of themselves as a unit that wins or loses together” Jeff explains.

Then show the results to your managers. It’s important to highlight how you solved the problem quickly and prove the power of silo-busting. These small victories over time can result in a bigger, dramatic shift in thinking and greater acceptance of Lean principles in the enterprise.

Open communication for everyone (including your customers)

Breaking out of the silo mentality won’t happen overnight. And before you even consider going undercover, it’s a good thing to make sure the communication channels between you and your manager are always open.

That means explaining what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, the challenges you’re experiencing and how much it costs. It helps here to drive home the benefit to the company to really bolster your arguments.

Communication conventions may have to adapt to this new way of thinking. Thankfully tools like Slack make this transition easier. Our list curated Lean UX design tools gives you all the equipment you need to maintain good communication as you introduce Lean into the enterprise.

Open communication should spill over to your customers too. Not just between you and the rest of your team.

Jeff explains that “the best thing you can do is to start engaging with customers as regularly and consistently as possible, and bring as many people as you can to the conversation.” Jeff believes that by opening the communication with our customers as soon as possible, we’ll mitigate any resistance to Lean UX in the enterprise.  

When you have a strong relationship built on good communication, it makes the asking for forgiveness part a whole lot easier.

Going covert isn’t about maliciously going behind your company’s back to scorn them; you’re trying to make real changes and drive innovation. That, unfortunately, requires out of the box thinking from time to time.   

In brief, to overcome the hurdles at your organization here’s what you can do to introduce Lean UX principles:

  • Find like-minded colleagues to escape silo prison
  • Speak to your customer early and often
  • Go stealthy to drive innovation
  • Ask for forgiveness instead of permission
  • Nurture clear channels of communication with your managers
  • Highlight the benefits to the organization


Lean UX definitely has a branding problem; its startup focused methodology can turn off traditional organizations.

Many might see it as simply a passing fad that will come and go, but there are a few smarter companies that are able to gain perspective and see how embracing Lean UX principles can give them competitive advantage.

Continue reading the Complete Guide to Lean UX below


Chapter 3                                       Chapter 5 →




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