Mastering is no easy task for a team. Here’s how I’m trying to 50 of them. I call this the Lean UX pool party.

Better products at scale

Jett Gothelf’s book titled Lean UX outlines a plan for working together to create better products. Its focus lies on how a single team manages a single product — not so much on how to transform a company towards Lean UX.

Many teams at Swisscom have this same challenge, but I’m trying to tackle it at scale. In an environment of a few hundred staff in almost 50 teams, introducing Lean UX promises big results, but also needs to scale.

I wholeheartedly believe that change comes from within. This means that only the product teams themselves can make the respective changes towards Lean UX. A team’s status quo is unique, their motivation very local and their steps very specific — consequently its transformation cannot be off the rack.

The Lean UX pool party

How do you scale a Lean UX transformation, then? I’ve developed a simple plan that I call the Lean UX pool party.

A whiteboard scribble of the Lean UX pool party, a simple plan to transform a company towards Lean UX

As said, transformation starts with teams. In my scribble above, these are the pool floats. They move independently, have their particular spirit animals and sip their proper, favorite cocktails. Some of them already enjoy the company of a UXer, some might not. If you want them to change, swim over, climb the float and talk to them. Leave when they’re asking why you out of all people talk about Lean UX when it’s been their idea all along. Or so they claim.

All floats inhabit the same pool. Since they mostly go their own way, it’s important to have them understand they’re on a joint path — be it towards Lean UX or any other company goal. As such, a joint communications framework is needed. If you quickly want to reach all the floats, climb the lifeguard tower and engage the loudhailer. Be aware that floats generally are busy, so keep it simple and reiterate. Again.

Finally, most companies that have embraced agile nevertheless have some form of management. If you’re megaphoning across the pool and engage floats with conversation, you better have some anchoring in place. Talk to the stakeholders about Lean UX, be part of the official transformation process, heck: even outline Lean UX’s connection to the company strategy. If the going gets tough, this’ll help everyone to keep focussing on better products, through Lean UX.

“How up to date is your UX process, really?”

How do you start a conversation about Lean UX with individuals? I often use this question: “How up to date is your UX process, really?” While an invitation to elaborate this also present a taunt that optimization is possible. It hasn’t failed me, so far.

When I’ve gotten the attention, more often than not I need to explain what Lean UX is. While I also give away the book freely, I cannot expect everyone to come up with the time to read it. I’ve thus developed a Lean UX maturity assessment, a self-served online assessment that after 15 minutes gives you a rating: you’re either a beginner, somewhat, mostly or very mature.

I don’t give much value to the actual result, but the time a participant spends thinking about how they and their team work on experiences are invaluable. In most cases (and when prompted) they come up with three things they would like to change immediately. In my environment, we’re often talking about being in the same physical space more often (Lean UX principle: co-located teams).

The building blocks to Lean UX change

After taking the assessment, I ask teams to come up with a plan. Do they think their immediate ideas are sufficient? Do they want to jot a long-term plan? Maybe they want to use a Scrum retrospective to inspect their process? Maybe they want to use Lean Management techniques to identify waste? From here, change becomes specific and my role is only to support as much as required.

I can, however, provide a kit of building blocks that many teams need. This includes more general materials like an e-mail series to foster change from individuals (available from the assessment website), but also very specific workshops in line with the Lean UX principles teams, culture, and process. Let me give three examples:

  • Teams: “The Lean UX organization — how to enable teams for customer-centric work,” a workshop for organizational leaders
  • Culture: “How to embrace Lean UX culture,” a workshop on failure for management
  • Process: “Profit from the design studio method,“ a training for business & UX people alike

The latter by the way was already available from our internal academy. But overall, while some of the materials need to be ready from the start, most can be devised when needed and then need to be converted to a building block for others. But I’ll be honest, it has helped me to pretend everything was available from the very beginning.

Start from where your heart is

Finally, a word on where to embark on the transformation journey. Maybe you feel the need to anchor your transformation journey (as outlined above). If you think so, you’re probably not wrong.

Still, it’s more important to start than to plan, so choose a team or topic that’s dear to your heart and go! If you have a choice, select a team with openness, individuals with a vision, a product with reach and a topic that’s visible — all this’ll help you make the next step. If not, go ahead anyway — Lean UX will profit your customers (and thus your company), so you can hardly fail.

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