Season 1, Episode 10
Jeff Gothelf, author of Lean UX, speaker, educator, and all-round inspiration
Jeff Gothelf talks about the power of Lean UX and how it’s evolved over the last 10 years, how he creates compelling stories, the importance of preparation, how we all need to ‘plant our flag’ for success, and the tale of the human cannonball.
In this episode of the Pitch Masters podcast, I was honoured to interview a real influence in my life: author of Lean UX, Jeff Gothelf. Lean UX has been around since 2013, and I was lucky enough to stumble upon it that year when I was a fledgling UX Designer at a digital agency (shout out to Valtech!). The concepts in the book are now so embedded in business, that they seem obvious, bog-standard, ‘the norm’, but it wasn’t always this way, and Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden are truly the fathers of the movement.
Lean UX is simple: even after the world had adopted the agile manifesto and ways of working, designers were not exactly included. In 2013, User Experience (UX) itself was also a nascent concept. For cross-functional teams of developers, business analysts, engineers, and testers to work together in scrum (or similar), and build a product, they needed the designs first. All the design work was heavy lifting at the front, users weren’t particularly considered, and then the team would work in sprints to iterate the development of the product. The major problem with this is that the design was never iterated – it was never tested with an audience to elicit feedback – and it was an intense, time-boxed, high-pressure period while developers patiently twiddled their thumbs playing around with environments, and waiting for the work to start.
Jeff Gothelf changed that. Lean UX taught us that design and user experience MUST be part of that cross-functional team. It showed us a new way – to design the smallest possible part of a product or service based on our best assumptions, and then to test it as soon as possible so that it could be improved on. As a small chunk of a product is designed, tested, iterated, it begins to flow into development, which uses similar cycles of improvement and testing. To state the obvious: assumptions are not akin to fact, no matter how experienced or knowledgeable we are in our field.
I don’t know of any agile teams or organisations who don’t do this these days. We all KNOW that spending time upfront on designs based on assumptions, and without testing with real customers and end-users, is the best way to wrongly invest a ton of money. We also know that if we want to test the validity of an app, we don’t need to build it, we can draw it on a piece of paper! We sketch wireframes before we inject graphic design. UX Designers work with developers. Products are tweaked right up until release, and when do make that first deployment, we make Minimum Viable Products, not ‘Big Bang’ releases. This stuff is so ingrained in us that sometimes we forget that it was ever different, but trust me, I was there, and it was.
Jeff taught me this 10 years ago, and on this episode of the Pitch Masters podcast he taught me a lot more. Listen to Jeff talk about how Lean UX has evolved over the last decade, how Jeff creates compelling stories and pitches, the importance of preparation, how we all need to ‘plant our flag’ for success, and some amazing anecdotes about producing truly MAGICAL presentations.
One of my favourite bits is his story about the Human Cannonball. The story is real, it’s compelling, it’s unique, and it really hits home the dire need, no matter what industry we’re in, to always, ALWAYS, test your assumptions.
Agile teams aside, I think that this is a lesson that we could all put into action a little more.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments – I await corrections on my explanation of Lean UX, agile, and cross-functional teams!!
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