Lean: A Design Overview

Mar
1
2012

A rainbow of various coloured Lollipops in a small bowl on the table

I have been interested in Lean for a while, if nothing else than to explore if any of the techniques could be stolen for use with UX and service design.   I’m only starting out on this journey about Lean, learning mainly from the local Perth Lean Meetup group.

This is the first, of hopefully a series, of short articles on what I learn from the Lean meetup.

So I expect that I’m bound to get some aspects of Lean wrong.  That’s okay I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m too far off track.

Lean and UX

It’s quite amazing that when people talk about lean you suddenly realise that a lot of the techniques are in fact unnamed technoques within UX that you just do because they make good design sense.

I guess this comes down to the way in design you are always dealing with the “thorny” issues or problems, and just except it as the norm.   Where as in business these issues are often pushed aside as to hard.

The core of Lean is stated in terms of continuous improvement as:

 Produce Quickly,  Test Quickly,  Fail Quickly
–  Repeat.

Now that’s a little too close to the UX design principles of “design, test and fail quickly”.   But this is not surprising as Lean like UX has grown by stealing what was good from its environments.

Background of Lean

Lean comes from the Toyota Production System which rolled into Lean in the 1990’s.  It’s focused on waste management with an overall goal to improve customer value.

This is achieved by using empirical (evidence based) methods to adopt various new or hypothetical ideas.   Older pre-existing ideas are not automatically considered due to pre-existing merit, but must reprove themselves.

Sound familiar? – Oh look scientific method, my old friend.

Lean is also about improving the “flow” of work or communications.  This is achieved by a Pull based processing, where waste reduction (low quality)  is looked at as a system wise consequence not focusing on the point of failure.

It’s about getting the right things in the right place at the right time, in the right quality.  This should result in the perfect “flow” for the system.

Now isn’t a lot of UX about delivery in the journey for the user.

Application of Lean

Lean is not about cutting process or documentation.   It’s not about trimming the fat.

It’s about moving the decision making process from management to the people that are informed.  Such that the decision can be made at a level which the person can control the outcome with all the respective relevant research or facts.

This can be from a design decision to the layout of your own workstation so you have logical place for everything.

Lean is used for continuous product or service improvement.  Any new services or features must be ones that a customer is willing to pay for.  If it’s not then it’s waste, then is will be simplified, integrated or eliminated.

Again note customer centric.

One interesting application of Lean is in the creative environment.   If Lean is implement correctly it will allow for an action based management approach where the only directions forward is via consideration of the Customer view with a focus on that outcome.

Focusing on the tools and not the communication, collaboration of the design will fail to produce the best design outcome.  After all good design comes from conflict and collaboration to pull the design forward.   But we already knew this, right?

Concerns

I do have one concern with Lean, it seems at this point to be a little too methodology based.  Now we know that overall methodologies don’t work in the long term, hence  we need to move to more informed design approach.

I guess it’s really about not following the process by rote, but applying the techniques to assist in the decision making process which considering the final Customer outcome.

I suppose Lean does have it’s place, at least we can steal some great ideas and reuse them, if nothing else.

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4 comments

  1. I’m interested in lean thinking from the perspective of using social software to improve the information flows and communication. I’ve also noticed that methodology-bias but I think overall there are some good ideas in lean. Its just important not to forget the people in the process or that sometimes slack in a system is a good thing.

  2. Hey…here’s a good critique of lean from a complexity science POV http://johntropea.tumblr.com/post/17081115066/lean-towards-complexity

    I agree with Dave Snowden, that you need some inefficiencies to allow for adaptation…if there’s no waste and everything is too perfect there’s no allowance to innovate or adapt to change…I’m talking extremism here

    “Efficiency means utilizing excess capacity, resilience requires excess capacity to respond to novelty.”
    http://johntropea.tumblr.com/post/5848291018/efficiency-destroys-resilience

  3. @John – Thanks for the comment, I agree in part it is a little difficult if there is no waste. However removing waste from the equation is focusing on the costs, when really we should be focusing on the profit increase, so from a UX view how can Lean be used to achieve that shift.

  4. @James – As I see it the core of Lean is the people, The people controlling and being empowered to self manage in many ways just like Agile.

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