5 Tips for Applying Lean UX to User Research

Jeff Sauro, PhD

Focus on decisions and not deliverables.

It’s one of the main concepts around Lean thinking in general, and Lean UX in particular.

Focus on the end user experience and not the pile of intermediary deliverables. Bloated test plans, power point presentations, pixel-perfect concepts and all the clutter that comes from assembling a team to develop an application or website.

The focus should be on outcomes not outputs. For product development this means software or websites. For user research this means decisions from data about the users and what they do, not for its own sake, but for making decisions about what to build, what to fix, and what to nix in a user experience.

Here are five tips that we’ve found help keep the focus on decisions instead of deliverables.

  1. Have a regular schedule of users to test: Have five users scheduled for the end of each month to test concepts, prototypes, icons, or terminology. One of the biggest delays in running usability tests, especially in agile environments, is the lead time needed to find and schedule participants. For product teams that have the same users, a regular schedule means there’s a built in mechanism to get early and continual feedback from users. There’s nothing sacred about five users–it can be three, seven or ten–a small sample size can be run in a couple days and uncover most of the obvious problems.
  2. Have the development team watch at least one user: Usability testing generates a lot of great insights, quotes and usability problems. If only the usability test facilitator observes the user interacting with the product, then there’s a much larger burden on the findings report to communicate and persuade stakeholders what to fix. In many cases, we’ve found that when the designers or developers watch even just one usability session and see the user struggle first hand, there’s little need to convince them about the rest of the problems. The final usability report’s emphasis is on documenting the problems and frequency rather than having to explain in detail and persuade which can generate bloated reports.
  3. Don’t wait to share data: Storing is waste. Send preliminary results to stakeholders as soon as possible. We all want our reports to be pixel-perfect, comprehensive and anticipate every question or address every research hypothesis. But this delays decisions. Consider a Top-Line report as your minimum viable report (MVR). Have a way for stakeholders to view insights early and often and set expectations so they understand the findings are rough and preliminary for the MVR. In many cases we’ve seen stakeholders make decisions and move on to the next project between the time we generate our MVR and final report.
  4. Streamline the usability test plan: We need to know who the users are, what the tasks will be and the metrics. But many companies like to use standardized and massive documents with pages dedicated to document overhead—title pages, change controls, privacy statements and tables of contents. Just because it’s written down doesn’t mean its read or understood when it’s needed most. Include the minimum amount of information that’s needed to get users tested early and often.
  5. Generate the report before the testing begins then fill out the details later: Not only does building out your report ahead of time, with sections and graph descriptions, save time when you need to deliver results (and avoiding storage) it also identifies gaps in your testing plans. All too often you can get to analyzing usability test data or user-interview notes and wish you asked one additional question. Having a report crystalizes your research questions while you can still do something about changing the metrics or methods you use.
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