Is it just me, or have certain terms in the UX/product world sadly morphed into constantly-abused, empty buzz words? It seems that, somehow, words like “lean” or “user-centered” or “iterative design” too often are likened to nearly any exercises involving colorful post-it notes and whiteboards, without even considering what methods and meaning they’re representing. It’s like pre-conceptualized ideas of what smart product experience methodologies should look like are blurring whether or not certain techniques actually are valuable.
This summer, UserTesting.com hosted an excellent webinar with author of The Lean Product Playbook, Dan Olsen. In this webinar, Olsen does not just advocate for strong product experience leadership, but breaks down specific components of lean product management in substantial ways that can help us differentiate those who truly carry out valuable UX/product methodologies versus those who just carry empty jargon.
Here are four guiding principles I’d like to share his deep dive into:
- Explore real problems to generate better solutions.
- Address real needs to produce better products.
- Pursue real differentiators to create better value.
- Prioritize real details to craft better experiences.
1. Explore real problems to generate better solutions.
Dan Olsen talks about the importance of differentiating problem space vs. solution space from the very start of a project. Kick-offs, executive summaries and initial business requirements are so important for communicating the core purpose of the project, identifying important requirements, sharing background information, and aligning strategy and expectations of all the stakeholders involved. But great potential can be lost in these first steps if a solution is already specified.
“By articulating the requirement [with execution specifics], you’ve already dictated and limited the solution space…By not jumping into solution space and by just being really clear in problem space, you can identify better, higher ROI solutions.” -Dan Olsen
Personally, I love having a multidisciplinary team together shortly after a project-kick-off to brainstorm all sorts of solutions. More minds means more ways of thinking, more possible paths, more chance for uncovering a common thread that could lead to a gem.
However, that gem won’t shine unless the problem space is sufficiently examined first. If we first identify all the problems that could be addressed, then we can figure out which ones we should address.
“As you get more detailed in the problem space, they’ll organize into related themes.” -Dan Olsen
From there, possible solutions can strategically be explored and better evaluated based on the user-centric thinking that is grounding the process.
2. Address real needs to produce better products.
“If you’re gonna spend a lot of time and resources and money on going after a new product opportunity, there’s no reason to focus on a low-importance user need.” -Dan Olsen
Olsen discusses the concept of customer value on a scale of importance vs. satisfaction. Where there is a high importance of user need and high satisfaction with a product, then there is an area of opportunity to create customer value.
However, this area of opportunity should also be checked across the competitive landscape to determine whether or not it is worth pursuing.
Intercom wrote a post called “Product Strategy Means Saying No,” which delves into a myriad of situations when you need to say “no” to certain features. One of them calls out the common mistake of including features simply because competitors have them. In reality, many of those features may not actually be needed, so you’re just complicated the design and wasting development costs by including them.
3. Pursue real differentiators to create better value.
It’s not only about which features to include, but how to include them. Olsen refers to the Kano Model of User Needs & Satisfaction, claiming:
“Yesterday’s ‘delighters’ become today’s performance feature and become tomorrow’s must-haves.” -Dan Olsen
From here, this is when we start imagining what the minimum viable product (MVP) might look like. Here’s where things tend to go wrong, though. Drawing back to Olsen’s previous point about yesterday’s ‘”delighters” becoming tomorrow’s must-haves, concluding that “it works” no longer makes the cut. Making something simply functional cannot be an excuse for ignoring the other pillars.
“Yes, you do want to take a limited set of functionality. But you need to make whatever MVP you’re building reliable enough, and usable enough, and delightful enough that there’s gonna be something there that people will react to and like.” -Dan Olsen
Here is a great medium article that talks about shifting the idea of a “minimum viable product” to a “minimum lovable product” instead…
4. Prioritize real details to craft better experiences.
“It’s rarely the case that you need to deliver 100% of the feature to deliver most of its value.” -Dan Olsen
So how can the minimum lovable product actually succeed and grow? Olsen nicely demonstrates breaking features down into chunks to help limit scope without killing delight, and to translate into product roadmap placement.
This is the kind of planning needed to accomplish a MVP with a well-rounded approach. This approach is illustrated in what Olsen pulled out as the “UX design iceberg”…
“It all starts at the base with conceptual design — this is basically what’s the fundamental concept for how we’re gonna design this product to deliver these benefits…When you use a product that you really enjoy using — it’s easy to use, it’s delightful — it’s because the team has really put in a lot of thought and made a lot of good decisions at these lower levels…Good product teams need to be making good decisions across that whole iceberg to create a good user experience.” -Dan Olsen
The webinar continues into the important next steps of testing and iterating based on user feedback. But those steps won’t mean much without grounding the product experience design with these four guiding principles.