People describe different types of UX such as Agile UX and Lean UX. Looking at the Agile manifesto and Lean methodology, it would seem to me that a successful implementation of UX processes would require a flexible and efficient process anyway.

Is the use of Agile or Lean UX redundant or does it mean something more that I am not aware of?


4 Answers 4


Although I am a staunch supporter of agile and lean methodologies in UX, it's important to remember that they are just methodologies. UX is not about how you create a great user experience, rather it is about what the user experience is.

So there are many different UX methodologies that can achieve good results. Often one methodology is more suited to a situation than another, so sometimes (given constraints) lean / agile methodologies aren't the best choice for a situation.


This all depends on what your definition of UX is... which has been a changing beast over the years - from what the experiences is through to a job description for certain kinds of role.

I would personally say that you do need the qualifiers - since you can apply UX practices in many different contexts. For example:

  1. A dedicated UX agency brought in to do a global redesign of the user journeys and visual design of a product - who deliver a design spec to be implemented by the existing product development team running RUP. They're definitely not doing Agile or Lean UX. They're potentially doing great UX work in their working context though.

  2. An embedded IxD and visual design pair working on a Scrum team - helping figure out the definition-of-ready and definition-of-done for stories, and helping facilitate good design as the stories get implemented. They're working with an agile team and selecting and adapting their processes appropriately for that environment. But their product deliver focus - rather than learning deliver focus - means that they don't really fit under the Lean UX banner.

  3. A group of ux practitioners embedded on a product development team with the goal of learning about the product/market fit of a startup. They're learning focus puts them in the Lean UX section, rather than Agile UX. They may be using many of the same practices - but their goals are different.

Now - I have my opinions about which of the above three approaches are more likely to get you a great product - but I certainly think it reasonable to be able to label them differently. There are certainly more or less suitable UX design approaches depending on the domain.

Personally I think that it's expressing the maturity of the UX domain that we're having these sorts of UX process discussions now - and realising that there isn't one-true-way of doing UX work.


In my experience agile development can be antagonistic towards UX, especially if UX is attempted to be made to fit within an agile development frame work. The issues with agile don't relate to how successful then can be for development teams but when either UX concepting is attempted within sprints or if key design is done on the fly with the development driving the design. Agile is great for developers and UX, in my experience, works best when it feeds that development process with the right level of specification for what is being built.

And that is where Lean UX comes in. From my understanding (and different people understand it differently), Lean UX is all about reducing the amount of deliverables and attempting to create what is needed to concept, communicate, test and develop the final UX. What is 'right' differs between projects and, most importantly, between the team you have. No one process is right for all teams and all projects and it is the team that, ultimately, makes the project work or fail, not the process.

Lean UX also taps into an old idea of trying to make designers view all team members as collaborators on the design. A good development team will work well with their UX resource and a good UX team/person will ensure that developers are involved with the design process. Having said that the important part is that the UX effort is respected and that the developers are given the permission to focus on engineering and implementation and are not responsible for design or functionality.

Lean UX works best when a production line is working where UX solutions are delivered to the developers when they needed but the developers only have the responsibility of saying when UX solutions are not feasible.

So, in summary, Lean UX, if done well, is a great complimentary approach that fits in well with an Agile development team, but it's not really the same thing.

Also Lean UX is not the same as Lean Start up as it does not have to build then test but can spend time researching how users use thing, providing it's done in a light way, for example two weeks spent interviewing staff members about an intranet is great whilst a two month research process is not Lean.

  • Hey Stewart. I want to comment since I've actually down voted you (rare for me ;-) and wanted to explain why. While there are some differing opinions on the precise definition of Lean UX I think the way you presented it here is so far from the majority view it's good as wrong in some aspects. To pick some specifics:
    – adrianh
    May 30, 2013 at 15:35
  • "Lean UX is all about reducing the amount of deliverables" - I disagree. The "lean" in "lean ux" (and "lean startup" come to that) isn't "less stuff" - it comes from the lean thinking world (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lean). The goal isn't reduction of deliverables - it's a side effect. The goal is not doing wasteful work when there are more effective mechanisms to produce great products.
    – adrianh
    May 30, 2013 at 15:35
  • "Lean UX is not the same as Lean Start" - not precisely. However Janice Fraser, the woman who coined the term, does define it as UX work in a Lean Startup context. As do Jeff & Josh in their Lean UX book. Even when Lean UX applied in non-startup contexts it owes a heavy debt to the hypothesis driven approach from Lean Startup and the general philosophical approaches of Lean Thinking.
    – adrianh
    May 30, 2013 at 15:36
  • Also, I think you may have misunderstand the core of Lean Startup - since the "build" aspect of the build-measure-learn loop doesn't mean "product". It means something that lets us to learn by validating one of our hypothesis. That can be a drawing on a napkin and a chat with the user. Right from the start, via Steve Blank's Customer Development, Lean Startup folk have been urging everybody to "get out of the building" and talk to users. Folk "researching how users use thing" is exactly what Lean Startup recommends before investing in full scale product development.
    – adrianh
    May 30, 2013 at 15:38
  • What Lean UX adds to the mix is the rich set of experience and practice we have in doing that work well.I'd strong recommend that you take a look at Laura Klein's UX for Lean Startups and Jeff Gothelf & Josh Seiden's Lean UX (and pre-order Janice Frasier's The Lean Product Book ;-) for more on Lean UX.
    – adrianh
    May 30, 2013 at 15:39

Lean or Agile are only methodologies of applying a discipline, be it software development or UX design.

The arrangement between the UX specialist and the dev team (external consultant, internal full time, etc...) determines heavily what methodology would be used. E.g., if you're not an integral part of the development organization, then Lean UX can be tough, if not impossible (correct me if I'm wrong on this assertion).

Another factor influencing the UX methodology is the the one used by the dev team itself. You'd be surprised to hear that there are still organizations that work in a Waterfall style (though they might not admit it). If they do, they expect a fully detailed UI specification before they begin their work, something not imaginable by the Lean or Agile methodologies.

  • 2
    "if you're not an integral part of the development organization, then Lean UX can be tough, if not impossible (correct me if I'm wrong on this assertion)" - You're not wrong ;-) It is much harder. You might find this session where Johanna Kollmann & Martina Schell talk about doing Lean UX in an agency environment of interest - good stuff vimeo.com/62646947
    – adrianh
    May 30, 2013 at 11:22

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