Guest blog from Jeff Gothelf – Lean UX in the Enterprise: 5 hills to climb

This is a guest blog from Jeff Gothelf who will have an open course in Lean UX with Crisp in May 2013
Jeff Gothelf has spent a 15 year career as an agile product designer, team leader, blogger and teacher. He is one of the leading voices on the topic of Agile UX and Lean UX. In addition, Jeff is the author of the O’Reilly book (2013), Lean UX: Applying lean principles to improve user experience ( He is a highly sought-after international speaker and workshop leader. Jeff has led cross-functional product design teams at TheLadders, Publicis Modem, WebTrends, Fidelity, and AOL. In 2012, Jeff launched Proof, a product design and innovation studio that combines lean processes with strategy, design and technology that has since been acquired by where he is now Managing Director.

Here is Jeffs course Lean UX – Cross functional collaboration 20-21 of May in Stockholm >

Lean UX in the Enterprise: 5 hills to climb

Expanding my original post on challenges implementing Lean UX in the enterprise, I wanted to add a couple more hurdles that most companies will undoubtedly have to go through to build, collaborative, cross-functional and agile teams.

Co-location is a dirty word

Many large companies are distributed across countries, time zones and cultures. Getting employees to work together is tough enough when they’re sitting across the hall from each other. The distance between distributed teams breaks down a collaborative culture very quickly.

To build in more cohesion with distributed teams, companies must choose teams that overlap to some extent with the hours they are “at work.” By allowing people to be awake at the same time they can use tools like video conferencing and smart boards to collaborate together. They can enhance their relationships and maintain active, real-time dialogues about the project they’re working to solve.

It helps to kick off the project by physically getting the teams together to kick things off. Fly everybody in and let them work together, hang out together and relax together. The bonds formed in these early in–person meetings will last the life of the project.

Overzealous legal department

Customer validation means, well, talking to customers. It also means showing them new ideas, new products and “unapproved” workflows, content and features. This type of raw customer interaction makes lawyers very nervous. What if we show non-copyrighted material? What if we anger a customer? What if we go off brand? Don’t worry, Mr. Lawyer, we will! J The concern, albeit annoying, is very real and needs to be remedied inside large organizations. Otherwise, your rapid iteration cycles will get shut down very quickly.

First and foremost consider asking your customers to opt-in to a “beta” pool or some other testing scenario. By opting-in they agree to whatever the lawyers feels is adequate and everyone knows exactly what to expect.

Another tactic is to try out new features in off-brand channels – channels that don’t use your primary brand and aren’t associated with it in any way. This way you’re getting real customer feedback and no one knows who the real company is. It’s sneaky but it’s a way to appease the lawyers and still get that customer insight.

Failure is not an option

For Lean UX and Lean Startup to take hold philosophically, your company culture must allow for some level of failure. Declaring hypotheses carries an implicit admission from the product development team that they don’t know if a problem statement is true and if their proposed solution will work. To find out they will need to experiment. Experiments will fail. Management needs to be comfortable with teams learning by failing. The failures will come regardless of process. By experimenting early, your team mitigates the costs sunk into a particular solution.

If you’re facing this challenge here’s what you can do:

1. Communicate with your manager regularly. Let her know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, what it will cost, how long it will take and what you expect to learn from your experiment. Explain how you will mitigate legal and brand risks. Invite her to participate in your testing sessions. Most important is to share your learnings as soon as you have them. By keeping your manager informed you reduce their anxiety. By regularly communicating progress you’re letting them know work is getting done.

2. Crunch the numbers. Show your manager the cost of fully executing the current, unproven plan. Then show the cost of validating those hypotheses. The drastically lower cost of early failure always helps build support for Lean UX.

Your company manages to outputs, not outcomes

Many companies build lists of features and then task teams with building those lists. When the features launch, the team is rewarded for completing their work.

No reward is given for the feature actually solving a business problem – only for deployment.

Lean thinking pushes us to seek the business outcome we seek to create with our feature sets and then question whether these features will get us there.

To overcome output-focused management in your org realign conversations with your stakeholders around what metric you’re trying to move with the current feature roadmap. Discuss how confident the company is that these features will actually achieve that goal. If confidence is low, ask your stakeholders to challenge your team with moving that metric. Let the team figure out which features move that metric and use the communication tactics mentioned above to keep managers at bay.

IMPORTANT: the metric you task your team with must be an outcome they can move as opposed to global corporate impacts (think reduction in shopping cart abandons as opposed to “revenue”).


Lean UX thrives on cross-functional collaboration. Silos destroy this. Enterprise level organizations often have entrenched silos that lock disciplines and business units within their own walls. Crossing these boundaries often brings cries of “that’s not my job” or the opposite, “isn’t that their job?” The truth is that it’s everyone’s job to build great products. Many of the skills your teams possess go untapped because they reach beyond their job title and ultimately their silo.

To get past this you’ll need a bit of stealth maneuvering. This is a situation that requires asking for forgiveness as opposed to permission. If you can find a few like-minded colleagues from other disciplines, grab them and put together a small skunkworks effort to tackle an annoying problem the business has. It doesn’t have to be big – just enough to show what a motivated, cross-functional team can get done in a short amount of time.

Showcase your success to your managers. Tell them how you were able to get all of this done so quickly. Prove the power of silo-busting by showing it’s accomplishments.

These are not small problems and the tactics here will only get you started overcoming them.

These are some of the things covered in the course Lean UX – Cross functional collaboration 20-21 of May in Stockholm with Jeff>


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