In a nutshell
Between Agile and Lean methods, it is sometimes difficult to find your way. This article is a synthesis of the main project management methods that you will come across along the way.
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If this is your first visit here, welcome 👋 . Please note that this article is part of a more global one: Getting started in UX/UI Design, a comprehensive guide. Although it is not essential, I still recommend to start there first if you are new to UX/UI Design.
Table of contents
I have so far deliberately not talked (too much) about project management methods, especially in startups or in trendy companies, waterfall project management is not so much in fashion anymore, and for good reasons. Nowadays, we talk more about “Design Sprint” and “Agile” methods.
If we take the example in the article UX/UI Design process with an example, no matter which method(s) the project manager would have used, the tasks listed remain valid. The methodologies should be seen as more optimized ways, depending on the context, to articulate these tasks. But basically, they remain more or less the same from one methodology to another.
I will review the most popular methodologies, but without going into all the subtle details of project management. It is important as a UX/UI Designer to know them, because they will structure your days.
Note: before you start, you should know that like UX/UI Design, the methods evolve quickly and influence each other, but you should keep in mind that no matter what method is used, they all have in common the fact that they make validations regularly (internally and/or externally with users) in order to adapt to changes and to loop back on themselves in order to refine the project according to the feedback.
The project management method itself must be adaptive over time, i.e. the project manager can (and must) use the principle of continuous improvement on the management method itself. More than ever in this business, you have to be ready for change.
Overview of the main methods
Here are my descriptions, but keep in mind that they may change slightly from person to person.
Traditional management method where you go from point A to point B. You’ve probably seen those Gantt charts where each task follows another in a waterfall form from top to bottom, hence the name “waterfall” (in fact they are still used independently with other methods).
It is used when the vision is (almost) well defined, when the need is validated and when we know where we are going without much chance of making mistakes. Well adapted for complex but predictable projects, or the opposite, without big ambitions (building a nuclear power plant, a building or on the contrary, redoing the website of a small association with the same content).
Under this name hides the creative process of designers theorized in the 80s and 90s to be applied to other fields. Already in design thinking, we find this opposition to linear management in favor of a more flexible, more creative management, but still within a framework.
It is, among other things, the basis of the following methods, which are adaptations of it according to the fields. Indeed, we find in these methods elements of design thinking such as iterations or the focus on users.
This method was successfully developed in the Japanese Toyota factories in the 20th century. The principle of Lean is to transform and optimize any system that produces value, in Toyota’s case, the production of cars. Its fundamental principles are, among others, to be able to adapt to changes and to stay close to the users.
This methodology has made its way and is widely used in startups to test business ideas without too much risk. To do this, it proposes, among other things, the concept of the MVP (Minimum Viable Product), a word that you will hear often in your career.
This is simply the principles of Lean applied to UX. As long as a startup works in Lean and does UX/UI, it does Lean UX by extension.
Its principle is to iterate on minimum viable designs, measure their impact and so on, start again until an idea is validated and then move on to UI Design.
Method to deliver developed products (code) by adapting to changes, it is the mixture of Lean with the development world. It is a break with the waterfall method that was dominant until then and was defined by the agile manifesto in 2001 by 17 developers. It consists of 12 principles.
Its strengths are that it adapts to changes more quickly by producing value in shorter cycles. It is regularly questioned to ensure continuous improvement.
Agile is not really a method in itself, but rather a set of values that are put into practice through, among others, the Scrum and/or Kanban method. To summarize: the Agile Kanban method focuses on the continuous delivery of value and Agile Scrum, on cycles (called “sprint”) of defined time where value is produced at the end of each one.
In Agile, the PO stands for “product owner” and is responsible for the product vision.
As in most cases, the work of developers is based on a UI, we can then talk about Agile UX. This means that the designers are included in the sprints or the kanban. An optimal way of Agile UX, for example, is to have the developers work one or two sprints ahead of the designers, so that when the designers are working on a feature, the developers are working on others that have been done before.
Google’s method which is a variant of Lean UX. It consists of creating and testing a prototype in four or five days in order to validate a feature idea. With time, thanks to tools like Sketch, Adobe XD or Figma, it is increasingly easy to make prototypes close to the final product, without doing any code. It is thanks to these tools that the Design Sprint methodology appeared. So unlike Agile UX or Lean UX, we don’t do code or MVP.
And now all together
Based on the previous definitions, here is how I would combine the whole thing: design thinking is the canvas, the startup that starts is in Lean mode. When it has a product idea, it designs it in Lean UX mode and then once the idea is validated, it is done with a clean UI in Agile UX mode while the developers integrate in Agile mode what is done. Once the product is launched on the market, the teams can do Design Sprints when necessary to test new features.
In summary: Lean helps the startup to make the right product and Agile, to develop the product in the right way.
For another point of view, here is a graphic from P2V that also summarizes how the different methods fit together:
To keep the momentum going
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, it’s part of a bigger picture, to continue it's this way.
UI Designer with UX and web development skills