Lean UX: The foundation for continuous innovation

Design thinking

This is a guest post from Jouk Pleiter, CEO of fintech company Backbase.

Lean UX is as much a philosophy as it is a set of practices, all geared towards trimming the fat from the way legacy-based banks create customer experiences. In a nutshell, the reason why digital innovators are now singing the virtues of having a Lean UX design process is because it’s the first methodology that doesn’t just create successful customer experiences efficiently, it also adds real business value. Based on the Agile development philosophy, a Lean UX approach calls for an iterative and gradual design process. The success of which is not determined by the project’s leaders or designers, but by the users testing the product. On the way, it removes egos and the unnecessary approval steps that weigh down production times.

Lean UX is becoming an important element of product design for financial institutions who are looking to adopt a customer-centric model whereby the only people who get to be ‘right’ about what the customer wants, are the customers. Admittedly this can be a little daunting, but if you follow Lean UX design principles to the letter, the results will speak for themselves. It’s important for banks to realise that with Lean UX you are not giving up control of the ‘final’ product, because the final product as it’s been thought of in the past no longer exists.

Web 2.0 experiences have revolutionized the digital channel so thoroughly that today the only way to remain relevant to customers is through constant innovation; for banks which are new to such digitalisation this process needs to be as smooth and slick as possible. Just look at how quickly and consistently Facebook, Google and Amazon roll out game-changing feature sets. As soon as they do, customers now expect to see its relevant counterpart everywhere. The same dynamics exist in the financial services industry, however it’s the challenger banks coming to the forefront of technological innovation, whilst the established banks are failing to come to terms with the nuances of modern customer-centric user-design.

Retail banks adopting Lean UX will see their operational processes in front & back-offices become more efficient – resulting in more time spent on sales and/or customer service, thus enhancing customer experience, triggering a positive impact on customer loyalty and  increasing overall revenues and profits.

To take a step back, it’s easy to get confused by exactly what Lean UX entails. The first part of the term, as we’re using it, was coined by Eric Reis in 2008 when he started the Lean Startup movement based on Japanese lean manufacturing practices. ‘UX design’ is really just shorthand for ‘user experience design’. Together Lean and UX specifically refer to the process of creating a product that actual people will be interacting with; the Lean UX design departs radically from other design processes as it gets those actual people involved much, much, much sooner in the process. Drastically reducing the chance of spending too much time going down the wrong path and rolling out an expensive piece of digital window dressing that no one outside of the team that built it can figure out how to use.

The other major difference brings us back to the need for constant innovation in the Web 2.0 world. The Lean UX process is the best solution to answer that need with because at its core relies on ‘iteration’. This means repeating a process until you get the ideal response from your customer test base. Retail banks can focus their efforts on delivering outstanding customer value through following these Lean values and implementing a continuous improvement process that boosts product/service quality, service delivery and contributes to reducing costs, with savings being partially passed on to its customers. Hence, the process retail banks should be looking to adopt is simple: concept, prototype, validation, testing, learning from those results and going straight back to the concept. Repeat as needed.

Anyone who has been involved in user experience design for any length of time will recognize the process of iteration from the Design Thinking philosophy. Jeff Gothelf describes Design Thinking as taking “a solution-focused approach to problem-solving, working collaboratively to iterate an endless, shifting pat toward perfection.” Lean UX design does draw upon this as a foundation but prevents the process from taking place in a vacuum. It drags this iterative process into the light, where honest collaboration and testing ensure project viability from a business value perspective.

It’s worth noting at this point that real Lean UX design principles demand a certain amount of sacrifice, or at least a change in perspective. To go lean you have to put away expectations of receiving beautiful mock-ups at every step of the process. Truly lean UX designers will be able to test their ideas and prototypes using nothing more than a whiteboard and a few colored markers. It’s being able to step away from the idea of receiving stacks of documentation from every person involved that makes budgets just as lean as the design process. Even though you won’t have twenty-five, three inch thick binders to show for it, you will have a product that actually works. Not just for you, but for your customers too.

Perhaps the most important thing about adopting a Lean UX design approach in retail banking is that it doesn’t matter (so much) when designers get it wrong. All design, or even every idea ever thought, is based on some assumptions. It’s human nature to assume – it only becomes a problem when we assume that our assumptions are facts. By openly acknowledging that every concept is based upon assumptions and testing them immediately Lean UX eliminates the potential for costly failures and bruised egos – Banks adopting Lean UX will actually be saving time, reducing costs and creating value for their customers. If it does go wrong those banks who have been adopting  Lean UX design principles, will be able to quickly and efficiently start the process of innovation all over again.



This is a guest post from Jouk Pleiter, CEO of fintech company Backbase.

Photo Credit: Fink&FuchsPR via Compfight cc

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