Making business in a modern world often feels like running through an always-changing maze. The requirements for the final product change as new factors appear and unknown information is discovered. Such a high level of uncertainty makes a traditional cascade model of project delivery ineffective. Somewhere in the 1980-s, project managers realized that a workflow framework created at the dawn of the industrial revolution doesn’t satisfy the fluctuations of modern society and started theorizing new approaches. A bunch of innovative methodologies was developed, including the Lean Product Delivery System (LPDS). It is close to such terms as Design Thinking and Agile and is often mixed with them. Read further to learn more about each term and how to apply the Lean approach to your own project.
Deriving from the theoretical studies of creativity performed by L. Bruce Archer, John Chris Jones, and Christopher Alexander, Design Thinking is a mindset focused on exploring reality, identifying needs, and rigorous scrutiny of possible solutions. One of the most accurate definitions was given by Donald Norman, the godfather of the Agile development process in UI design:
An important principle of design thinking is a looped cycle of divergence and convergence. Proposed first in 1996 by linguist Béla H. Bánáthy, the principle has been widely popularized by the British Design Council since 2005, when the Council introduced its Double Diamond model. A clever design consists of four phases:
The same model of the agile development design process is used by Pixetic and helped us to deliver many great products.
Practical implementation of design thinking requests an Agile attitude. The origins of the Agile movement are debated. As a label, the word Agile was first mentioned in 2001 when 17 software practitioners met together and wrote the Agile Manifesto. For the authors of Manifesto, the highest priority was to deliver valuable software early and continuously. To provide a working product frequently and with a short time scale, designers should master the art of maximizing the amount of work not done. To achieve that, team members should meet at regular intervals and reflect on how to be more productive and then modify the behavior. Although Agile was theorized mostly by the people involved in the software development, its values may be also applied to the design. In Pixetic, we practice the Agile UX design process as our main business routine.
There are two main strategies on how to implement the Agile attitude into the project management system: Scrum and Kanban. While Scrum is based on short-term sprints, Kanban methodology is more fluid and prolonged.
Developed in the 1990-s by Jeff Sutherland & Ken Schwaber, Scrum is a framework of teamwork that helps organizations adapt to the complex environment through self-reflection and constant improvement of production routine. The framework is built upon by the collective efforts of the people using it. Rather than provide employees with detailed strict instructions, the framework guides their relationships and interactions.
Scrum stands on three pillars: transparency, inspection, and adaptation.
The success of the Scrum teams depends on people sharing the five values: Courage, Openness, Commitment, Focus, and Respect. The Scrum team consists of a Product Owner, Scrum Master, and a number of dedicated workers. It is a simple, yet self-sufficient production unit with no hierarchies or sub-teams.
Within Scrum, the whole production cycle is divided into sprints, – short events of fixed length, usually a month or less. During the Sprint, a Scrum team makes its best to achieve a Scrum goal, – a little, yet significant sub-objective of a major Product goal. To inspect progress towards the Scrum goal experts recommend establishing daily 15-minute Scrum meetings. The success of a Sprint is examined at the Sprint Review. At the end of the cycle, the team meets and inspects the outcomes of their work. Possible adaptations are proposed. Based on this information, team members decide on what and how to do next.
Kanban methodology is an invention of Toyota corporation. It derives from the model used by supermarkets to stock their shelves. To optimize the flow between the store and the consumers, supermarkets stock just enough products to meet the demand. In Toyota, the same approach was applied to align inventories with the actual consumption of raw materials by the factories. To inform the warehouse managers and suppliers about the capacity levels of the working floor in real-time, team leads would pass a card, or “kanban”, between production units. When a box of materials consumed by the production line was depleted, a kanban was sent to the warehouse. The card defined in detail what material was needed, how much of it, and so on. The warehouse would have a new box of material waiting to be sent to the production floor. After delivering the material, the warehouse sends its own kanban to the supplier who also would have a box waiting for the shipping.
Within the Agile web design process, kanbans are used to adjust the amount of work in progress with the company’s capacity. This makes planning more flexible, fastens the output, and clears the focus.
The work of a kanban team is usually organized through the kanban board. The main function of a board is to visualize the workflow and identify the blockers. The simplest board includes a three-step workflow manifested through the To Do, In Progress, and Done columns. Every work item is represented as a card moving between those columns. The information recorded on the card includes a prompt description of the job, estimated complete time, a unit responsible for the job, and so on. Some visual information, such as drawings, sketches, screenshots, and others may be added as well.
The efficiency of the Kanban methodology depends on the total transparency of work, honesty about the status of the operations, and real-time communication of capacity.
The other term, which is similar to Agile philosophy and is often used as a synonym, is Lean. The main Lean and Agile design process difference is in the sphere of application: while Agile is practiced mainly by the software developers, Lean usually refers to the workflow of the design process.
Lean is a methodology of how to build the right product, reduce waste and rework. The quality of the product is improved through deliberate and constant reflection on the way how the manufacturing process works. Within the Lean Design concept, the design process is described as the conversion of inputs and outputs, the flow of resources through space and time, and the generation of new value for consumers. In its clear form, Lean Design was applied to Toyota’s automotive manufacturing operations during the second half of the 20th century. Process design supporting Lean production would include:
By being different from the traditional push management, process design that supports lean does not include:
Now, when you know what the Lean approach is, you might want to implement its values into your own project. Read further to find practical tips and advice!
To provide the Lead Project Delivery System with a structure, scholars divide the whole process into four stages: Project Definition, Lean Design, Lean Supply, and Lean Assembly.
The first stage involves the definition of purposes, criteria, and concepts. The last one includes the installation of a product and testing. The aim of a design is to provide a recipe on how to satisfy the set necessities. Since the purpose of a project might change, as well as testing may reveal vulnerabilities and new problems, we may say the Design of the project starts with the Definition stage and ends when a product meets the requested criteria. The long-lasting influence of a Design makes one the most important activities during Project Delivery. Experts from the Lean Construction Institute compare the good design with a conversation from which everyone goes with a better understanding of the reality. To facilitate such conversation, scholars developed a set of lean design process tools and techniques that help organize beneficial iteration.
The most important step in the design process is the study of the target audience. There are plenty of research tools derived from academic sociology and anthropology that help identify client’s key pain points. In Pixetic we conduct interviews, online research, diary studies, and fieldwork. Our key activities on audience research involve workshops, empathy maps, journey maps, ideation, prototyping, and testing. After rigorous scrutiny, we identify MVP features and prepare a UX research portfolio. Typical research takes around only 2-4 weeks so you should include it in your project schedule for sure. Contact us if you are interested in advanced research design.
Since the Lean Design process values customer collaboration more than contract negotiation, all of the stakeholders should be involved in the key decisions. However, with the big projects, frequent personal meetings are not possible, and some division of labor is required. The trick is to alternate between bigger alignment councils and individual work.
While traditional project management applies Critical Path Methodology (CPM) to plan the project activities, the Agile Design process sticks with Pull planning. A typical Pull scheduling process differs from CPM as it starts at the planned end of a project and moves backward in time. Different design teams pull work only when there is a demand, and they have the resources to handle the request. Such an attitude allows teams to eliminate multitasking and keep focused on the most important assignments. As a result, the lead time is reduced and stakeholders are more satisfied.
Contrary to the CPM schedule, which is usually worked by a single person, a Pull Schedule is a result of collaborative effort. To create a precise plan, the project manager should invite crew leads to a meeting and ask them to provide feedback about the required time and resources. The received information is recorded on the shared whiteboard so that everyone can reflect on how to improve the schedule.
Because of the high separation between the design and assembly stages within the traditional project management, each discipline tended to practice a throw-the-output-over-the-wall with little interest in the requests of other team members and final consumers. To overcome discord between different stakeholders, lean process design suggests splitting design outputs into small batches and communicating them more frequently.
While reducing the batches it is important to learn to deliver incomplete information without misleading colleagues.
Although detailed instructions for the fabrication of components are usually made by specialty contractors, some design specialists may produce guides of their own. As a rule, specialty contractors discard those guides and start anew. A simple waste reduction strategy is to exclude design specialists from the detailed instruction planning.
As was written before, the design process consists of such stages as the study of the needs, translation of those needs into the technical task, design and manufacturing of the product. Within a traditional approach, the success of the project is measured by the fulfillment of the technical tasks. Such an attitude often leaves the client unsatisfied as it assumes that the technical task describes the client’s necessities in a complete way. In reality, new information may appear as well as the initial conditions may change. By being a more client-oriented philosophy, the Lean design process encourages modification of a technical task at any stage of project delivery.
As we have seen, the terms Design Thinking, Agile, and Lean are pretty close in their meaning and overlap in many ways. Mentioned methodologies aim to be client-oriented, flexible, waste-reducing approaches for the making business.
The answer for the opposition of “Lean vs Agile design process”, “Design thinking methodology vs Lean process”, “Design thinking vs Agile design” is “Design thinking & Agile & Lean”. All three methodologies suit well for the design of new websites and applications, as well as for the improvement of the existing products. In Pixetic, we follow Lean process design principles with great enthusiasm. If you are eager to see your real needs fulfilled, contact us, we will help you to identify the true pain points of your business and design the solution.
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