Agile Lean UX: Achilles’ Heel or Trojan Horse for Competitive Advantage?

Posted by Patty Youngclaus

September 20, 2012

At TheLadders, we have been a pioneering, lean UX Agile shop for a few years. As we continue to optimize the job seeker’s online experience by ramping up our mobile efforts, my team and I recently completed a comprehensive review of our product performance. I seized this opportunity to re-read the insights from thought leaders of the Agile Lean UX community…and then it hit me: there is an Achilles’ heel to the Lean Agile UX methodology.

Before I go on, please don’t misunderstand my epiphany. I am not dropping the axe on the entire methodology nor start a holy war on the UX community. Rather, my goal is to share my experience and learnings with other CEOs, entrepreneurs, heads of engineering, design and product development, so that they can extract the best value from Agile.

Here is an abbreviated list of my recommended reading:

What becomes apparent is the absence of the following principles:

    • Goal-setting

    • Commitment

    • Leadership

Even in this presentation, unfortunately, there is only slight attention devoted to these principles.

You may argue that these presentations simply attempt to educate the community about the process and you may say, “Of course you need goal-setting, commitment and strong leadership. That is obvious, so there is no need to mention it.” However, I would counter-argue that if one really understands goal-setting, commitment and leadership, that it is imperative to include these principles in any presentation.

For example, I recently read a great conversation on Quora about what makes a good engineering culture. Lau hits the nail on the head when he discusses optimizing interaction speed:

“Team-wise, fast iteration speed means having a set of strong leaders to help coordinate and drive team efforts. Key stakeholders in a decision need to decide effectively and commit to their choices. To borrow a phrase from Bill Walsh, a leader who coached the 49ers to three Super Bowls, strong leaders need to ‘commit, explode, recover,’ which means committing to a plan of attack, executing it, and then reacting to the results. A team crippled with indecisiveness will just cause individual efforts to flounder.”

In one paragraph, he covered all three principles.

As Colin Powell said, “Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible.”

Without strong leadership, how did a team of 11 at Instagram take on the mighty Facebook and its 5,000 employees in the mobile photo war?

In my recent post on TheLadders Blog, Chief Executive or Ironman?, I explain how to build a successful start-up and convert it into a lasting enterprise.

My friend Dave Carvajal, CEO & founder of Dave Partners, a premier executive search and advisory firm, has hired the best in New York City, and is a three-time successful entrepreneur and a two-time Ironman. He also talks about these principles in a recent blog post:

Goal Setting, Discipline, Performance Metrics, and Achievement:

Peter Drucker said, “What gets measured gets managed.” We need goals in life, big and small, to move forward. Measuring and training in specific heart-rate zones is the fastest way to athletically increase your VO2 max and lactate threshold. Both in business and athletics, being data-driven in your goals and execution is the best way to measure your progress and increase performance. The most successful entrepreneurs and athletes are masterful at setting and achieving performance metrics.

Last month, I was at a gallery opening in New York City, the first for the featured artist. Twenty beautiful landscape oil paintings were displayed, most of which sold by the end of the evening. You can imagine my surprise when I heard the artist’s husband say something that made me think about the Agile UX process. He asked, “Can you believe that she created most of the 20 paintings during the two weeks leading up to the show?”

Deadlines create urgency, as well as provide a map. I designed my 30-week training program for Ironman knowing that the deadline was August 11, 2012. It was an Agile process, not a waterfall.

If you allow your scrum team to perform staggered, two-week sprints without a map or a deadline, where do you land? Without proper leadership how do you ensure that you won’t end up with an aggregation of half-baked features?

What applies to artists, entrepreneurs, and athletes also applies to engineering, Agile, and Lean UX.

Applying the above principles of the Agile Lean UX methodology will avoid process for the sake of a process, while maximizing ROI.

Alex Douzet is Co-Founder and COO of TheLadders. In this role, Alex is responsible for the company strategy, global business operations, and product development.

Topics: #TheLaddersLife, TheLadders Dev