An interview with Jeff Gothelf

edvinicombe's avatar edvinicombe on Feb 29th, 2016

Jeff is the co-author to the popular books, Lean UX and sensingbook.com. His work in the industry has guided many to a unique & streamlined method of product delivery whilst continually adjusting your designs based on what you learn.

It’s been roughly 3 years since the launch of your book, Lean UX. How do you feel the practice of lean UX has evolved since then?

It’s gone global and for that I’m grateful and proud. I think the more we continue to evolve the way we design, especially in the face of continuous change in software and technology, the more successful we’ll be in creating well-designed products and services. It’s also grown to expand much more than UX design. It’s become a cross-functional idea that encompasses all aspects of digital product development. This is critical since a product experience is the sum total of all of its parts -- product, design & engineering.

A specific challenge that my team and I have faced in recent months is what I would consider ‘over collaboration’. Sometimes, I think we could sit there for days deliberating on how to approach a feature. By the end of it - i’m confused and left not knowing what our focus is. Have you experienced anything similar?

Yes. My friend Lane Halley likes to say that if you’re finding yourself unable to make a decision, you don’t have enough information to make that decision. At this point, you have to go get that additional info. This often takes the form of customer interviews, prototype or other research exercise. The key is to have a team leader, a decision-maker. Collaboration doesn’t imply democracy. Every team needs a leader who can see the churn, bring the meeting to an action and use the learnings from that action to get the next decision made.

Giving teams the permission to fail is a point that really screams out to me and is something I struggle with. How could one educate and promote this ideology to stakeholders and make it a reality?

Stop using the word fail. Start using the word learn. Everyone wants to learn. No one wants to fail. The fact that you have to fail to learn is besides the point :-)

That said, make your learning efforts as low risk as possible. If the investment in learning something is an hour or two, the risk of being wrong is low. Show that value to your colleagues and leaders and use that as leverage to drive greater support for bigger experiments.

Another struggle that I face that is inherent with businesses catching up with 2016 is the fear of change. When a company is stuck in its ways - it’s difficult to show them another path. How would you approach using these methodologies for smaller companies of 5-20 people?

There should be no fear of change in a company that small. Even with long-standing cultures, shifting the way 20 people work is a relatively small task compared to shifting an enterprise-sized company. Small businesses are particularly at risk of being disrupted either by other small, more nimble competitors or big companies moving into their space. A continuous evaluation and adjustment process ensures you’re always ready to react to the next market change.

What do startups need to do today to ensure they get started on the right foot when it comes to designing, testing & shipping outcomes fast?

Talk to your customers -- continuously. If you don’t understand your customer, their pain point and how your solution is perceived in their context, you’ll fail.

What reason would you attribute to most companies (if you could) failing to work together to solve outcomes?

Management incentives based on shipping features. This is very common. If a manager’s bonus, raise or promotion hinges on getting a feature shipped, that’s what they will optimize the team to do.

You mentioned on your website that you have a new book coming out this year. Could you tell us anymore?

One of the most prominent pieces of feedback Josh Seiden (co-author) and I got on Lean UX was that most individual contributors want to work this way but their companies and bosses weren’t willing or able to make it happen. We’ve written a book for those leaders called Sense and Respond (sensingbook.com) to help them understand how software has radically shifted the way we build businesses today and how this affects the way companies should be managed. It will be out on Harvard Business Press late 2016.