Event notes: Study group “Lean UX Redux”

I went to Mixi’s office to attend “Lean UX Redux” [ja], organized by ShibuyaUX.

Inspired by Lean and Agile development theories, Lean UX is the practice of bringing the true nature of our work to light faster, with less emphasis on deliverables and greater focus on the actual experience being designed. Learn more.

ShibuyaUX is a study group consisting of UX people from the big domestic web service providers – Mixi, Rakuten, Gree, GMO etc. The group manages to cross the hurdle of being competitors by being a study group focusing on improving practitioner skills. They’re pretty active and have some kind of event every month or so, which is really great, since there’s no centralized hangout for digital agencies in Tokyo, online or offline.

After the after party
After the after party

In the first hour, four people presented their impressions and findings from Janice Fraser’s Lean UX workshop at ONLab a few months ago.

Presentation material here (all Japanese):

We split up into groups in the second hour and discussed how we could use Lean UX in our work, and then wrapped up with a quick presentation from each team. Long answer short, no one is quite sure!

How do you apply Lean UX in large organizations?

The main focus of our discussions turned out to be how everyone’s company is basically too big, too political or non-agile for Lean UX. And/or, our understanding of it is too shallow to be able to apply the approach in an effective way.

Is Lean UX possible within a waterfall dev culture? Okay, this wasn’t the way the question was asked, but it sums up the situation that many of the participants are in. Or maybe the question was really, what do you do when the UX team is struggling to attain influence within the organization?

“User centered design? We do CEO centered design!” It’s funny, but just for a second. Well, not even.

How to share the success stories of Lean UX with your boss, who has no UX experience This is related to the first topic and obviously not just a matter if Lean UX.

How to align existing user needs with long-term business strategy Someone asked, if management has ideas on business strategy that don’t align with spending a certain amount of resources on fixing the obviously-broken existing product, what’s a UX person to do?

We talked about how to show results and whatnot. I didn’t think my career management advice would be appreciated, so I bit my tongue. (Get on a team that’s working on a product that management gives a sh*t about :P)

How to apply Lean UX when there is already a backlog of development This one is quite interesting, since the question came from a small startup team that’s in the best position to try Lean UX, organization-wise. Not quite sure what the answer should be.

Lean UX Redux
Lean UX Redux

At the event, I got caught up in the whirlwind of organizational issues (because I certainly understand the bothersome constraints!) and then went home grumbling to Chris that it was the exact same conversation we had about agile development a few years ago.

Now that I’ve written up a lot of the discussion points, I think a majority of these concerns can be addressed fairly easily, by agreeing on KPIs with management. KPIs are the common language of the entire company – that’s the whole point! How you reach those KPIs is up to the UX team and then you sell, sell, sell internally.

Let’s put aside Lean UX for a moment, since whether there’s anything new here is up for debate… UX people should be focusing on KPIs more, period.

Update: Here’s a good reference! In Lean UX is not just for lean startups, Jeff Gothelf explains how large companies and agencies can benefit from the lean approach.

All in all

This was my first real foray into the “local” discussions about user experience and I’m very curious to see what else is out there.

I think the scene could really use more hands-on events! Talking is good and all, but I’d be down for rolling up my sleeves and tacking real/fake problems with people from different companies to swap tricks and share best practices. Something to think about for AQ

New Context Conference 2011 Fall
New Context Conference 2011 Fall

Speaking of AQ, our very own Chris Palmieri will be speaking at the next New Context Conference, which has been titled “Lean Startup Camp Tokyo”. It’s on November 3rd and he’s joining a panel with Joi Ito (MIT Media Lab), Brian Flanagan (HyperTiny), and CJ Kihlborn (Elab).

I’ll probably be conked out at home since I’m returning from Berlin that day, but please do say hi to the AQ team if you’re going to be there!

Event notes: Fundraising for cultural organizations

Some quick notes from Miho Ito‘s talk on fundraising for cultural organizations, the 7th study group organized by the Museum Career Development Network [ja]. We heard some fascinating war stories from Ms Ito’s time as a campaign manager at the LA Philharmonic. They operate at a level that’s just unthinkable for a scrappy team like the Gadago NPO. Learning about fundraising from the POV of an established profession was really interesting, and obviously, there are many takeaways for an organization that’s more “f*ck, we’re running out of money”.

Additionally, the landscape is constantly changing and one needs to keep up on things such as law revisions on the loosened requirements for becoming eligible for NPO tax deduction status, and how that’s affecting NPOs in reality. (Ms Ito is a board member for the Japan Fundraising Association.)

Fundraising talk event with Ito Miho
Fundraising talk event with Ito Miho
  • Fundraising is dialing the intensity dial of your organization’s fans (This sentence works better in Japanese because “fund” and “fan degree” are homonyms.)
  • Four steps to fundraising: plan, plan, plan, ASK! There’s even a phrase called “The Ask”. I got the feeling that this was the fundraising equivalent of the Elevator Pitch.
  • Always talk about how your activities are changing society, not just about the activities themselves. Because we do great work, Because we run so-and-so program are NOT the ways you want to answer the question, “Why should I donate to your organization?”.
  • Strategize with the donor management cycle Moves Management [pdf].
  • Read more about cultivating individual donors in the Fundraising handbook for cultural organizations [ja, pdf], a research project funded by Toyota
  • Never forget to thank people for contributing something, and from multiple staffers if appropriate. A weekly administrative batch process is fine for paperwork but sending out thank you’s need to be done within 24-48hrs of the action.
  • Categorize your potential donors according to financial capability, distance with the organization, and interest. Keep an eye on celebrities, corporations, executives that might be interested in your cause.
  • Develop tiered programs for your donors, so anyone can participate in a way that’s comfortable to bo their financial capability and interests.
  • Privileges in donor programs such as newsletters, parties, face time with directors etc. are ways to communicate future activities, find out more about donor interets and in turn, can be the first step in asking for the next donation.
  • The best timing to ask for donations is when you are at least 80% that they will say yes. Not before.

All in all, it’s familiar theories applied in a slightly different context.

You and I would recognize most of the philosphy as

“normal” business development, sales, and CRM

methodologies and techniques.

Sure, it’s an over simplification but since we’re not going to get a professional fundraiser anytime soon – as with most small to mid sized NPOs in Japan, I would guess – it’s a bit reassuring for that fact to be highlighted, and perhaps the push I need to be more business-like about these things.

Note: I’d say that staff recruitment, workplace culture and community management have characteristics that are more unique to non-profits, but those topics didn’t come up in the talk.

I asked about volunteering and fundraising, and how it’s a bit difficult to ask for money from someone who already contributes time, especially if they’re students. Her answer was that everyone should get into the habit of asking (or rather, get people into the habit of donating), period. Here’s why:

  • Volunteers are already on board with your mission and are most likely to make a financial contribution.
  • Your organization should be creating on-ramps for different levels of financial contribution anyway.
  • People won’t be students forever! Financial capability usually goes up as time passes, so best start asking now, than have people expect things for free.
  • Consider developing programs where volunteer power can be channeled into fundraising efforts.

One last thing. Most of the audience was Hosei University students – I don’t know what their majors were but it was disappointing to see many of them nodding off and even leaving early. On the way out, I overheard several remarks that the talk was “really difficult”. Was it? Not quite sure, but then I don’t remember anymore…