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Lean UX over waterfall development model

User experience design for the web and apps have traditionally been a deliverables-based practice. Over the time, though, this deliverables-heavy process has put UX designers in the deliverables business — measured and compensated for the depth and breadth of their deliverables instead of the quality and success of the experiences they design.

Combined with the waterfall development model, the designer ends up spending enormous time on deliverables which could be utilized for productive designing. Here is the waterfall method that teams traditionally follow —

The waterfall development model

Waterfall model surely has its own benefits but the design phase does suffer. Here’s typically the breaks down of the design phase —

  1. Wait for requirements and approvals on them
  2. Develop site maps & workflows
  3. Gain consensus and approval on the sitemap & worflows
  4. Develop wireframes for each flow of the app/website
  5. Present to stakeholders, team and gain consensus and approval on mail or skype
  6. Create visual designs for each wireframe
  7. Present to stakeholders and gain approval (after repeated cycles of review)
  8. Write The Spec, detailing every pixel and interaction
  9. Usability tests
  10. Hand off to development for review, approval and start of implementation

This phase usually takes 4–5 months or even longer, leaving lesser estimated hours in the project. And if at all you are working with a startup, you absolutely cannot afford so many months just on designing and validating. Having said that you cannot even skip this very important phase. So?? What’s best?


When budgets, time constraints and other factors dictate, what we cannot happily and comfortably go ahead with is — ideal product cycle. We have to think smarter. That’s when Lean UX comes into picture.

Lean UX process

Why is lean UX cost effective?

The process kickstarts with an idea which quickly translates into paper sketches. This helps the designer to get raw inputs from the team and move in the right direction making changes in the original idea. The initial investment in sketching is so minimal that there is no significant cost to completely rethinking the direction. Once a direction is agreed upon internally, a rough prototype helps to validate the idea with customers. That learning helps to refine the idea, and the cycle repeats.

Discussions over paper sketches

Not just at the start but throughout the project. The aim of lean UX is to show your work early and often to the team, collect their insights and build that into the next iteration of the design. Even at the time of delivering the designs to the developers, the trick is to stay lean: keep the deliverables light and editable.

How it helps you move faster with the stakeholders?

  1. The prototype is in front of the stakeholders/customers write from the start. So the vision of the project is aligned right from the start
  2. The flows are tested after every iteration (ideally once a week), therefore the probablity of finding roadblocks towards the end of the project is low..
  3. If you test regularly, you can cut the number of participants per week. This will also cut cost and time spent in arranging the participants.
  4. The prototype is now your documentation. So you can skip that part comfortably 😉

Waterfall model vs Lean UX : Which is suitable for you?

The waterfall model
Lean UX

I believe whether you are working with an organisation, or design agency or a freelance consulant, Lean UX is suitable for you.

Lean UX for organisations

The transition to lean UX is well within your reach because you design your own workflow. And designing the workflow, primarily aims at saving time and having an amazing output that your end users would love. With the process you design, you advocate for more collaboration, more conversation and earlier release of the app/website.

Image credits

Lean UX for design agencies

For design agencies, it a bit tougher because they are tilted towards the deliverables business. They get paid for their documentation and spend a lot of time creating it. But on the positive side, lean UX process helps in delivering higher-quality work, faster, to the client.

It helps in setting the expectation of the client. The rough work will give a direction to the project agreed upon by both. Each time you review a directional sketch with your client, they’ll notice the evolution and progress. Their feedback will work its way in and, they’ll gain that sense of ownership.

Image credits

Lean UX for freelancer/consultant

The challenge for the consultant/freelancer is the amount of time they can dedicate to each client. They need to handle multiple projects or clients simultaneously, making organisation of a project the top priority. Is lean UX helpful for them? Certainly yes!! Continuous feedback on a project is clearly very important, otherwise digging into multiple email threads to resume the work becomes really difficult..

How is CanvasFlip aligned to Lean UX?

CanvasFlip is built on the basics of Lean UX.

  • It is designed such that prototypes are easy to create. Ok ok don’t believe what I say, try it for yourself! 😉
Open in a new tab
  • The user testing on prototypes is built in such a way that you can test early and often.
Try it in a new tab — Heat map on paper sketches
  • The feedback mechanism is such that you can take forth the entire communication right on the designs so that you can swiftly switch back and forth between projects and still grasp remember every feedback
Feedback on the designs
  • Handing off designs need not consume enormous chunck of your time. Because with SPECS you can directly invite your developer to pull out any assests or specifications he wants regarding the project.
Automatically generated SPECS


Lean UX gets designers out of the deliverables business and back into the experience design business. This is where you’ll excel and do your best work. We built CanvasFlip with the same thoughts in mind. Give it a try! Well, you are not alone in this. Drop me a mail (monika@canvasflip.com) whenever you need assistance with the tool or the lean UX process we follow at our end!

Lean UX over waterfall development model was originally published in Prototyping: From UX to Front End on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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