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Before you act in Lean UX, learn to make mistakes

The basis of Lean UX is to make mistakes, which in turn is the foundation of the learning process. Accepting that you might commit them is not only the most common problem in working with a team, boss and customers, but also with yourself.

Making a mistake, we look at it judging ourselves – we were wrong, we are bad designers / team, etc. instead of thinking about what we have learned about people, our assumptions, the project.

Lack of tolerance for mistakes blocks innovation – we follow the usual paths that are safe, so that the customer or boss is not angry that we were wrong – after all we are professionals.

How many chances to become innovators, to have a competitive advantage, have we lost due to it?

The most common mistakes in making mistakes?

1. Apologizing.

You lay your head low, apologize that you were wrong, blame yourself for it and promise to do better. Why?

We noticed a problem with our users. You came up with an interesting solution, a breakthrough in relation to existing ones. You took a risk and made an experiment. It turned out that it was not it – not what people were looking for.

And so what?

It’s great. You learned that this solution does not make sense, but we also found out why. It turned out that the problem lies somewhere else than we first thought and that no one solves it right, and you are one step away from it. People are eager to help us because “it really hurts” them. So you have testers and ambassadors in one. Maybe you also have a breakthrough innovation that will be crucial for the entire business?

So what are you sorry for?

2. We do not draw conclusions.

It turned out that you were wrong, you feel bad (who doesn’t?). But time is running out and you have to deliver something (yoi forget that knowledge from an unsuccessful experiment is also of value, after all you must have a physical artifact of our work), the boss / client / team will be angry. There is no time for dwelling over that, “let’s go with the flow”.

Operating in this way, we often strip ourselves of the greatest value from what we have done so far – we do not learn, do not wonder what didn’t work out, why and what we learned thanks to it – we try to “cover up” our “shameful defeat” and deliver anything that is good, losing something that can be crucial for the development of the project. Is it worth it?

3. We lose our courage.

Accustomed to work in a hermetic process, which assumes that the stage of the project is preceded by extensive research and planning (so we should have a lot of knowledge), and our time to create is limited, after the first unsuccessful attempt you give up and take a more conservative, less experimental, approach.

And well, Tesla had a lot of ideas before one of them turned out to be “it”. Why do you want to be right at the first attempt?

4. Success has many fathers, failure is an orphan.

Working at Lean UX, we are all one team. There is no design-hero. There are no contractors and customer. From the stage of making assumptions, to the testing of hypotheses – we are in this together. We make decisions together, we win together, we fail and learn together.

5. Closing the project.

First contact with users in your experiments and you learn that your assumptions were wrong – maybe people don’t have this problem, the proposed value is not enough for people to pay for it, the solution doesn’t provide it in the right way. You are closing the project.

You aren’t trying find out what is another problem of the target group, what would give them the right value, how they would like to get it. You don’t pivot, you don’t work with your knowledge further. You’re just burying it.

And unfortunately, a lot of projects ends like this, if they were lucky enough to go through the process of verifying hypotheses but their owners didn’t find out after many months and spent budget that users do not have this problem at all). They don’t use the knowledge they gained during the experiments to build a valuable business, but since the first idea didn’t work out, they close the project, gained knowledge “dies”, and with it maybe some real innovations.

Making mistakes is a “skill” that is worth obtaining. Not only as a designer – how to make “mistakes”, what to do with them – but also as a customer or idea giver – if we think seriously about doing something breakthrough, if we want to work in the Lean UX framework, and thus build really valuable products close to users. Otherwise, all that’s left from our Lean UX may be working in sprints.

Do you want to create a project based on the Lean UX framework? Or maybe you are wondering if it can be implemented in your team?

Let me know here or at joanna@projectpeople.pl – we can talk about how we can help you 🙂


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Joanna Ostafin
Co-founder of Project: People, co-founder of the Krakow Design Initiative (KID), organizer of DesignWays Conf.

As a Lean UX Strategist, she deals with... disagreeing with her clients - she supports them in verifying ideas for new products, services or businesses. She helps them to move from "innovative idea" to "real product", validating the assumptions based on business and strategic competences, UX, UI, Service Design and Lean.

Sincerely in love with the Lean approach (Lean Startup & Lean UX & Lean UX & Lean UX Research). She believes in workshops and collective building of projects, solving problems and generating ideas.

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