R IN ACTION: Data Analysis and Graphics with R, 2nd Edition – #bookreview

R in Action

Data Analysis and Graphics with R

Robert I. Kabacoff

Manning – paperback

Whether data analysis is your field, your current major or your next career-change ambition, you likely should get this book. Free and open source  R is one of the world’s most popular languages for data analysis and visualization. And Robert I. Kabacoff’s updated new edition is, in my opinion, one of the top books out there for getting a handle on R. (I have used and previously reviewed several R how-to books.)

R is relatively easy to install on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux machines. But it is generally considered difficult to learn. Much of that is because of its rich abundance of features and packages, as well as its ability to create many types of graphs. “The base installation,” Kabacoff writes, “provides hundreds of data-management, statistical, and graphical functions out of the box. But some of its most powerful features come from the thousands of extensions (packages) provided by contributing authors.”

Kabacoff concedes: “It can be hard for new users to get a handle on what R is and what it can do.” And: “Even the most experienced R user is surprised to learn about features they were unaware of.”

R in Action, Second Edition, contains more than 200 pages of new material. And it is nicely structured to meet the needs of R beginners, as well as those of us who have some experience and want to gain more.

The book (579 pages in print format) is divided into five major parts. The first part, “Getting Started,” takes the beginner from an installing and trying R to creating data sets, working with graphs, and managing data. Part 2, “Basic Methods,”focuses on graphical and statistical techniques for obtaining basic information about data.”

Part 3, “Intermediate Methods,” moves the reader well beyond “describing the relationship between two variables.” It introduces  regression, analysis of variance, power analysis, intermediate graphs, and resampling statistics and bootstrapping. Part 4 presents “Advanced Methods,” including generalized linear models, principal components and factor analysis, time series, cluster analysis, classification, and advanced methods for missing data.

Part 5, meanwhile, offers how-to information for “Expanding Your Skills.” The topics include: advanced graphics with ggplot2, advanced programming, creating a package, creating dynamic reports, and developing advanced graphics with the lattice program.

A key strength of R in Action, Second Edition is Kabacoff’s use of generally short code examples to illustrate many of the ways that data can be entered, manipulated, analyzed and displayed in graphical form.

The first thing I did, however, was start at the very back of the book, Appendix G, and upgrade my existing version of R to 3.2.1, “World-Famous Astronaut.” The upgrade instructions could have been a little bit clearer, but after hitting a couple of unmentioned prompts and changing a couple of wrong choices, the process turned out to be quick and smooth.

Then I started reading chapters and keying in some of the code examples. I had not used R much recently, so it was fun again to enter some commands and numbers and have nicely formatted graphs suddenly pop open on the screen.

Even better, it is nice to have a LOT of new things to learn, with a well-written, well-illustrated guidebook in hand.

Si Dunn

 

BIG DATA: A well-written look at principles & best practices of scalable real-time data systems – #bookreview

 

 

Big Data

Principles and best practices of scalable real-time data systems

Nathan Marz, with James Warren

Manning – paperback

Get this book, whether you are new to working with Big Data or now an old hand at dealing with Big Data’s seemingly never-ending (and steadily expanding) complexities.

You may not agree with all that the authors offer or contend in this well-written “theory” text. But Nathan Marz’s Lambda Architecture is well worth serious consideration, especially if you are now trying to come up with more reliable and more efficient approaches to processing and mining Big Data. The writers’ explanations of some of the power, problems, and possibilities of Big Data are among the clearest and best I have read.

“More than 30,000 gigabytes of data are generated every second, and the rate of data creation is only accelerating,” Marz and Warren point out.

Thus, previous “solutions” for working with Big Data are now getting overwhelmed, not only by the sheer volume of information pouring in but by greater system complexities and failures of overworked hardware that now plague many outmoded systems.

The authors have structured their book to show “how to approach building a solution to any Big Data problem. The principles you’ll learn hold true regardless of the tooling in the current landscape, and you can use these principles to rigorously choose what tools are appropriate for your application.” In other words, they write, you will “learn how to fish, not just how to use a particular fishing rod.”

Marz’s Lambda Architecture also is at the heart of Big Data, the book. It is, the two authors explain, “an architecture that takes advantage of clustered hardware along with new tools designed specifically to capture and analyze web-scale data. It describes a scalable, easy-to-understand approach to Big Data systems that can be built and run by a small team.”

The Lambda Architecture has three layers: the batch layer, the serving layer, and the speed layer.

Not surprisingly, the book likewise is divided into three parts, each focusing on one of the layers:

  • In Part 1, chapters 4 through 9 deal with various aspects of the batch layer, such as building a batch layer from end to end and implementing an example batch layer.
  • Part 2 has two chapters that zero in on the serving layer. “The serving layer consists of databases that index and serve the results of the batch layer,” the writers explain. “Part 2 is short because databases that don’t require random writes are extraordinarily simple.”
  • In Part 3, chapters 12 through 17 explore and explain the Lambda Architecture’s speed layer, which “compensates for the high latency of the batch layer to enable up-to-date results for queries.”

Marz and Warren contend that “[t]he benefits of data systems built using the Lambda Architecture go beyond just scaling. Because your system will be able to handle much larger amounts of data, you’ll be able to collect even more data and get more value out of it. Increasing the amount and types of data you store will lead to more opportunities to mine your data, produce analytics, and build new applications.”

This book requires no previous experience with large-scale data analysis, nor with NoSQL tools. However, it helps to be somewhat familiar with traditional databases. Nathan Marz is the creator of Apache Storm and originator of the Lambda Architecture. James Warren is an analytics architect with a background in machine learning and scientific computing.

If you think the Big Data world already is too much with us, just stick around a while. Soon, it may involve almost every aspect of our lives.

Si Dunn

GIT IN PRACTICE: A fine how-to guide, with 66 techniques for greater effectiveness in individual & team settings – #programming #bookreview

 

 

Git in Practice

Mike McQuaid

Manning Books – paperback

 

I have taken Git how-to classes and read several how-to books on the Git distributed version control system. But I don’t use Git every day. Therefore, I tend to forget how to do certain tasks when I once again start bumbling around with my various local and remote Git repositories.

Git in Practice is exactly the book I have been needing at my computer. Git in Practice gives clear how-to steps, plus descriptions of ways to be more efficient and effective with Git in individual and team settings. And the well-written book even provides interesting background on how Git came to be–and be the way that it is.

For Git newcomers (and for those like me who tend to get rusty fairly quickly), the book’s appendices include how install Git, how to create a GitHub account and repository and how to benefit from the author’s heavily commented Git configuration files. There also is a handy index of Git methods for those times when you think you remember a particular command-line entry but aren’t sure exactly what is supposed to happen and what options, if any, may appear.

It matters not if you are new to Git, or someone who uses Git sporadically, or someone who uses Git daily as part of a software development or software test team. Git in Practice is a fine and useful book to keep within reach.

 

– Si Dunn

Mastering Gamification – A 30-day strategy to enhance customer engagement – #business #bookreview

 

Mastering Gamification

Customer Engagement in 30 Days

Scot Harris and Kevin O’Gorman

(Impackt Publishing – Kindle, paperback)

 Gamification is now a popular buzz word in many parts of the business world. This book wisely does not try to cover every angle, but stays focused on one application: “Marketing and sales people are using gamification to improve customer loyalty and engagement, knowing that it will lead to increased profitability,” the authors write.

They emphasize that “gamifying does not mean turning your business or website into a game. As Gamification.org defines it, gamifying is:

‘The presence or addition of game-like characteristics in anything
that has not been traditionally considered a game.’

 “Take particular note of the word ‘characteristics’ in this phrase,” the authors point out . “The purpose of gamifying is not to turn something into a game, but to apply understanding and knowledge about the basic human desires we all have that make us like games to a non-gaming environment, and hopefully to improve our businesses.”

 You may not finish all of the exercises, nor follow all of the suggestions in this well-written book. Yet the well-structured, 30-day plan offered by Harris and O’Gorman still can help you think harder about your business, how customers see it and how they engage–or don’t engage–with the products or services you offer.

 Even if you operate a small enterprise where you are the entire staff, this book can offer some good ideas and useful tips that can help you make more sales and keep customers coming back.

 What the authors aim to do is help you create and “launch a long-range, ongoing, continuous process of attracting the attention of a target audience, drawing them into a social space built around you and your products or services, encouraging them to evangelize about your products or services, and instilling in them an unshakable sense of loyalty.”

 In other words, you learn how to use some gamification techniques to get customers’ attention, keep their attention, and keep them coming back for more of whatever you are selling–three major keys to long-term survival and growth in business.

Si Dunn

Mule in Action, 2nd Edition – Want to be an integration developer? Here’s a good start – #bookreview

 

Mule in Action, Second Edition

David Dossot, John D’Emic, Victor Romero

(Manning – paperback)

 

An enterprise service bus (ESB) can help you link together many different types of platforms and applications–old and new–and keep them communicating and passing data between each other.

“Mule,” this book’s authors note, “is a lightweight, event-driven enterprise service bus and an integration platform and broker.  As such, it resembles more a rich and diverse toolbox than a shrink-wrapped application.”

Mule in Action, Second Edition, is a comprehensive and generally well-written overview of Mule 3 and how to put its open-source building blocks together to create integration solutions and develop them with Mule. The book provides very good focus on sending, receiving, routing, and transforming data, key aspects of an ESB.

More attention, however, could have been paid to clarity and detail in Chapter 1, the all-important chapter that helps Mule newcomers get started and enthused.

This second edition is a recent update of the 2009 first edition. Unfortunately, the Mule screens have changed a bit since the book’s screen shots were created for the new edition. Therefore, some of the how-to instructions and screen images do not match what the user now sees. This gets particularly confusing while trying to learn how to configure a JMS outbound endpoint for the first time, using Mule Studio’s graphical editor. The instructions seem insufficient, and the mismatch of screens can leave a beginner unsure how to proceed.

The same goes for configuring the message setting in the Logger element. The text instructs: “You’ll set the message attribute to print a String followed by the payload of the message, using the Mule Expression Language.” But no example is given. Fortunately, a reviewer on Amazon has posted a correct procedure. In his view, the message attribute should be: We received a message: #[message.payload]  –without any quote marks around it. (It works.)

Of course, this book is not really aimed at beginners–it’s for developers, architects, and managers (even though there will be Mule “beginners” in those ranks). Fortunately, it soon moves away from relying solely on Mule Studio’s graphical editor. The book’s examples, as the authors note, “mostly focus on the XML configurations of flows.” Thus, there are many XML code examples to work with, plus occasional screen shots of the flows as they appear in Mule Studio. And you can use other IDEs to work with the XML, if you prefer.

Indeed, the authors note, “no functionality in the CE version of Mule is dependent on Mule Studio.”

Overall, this is a very good book, and it definitely covers a lot of ground, from “discovering” Mule to becoming a Mule developer of integration applications, and using certain tools (such as business process management systems) to augment the applications you develop. I just wish a little more how-to clarity had been delivered in Chapter 1.

Si Dunn

Software Requirements, Third Edition – A major, long-needed update of a classic book – #software #business #bookreview

Software Requirements, Third Edition

Karl Wiegers and Joy Beatty
(Microsoft Press – paperback, Kindle)

A lot changes in 10 years, particularly in the world of software development. The previous edition of this book appeared in 2003, and I never knew about it while I struggled over software requirements documents and user manuals as a technical writer for several big and small companies.

In those days, pulling information out of software engineers was on par with pulling their wisdom teeth using needle-nosed pliers. And management seldom was helpful. Sometimes, I would be sitting at my desk, working on some project, and a high-level delegation suddenly would arrive.

“We are releasing a new software update tomorrow,” the delegation leader would announce. “And we need some documentation written. Here is the latest requirements document. We need for you to expand it into a release document. Oh, and some kind of user manual.”

Fortunately and unfortunately, the software release almost always slipped from tomorrow to the next week and then to the next month as bugs emerged during final testing. While the customer grumbled or screamed, I had time to produce new documents from the software requirements, plus interviews with any engineer I could grab and threaten to name in the materials that I would send out to customers.

It was all seat-of-the-pants stuff. Now, after retiring several years ago, I can only wish I had had this well-written “best practices” guide to creating, managing, and making best use of software requirements documents.

Software Requirements, Third Edition covers a lot of ground in its 637 (print-edition) pages. The 32 chapters are organized into five major parts:

  • Part I – Software Requirements: What, Why, and Who
  • Part II – Requirements Development
  • Part III – Requirements for Specific Project Classes
  • Part IV – Requirements Management
  • Part V – Implementing Requirements Engineering

The book’s two authors, each an expert in software requirements development, emphasize that a software requirements document can be a shining beacon of guidance and clarity or a confusing array of ill-defined features and functions–or it can be something that hovers perilously between good and bad.

The writers emphasize: “Many problems in the software world arise from shortcomings in the ways that people learn about, document, agree upon and modify the product’s requirements….[C]ommon problem areas are information gathering, implied functionality, miscommunicated assumptions, poorly specified requirements, and a casual change process. Various studies suggest that errors introduced during requirements activities account for 40 to 50 percent of all defects found in a software product….Inadequate user input and shortcomings in specifying and managing customer requirements are major contributors to unsuccessful projects. Despite this evidence,” they warn, “many organizations still practice ineffective requirements methods.”

Indeed, they add: “Nowhere more than in the requirements do the interests of all the stakeholders in a project intersect….These stakeholders include customers, users, business analysts, developers, and many others. Handled well, this intersection can lead to delighted customers and fulfilled developers. Handled poorly, it is the source of misunderstanding and friction that undermine the product’s quality and business value.”

The intended primary readership for the book includes “business analysts and requirements engineers, along with software architects, developers, project managers, and other stakeholders.”

In my view, Software Requirements, Third Edition should be read by an even bigger audience. This includes anyone who works in software development, anyone who manages software developers, anyone who sells software development services, plus other key personnel in companies that create, sell, or buy specialized or customized software products or services. The buyer must understand the software requirements process just as keenly as the seller. Otherwise, the software development company may try to hide behind certain jargon or definitions or introduce new processes or changes previously undefined as a delaying tactic, particularly if it has fallen behind schedule or otherwise is failing to deliver what it has promised.

A well-structured, well-worded, well-managed requirements document can help save time, money and, most importantly, the reputations of the companies and people on all sides of a software project. This important, newly updated book shows exactly how such documents can be created, managed, and maintained.

Si Dunn

Data Science for Business – A serious guide for those who need to know – #bigdata #bookreview

Data Science for Business

What You Need to Know about Data Mining and Data-Analytic Thinking
Foster Provost and Tom Fawcett
(O’Reilly – paperback, Kindle)

This is not an introductory text for casual readers curious about the hoopla over data science and Big Data.

And you definitely won’t find code here for simple screen scrapers written in Python 2.7 or programs that access the Twitter API to scoop up messages containing certain hashtags.

Data Science for Business is based on an MBA course Foster Provost teaches at New York University, and it is aimed at three specific, serious audiences:

  • “Aspiring data scientists”
  • “Developers who will be implementing data science solutions…”
  • “Business people who will be working with data scientists, managing data science-oriented projects, or investing in data science ventures….”

Provost’s and Fawcett’s book  “concentrates on the fundamentals of data science and data mining,” the two authors state. But it specifically avoids “an algorithm-centered approach” and instead focuses on “a relatively small set of fundamental concepts or principles that underlie techniques for extracting useful knowledge from data. These concepts serve as the foundation for many well-known algorithms of data mining,” the authors note.

“Moreover, these concepts underlie the analysis of data-centered business problems, the creation and evaluation of data science solutions, and the evaluation of general data science strategies and proposals.”

The book is well-written and adequately illustrated with charts, diagrams, mathematical equations and mathematical examples. And the text, while technical and dense in some places, is organized into short sections. Most of the chapters end with insightful summaries that help the lessons stick.

Both authors are experienced veterans in the use of data science in business.  Their new book includes two helpful appendices. One shows how to “assess potential data mining projects” and “uncover potential flaws in proposals.” The second appendix presents a sample proposal and discusses its flaws.

“If you are a business stakeholder rather than a data scientist,” the authors caution, “don’t let so-called data scientists bamboozle you with jargon: the concepts of this book plus knowledge of your own business and data systems should allow you to understand 80% or more of the data science at a reasonable enough level to be productive for your business.”

They also challenge data scientists to “think deeply about why your work is relevant to helping the business and be able to present it as such.”

Si Dunn

The Practice of Network Security Monitoring – You’re compromised, so deal with it. #security #bookreview

The Practice of Network Security Monitoring

Understanding Incident Detection and Response
Richard Bejtlich
(No Starch Press – paperback, Kindle)

Security expert Richard Bejtlich’s focus in his new book is not on “the planning and defense phases of the security cycle.” Instead, he emphasizes how to handle “systems that are already compromised or that are on the verge of being compromised.”

His well-organized, well-written, 341-page book aims to help you “start detecting and responding to digital intrusions using network-centric operations, tools, and techniques.”

Bejtlich has long emphasized a “detection-centered philosophy” built around a straightforward central tenet: “Prevention eventually fails.” No matter how many digital walls and moats you build around your network, someone will find a way to tunnel in, parachute in, or sneak in via an unsuspecting employee’s $9.95 thumb drive.

“It’s becoming smarter,” he writes, “to operate as though your enterprise is always compromised. Incident response is no longer an infrequent, ad-hoc affair. Rather, incident response should be a continuous business process with defined metrics and objectives.”

You may recognize some of Bejtlich’s previous books on network security monitoring (NSM): The Tao of Network Security Monitoring; Extrusion Detection; and Real Digital Forensics.

The Practice of Network Security Monitoring is tailored toward two key audiences: (1) security professionals who have little or no experience with NSM; and (2) “more senior incident handlers, architects, and engineers who need to teach NSM to managers, junior analysts, or others who may be technically less adept.”

Readers, he add, should understand “the basic use of the Linux and Windows operating systems, TCP/IP networking, and the essentials of network attack and defense.”

The examples in Bejtlich’s book rely on open source and vendor-neutral tools, primarily from Doug Burks’ Security Onion (SO) distribution.

The 13-chapter book is organized into four parts:

  • Part I: Getting Started – Introduces NSM and sensor placement issues.
  • Part II: Security Onion Deployment – Shows how to install and configure SO.
  • Part III: Tools – Examines the “key software shipped with SO and how to use these applications.”
  • Part IV: NSM in Action – Looks at “how to use NSM processes and data to detect and respond to intrusions.”

Following the technical chapters, Bejtlich offers some concluding thoughts on network security management, cloud computing, and establishing an effective workflow for NSM. “NSM isn’t just about tools,” he writes. “NSM is an operation, and that concept implies workflow, metrics, and collaboration. A workflow establishes  a series of steps that an analyst follows to perform the detection and response mission. Metrics, like the classification and count of incidents and time elapsed from incident detection to containment, measure the effectiveness of the workflow. Collaboration enables analysts to work smarter and faster.”

He also observes: “It is possible to defeat adversaries if we stop them before they accomplish their mission. As it has been since the early 1990s, NSM will continue to be a powerful, cost-effective way to counter intruders.”

Si Dunn

The Healthy Programmer – Better coding through better living – #programming #bookreview

The Healthy Programmer

Get Fit, Feel Better, and Keep Coding

Joe Kutner

(Pragmatic Bookshelf – paperback)

Yes, you know it is unhealthy to spend all day and much of the night hunched at keyboard, staring at a computer screen, gripping a mouse and nervously clawing at bags of vending-machine snacks because you haven’t had time to eat proper meals.

Yet that is exactly how many of us earn a living: spending long hours writing code, fixing code, or writing about the processes of writing and fixing code.

The work of a programmer can be devilishly complex and tiring. Often, it can be highly stressful, too. And, it can, over the long run, damage your health or even help shorten your life, if you aren’t careful.

Joe Kutner’s The Healthy Programmer takes a pragmatic and low-key approach to showing you how you can start improving the conditions of your body and brain without disrupting your job. His tips, tricks, and “best practices” are backed up by advice and commentary from doctors, therapists, nutritionists, scientists, and fitness experts.

“Having a system or a process is crucial to getting things done,” Kutner says. “In software, we often use an agile method to guide our development efforts. Agile processes are characterized by an iterative and incremental approach to development, which allows us to adapt to changing requirements. The method you use to stay healthy shouldn’t be any different.”

In his book, he shows “how to define a system of time-boxed iterations that will improve your health. We’ll start with two-week intervals, but like with any agile method, you’ll be allowed to change that as needed. At the end of each iteration you’ll do a retrospective to assess your progress.”

Crucially, Kutner’s approach is to start small, by changing one habit, and start gently, by doing some walking. “You won’t be bombarded with exercises and activities right away,” he emphasizes. “Instead, we’ll spend the first few chapters introducing some very simple, but essential, components of a healthy lifestyle. Don’t think that they are too simple, though. These are the activities that will have the biggest effect on your life.”

Kutner’s well-researched, well-written book takes a whole-body approach, with a keen understanding how programmers work.  He has been one for more than a decade and has spent much of that time researching the physical hazards of sedentary coding.

Chair exercises, standing desks, wrist braces, eye-care tips, and dietary recommendations are some of the areas covered. A “Pomodoro break,” for example, can help people involved in many different types of creative work, including programming. The basic approach involves working on a single task for a specific amount of time, such as 60 minutes, with short periods of exercise interspersed.

You might set a timer for 25 minutes, then focus on debugging some code. When the timer goes off, you reset it for five minutes and take a short walk. Then spend another 25 minutes doing a code review. When the timer goes off again, get up from your desk and do some exercises for five minutes. Then start a new task (or continue a previous problem) and repeat the cycle.

You may already have a daily exercise routine.  But Kutner warns that it “can interfere with your job [as a coder] if you don’t coordinate the two activities. If you do coordinate them, you may actually improve your ability to write code. That’s because immediately after exercise, blood shifts rapidly back to the brain, which makes it the perfect time to focus on tasks that require complex analysis and creativity.”

The Healthy Programmer has many good tips for avoiding or minimizing back pain, wrist pain, headaches and other irritants, as well good techniques for “upgrading your hardware,” meaning your body. Numerous easy-to-perform exercises are described and illustrated, including some you can do while seated or standing at your workstation. “[Y]our lifestyle can enhance your ability to do your job well,” Kutner emphasizes. “That’s why staying healthy is the best way to ensure you keep doing this job you love for years to come.”

Si Dunn

Lean Analytics and Lean UX – Two new guides to better business and user experiences – #bookreview

Okay, how are we leaning today? Leaning in? Leaning back? Leaning to the left or right? Leaning over? Or just leaning toward chucking all “hot new” postures that supposedly help us pose ourselves for career success?

Here’s some good news. None of the above leanings are topics in two new books from O’Reilly’s popular “Lean” series, edited by Eric Ries.

Lean Analytics deals with using data to help you determine if there is a profitable need for the product or service you hope to offer with a startup business. Lean UX, meanwhile, deals with the process of designing a better user experience (UX) for a company’s apps, website or other products.  Here are short reviews of each book:

Lean Analytics
Use Data to Build a Better Startup Faster
Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz
(O’Reilly – hardback, Kindle)

“Entrepreneurs,” the authors state, “are particularly good at lying to themselves. Lying may even be a prerequisite for succeeding as an entrepreneur–after all, you need to convince others that something is true in the absence of good, hard evidence. You need believers to take a leap of faith with you. As an entrepreneur, you need to live in a semi-delusional state just to survive the inevitable rollercoaster ride of running your startup.”

But…you also need cold, hard data. And what you learn from that data may not mesh well with the lie you are living as you try to start a new business from scratch. Yet, it may save you from failing and wasting a lot of money.

“Your delusions,” the authors argue, “no matter how convincing, will wither under the harsh light of data. Analytics is the necessary counterweight to lying, the yin to the yang of hyperbole. Moreover, data-driven learning is the cornerstone of success in startups. It’s how you learn what’s working and iterate toward the right product and market before the money runs out.”

Lean Analytics builds on the Lean Startup process developed by Eric Ries. In today’s digital world, the authors explain, “[w]e’re in the midst of a fundamental shift in how companies are built. It’s vanishingly cheap to create the first version of something. Clouds are free. Social media is free. Competitive research is free. Even billing and transactions are free.”

Taken together, these facilities mean “you can build something, measure its effect, and learn from it to build something better next time. You can iterate quickly, deciding early on if you should double down on your idea or fold and move on to the next one.”

Their 409-page book is not quick reading. But it deserves attention and study, whether you want to start a business, already have started a business, or hope to revamp and improve a business that has been in operation for some time. Lean Analytics presents many examples and case studies that illustrate how you can gather and analyze existing data, then test products or services to determine if they are something that customers actually need, want and will use.

With new data from the tests and the ability to continue testing, you can modify your product or service and focus more resources, energy, and time on improving and refining what will work best for your customers–and your bottom line.

***

Lean UX
Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience
Jeff Gothelf with Josh Seiden
(O’Reilly – hardback, Kindle)

“Lean UX is a collaborative process,” the two authors of this book emphasize. “It brings designers and non-designers together in co-creation. It yields ideas that are bigger than those of the individual contributors. But it’s not design-by-committee. Instead, Lean UX increases a team’s ownership over the work by providing an opportunity for all opinions to be heard much earlier in the process.”

For example, forget the notion of a web designer hiding in an office for a week or so and then emerging with what he or she insists will be a “masterpiece” as the company’s new home page.

Particularly in software development, a key aspect of Lean and Agile development theories is the notion of creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). “Lean UX makes heavy use of the notion of MVP,” the two authors explain. “MVPs help test our assumptions–will this tactic achieve the desired outcome?–while minimizing the work we put into unproven ideas. The sooner we can find which features are worth investing in, the sooner we can focus our limited resources on the best solutions to our business problems. This concept is an important part of how Lean UX minimizes waste.”

The web designer’s “masterpiece” might work okay, but it also might offer costly confusions for customers and others visiting the website. Instead, Lean UX emphasizes collaboration, teamwork, testing prototypes, analyzing the results, gathering feedback from outsiders, revamping the project, testing it again–and continuing the process.

According to the writers, the most powerful tool in Lean UX is one that is basic to human beings: conversation. Indeed, conversation should be “the primary means of communication among team members.” Some of the other tools for collaboration also are basic: pencils, pens, notepads, whiteboards, blackboards, and simple paper templates that can spur discussions, opinions, and basic designs for the Minimum Viable Product and its successors, before moving the work to computers.

Lean UX is just 130 pages long. But it is rich with how-to examples, process descriptions, short case studies, clear steps, useful illustrations, and good examples that you can adapt and employ to create cheaper, faster, and better user experiences.


Si Dunn