Validating Risky Assumptions

Assumptions are beliefs or ideas that we take for granted without sufficient evidence. They can be conscious or unconscious and are usually based on personal biases, past experiences, or incomplete information. Assumptions have a tendency to masquerade as facts and can significantly impact user experience. When product teams make assumptions about their users, they risk creating a product that doesn’t meet their users’ needs. Unverified risky assumptions can lead to poor product decisions, missed opportunities, and wasted resources.

I watched the movie Under Siege 2 in 1996, a forgettable 90s action flick starring Steven Seagal. The only highlight of this movie was a quote repeatedly uttered by the villain: “Assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups.” A revised version of this quote applies to product teams: “The unvalidated risky assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups.”

Product teams can’t test or may not have the time in a fast product build cycle to test all their assumptions. This is why it’s important to capture, identify, prioritize, and test the riskiest assumptions. There are several techniques for identifying assumptions, such as assumption mapping and hypothesis development.

(1) Assumption mapping is a process of visually representing assumptions and assessing their level of risk.

(2) Hypothesis development involves creating testable statements that can be used to validate or disprove assumptions.

While most assumptions are harmless, some can sabotage product development if left unverified.

Product teams should always ask themselves these two questions:

  • What untested/unverified assumptions are we making?
  • Are they justified?

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