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A Practical Guide to Assumption Mapping [with Examples]
User Research

Published on February 9, 2024

A Practical Guide to Assumption Mapping [with Examples]

Behind every great decision, there are many different scenarios that leaders, managers, and team members collectively analyze. If it weren’t for these scenarios, most decisions would lead to terrible failures.

These scenarios are called assumptions, where you identify, document, and verify implicit beliefs. But how do we discuss these beliefs? Do we randomly throw them in a board meeting? As fun as that would be, we use a technique called assumption mapping.

This technique helps in studying the assumptions underlying any project, decision, or initiative. Let’s dive more into the details to understand what assumption mapping is, its types, importance, and the right ways to create an assumption map.

What is Assumption Mapping?

Assumption mapping is a technique that focuses on underlying all possible assumptions around plans, strategies, and decisions. Knowing these assumptions in advance helps in analyzing various areas that you might take for granted. The success of your plans highly depends on the assumptions you make as your research runs around them.

Such exercises help when you are planning to launch a new product or service. For example, say you want to launch a new smart home device.

Here are some assumptions you make:

  • Users prefer voice control over traditional remote control
  • The targeted production cost is feasible
  • The device can seamlessly integrate with popular smart home ecosystems.

Next, you document these assumptions and study them thoroughly to understand their validity. Let’s take the first assumption. Your research shows that users do prefer voice control as there’s a rising trend in voice-activated devices.

To further validate it, you conduct surveys and gather focus groups to understand voice preferences.

If the assumption is false based on the surveys, you need to think about additional features to cater to diverse preferences. Then, in the last step, you mitigate the risks by introducing more features.

All this information is communicated with relevant stakeholders to ensure transparency and honesty about all possible risks involved.

What is assumption mapping?

Source.

Assumption Types

Assumptions can be categorized into different types based on their nature and impact on projects.

Here are some common types of assumptions:

Viability Assumptions

You have a great idea in mind, but if it’s not financially and operationally viable, it’s likely to fail. That’s what viability assumptions focus on to ensure the ideas can be realistically accomplished and maintained over the long term. It considers aspects such as economic feasibility, resource availability, and overall practicality of the initiative.

Example: a startup that is developing a new subscription-based online streaming service for educational content. The startups assumed that there was a sufficiently large market willing to pay a monthly fee for the educational content. This makes the streaming service financially viable.

The assumption may be based on market research indicating a growing interest in online education. To further validate the assumption, the startup can conduct market surveys, analyze competitor success, and assess the overall landscape of online education services.

Feasibility Assumptions

Feasibility assumptions are beliefs that focus on evaluating whether a concept or idea can be turned into a practical reality. It takes into account factors such as technological, logistical, and operational feasibility.

Example: a company planning to implement a remote work policy where employees can work from home permanently. The company assumes that its employees have access to high-speed Internet and the necessary technological infrastructure to support remote work.

In conducting surveys, they might find that most employees do not have the necessary resources to work from home permanently. In this situation, they can either provide them with the resources or reconsider the scope of the remote work initiative.

Adaptability Assumptions

Adaptability assumptions thrive on the belief that conditions may not remain constant and being adaptable is crucial for success. It involves anticipating and preparing for changes while having the flexibility to adjust strategies accordingly. In simple words, being prepared for the worst.

Example: a retail business launching a new e-commerce platform. The retail business assumes that its customer service team can quickly adapt to handle an increase in online customer inquiries and support requests as the platform gains popularity.

They can validate the same by analyzing the current customer support processes. Based on that, they can see their capabilities and arrange training programs if needed.

Usability Assumptions

Usability assumptions focus on the ease with which users can interact with and navigate a product, service, or system. These assumptions focus on the user experience, ensuring the design and functionality are intuitive, user-friendly, and meet the needs of the intended audience.

Example: let’s say a software development company is creating a new mobile baking application. They assume that users, including those who may not be tech-savvy, will easily understand how to navigate through the app, conduct transactions, and check account information.

To see if it’s true, the company might conduct usability testing, gather feedback from focus groups, or analyze the app’s user interface based on set usability principles.

 

💡Pro Tip

Use an online user survey tool to understand what your customers want and make decisions based on first-hand information. 

What is assumption mapping?

Source

Importance of Assumption Mapping

Assumption mapping eases the decision-making process, helps in risk management, and improves the chances of success. Let’s look at more details on how assumption mapping helps.

Clarity in decision-making

Assumption mapping provides a clear representation of the key assumptions associated with a hypothesis or project. As the assumptions are connected with the main hypothesis, you get an enhanced understanding of the importance of each assumption. Such clarity is crucial to ensure decisions are contextual and strategic with minimal risk and uncertainty.

Let’s say you have an assumption that your audience prefers video content. Your marketing strategy would then revolve around creating more video content. If there were no such assumptions, you might invest in other areas and fail to achieve the reach you desire.

Risk mitigation

When you systemally document and analyze assumptions, you identify potential risks early on. Such awareness helps devise contingency plans and risk mitigation strategies to minimize the impact of unforeseen challenges.

This is especially important for tech companies as the technical aspects might not always go as planned. In such cases, you need risk mitigation strategies to minimize the overall impact.

Resource allocation

Understanding and mapping assumptions are crucial for effective resource allocation. It helps teams allocate resources more accurately while considering potential risks and uncertainties. Let’s say there is an assumption that there are a sufficient number of skilled software developers for a project.

Assumption mapping helps validate that, and if the assumption proves incorrect, the project manager can revisit the resource allocation plan. This may involve hiring more developers, providing training, and adjusting project deadlines.

Transparent communication

The success of a project often depends on strong communication and collaboration between team members and stakeholders. It helps team members voice their concerns or alternative perspectives and create a more collaborative working environment.

For instance, say you are running a marketing campaign with an assumption that the allocated budget for the campaign will remain unchanged throughout the decision.

If there are discussions about potential changes to the marketing budget due to unforeseen circumstances, assumption mapping allows the team to communicate openly about the changes. It ensures that stakeholders are informed about any proposed adjustments and the reasons behind them.

Creating an Assumption Map

assumption mapping

Let’s now look at the systematic process of creating an assumption map to enhance decision-making.

1. Create Your Hypothesis

Hypotheses are statements that express your assumptions, predictions, or expectations about certain aspects of your project, product, or initiative. These hypotheses are the foundation of your assumption map. To create your hypothesis, identify critical components of your project or initiative.

Let’s say we are launching a new mobile app where the key area is user preferences regarding social integration features in the mobile app. Then, we create an assumption that users prefer mobile apps that allow seamless integration with popular social media platforms to share their app activities.

Now, for this assumption, we will write it as a clear and concise statement. The statement should be such that we can assess its validity through evidence or observations.

“The inclusion of social media integration features in the mobile app will positively impact user engagement, as users prefer sharing their app-related activities on social platforms.”

While writing the hypothesis, ensure it is clear, specific, and testable. You can also quantify it if possible. For example, instead of saying, “Users will like the product,” specify the percentage of users who are expected to have a positive response.

2. Sort your assumptions

Prioritizing your assumptions is crucial to ensure you are focusing on the important parts of your project or initiative. Go through each assumption you’ve identified in your hypothesis and consider the impact each one has on the success of your project.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • How significant is this assumption to achieving our goals?
  • If this assumption turns out to be false, how much will it affect the project?

Next, create categories based on the impact level:

  • High impact: if proven false, these assumptions could significantly impact on success.
  • Medium impact: notable impact but not as much as high impact assumptions.
  • Low impact: if proven false, these assumptions will have minimal impact on success.

Take into account the interconnected natures of the assumptions as well. Once you finish sorting them, seek input from relevant stakeholders, team members, and experts. Different perspectives can provide valuable insights into the significance of each assumption.

3. Create an Assumptions Map

Let’s now jump into assumption mapping, where we analyze assumptions based on two key factors—evidence and importance.

The map typically uses a two-dimensional grid where the X-axis represents the quality of evidence supporting each assumption. The Y-axis represents the importance or impact of each assumption on the overall decision.

  • X-axis: evidence

The X-axis represents the level of evidence available for each assumption. Assumptions with stronger evidence are positioned towards the right. The assumptions with limited evidence are placed towards the left.

Suppose you are making assumptions about the success of a marketing campaign. Assumptions backed by extensive market research, customer feedback, and data analytics will appear on the right side of the X-axis. On the flip side, assumptions with minimal data and guesswork will go on the left side.

  • Y-axis: Importance

The Y-axis reflects the importance or impact of each assumption on the overall outcome, decision, or situation. Assumptions with higher stakes or consequences are positioned higher on the Y-axis, while less critical assumptions are lower.

Assumption Mapping

Source

Continuing with the marketing campaign example, an assumption about customer preferences might have a high impact on the campaign’s success. It will appear higher on the Y-axis. Conversely, an assumption about office furniture preferences, which may have minimal impact on the campaign, would be positioned lower.

4. Map out the hypotheses

After sorting and categorizing your assumptions on the assumptions map, the next step is to connect them to the central point visually. This point represents your hypothesis and gives clarity on the relationships between the hypothesis and its underlying assumptions.

Place your formulated hypothesis in the center of the map, ensuring it is easily distinguishable. This central point serves as the focal point from which lines extend to connect with the assumptions.

For instance, let’s say your hypothesis states that “increased employee training leads to higher job satisfaction.”

Place this hypothesis at the center of the map and connect it with underlying assumptions such as “employees actively engage in the training program.” This line represents the connection, indicating that the hypothesis is dependent on employees actively participating in the training.

5. Analyze the assumptions

While some assumptions are extremely crucial for the success of our hypothesis, others indirectly impact it. Understanding both is crucial to focus your efforts in the right direction. Let’s understand this better with the employee training example.

  • High importance/low confidence: if, for example, the assumption that “adequate resources are available for training” is deemed crucial but lacks strong evidence, it would fall into this category.
  • Low importance/high confidence: if the assumption “trainers are punctual in delivering the training sessions” is supported by strong evidence but has limited impact on the overall hypothesis, it would fall into this category. While punctuality is a positive attribute, it might be considered less crucial to the overall hypothesis.
  • High importance/high confidence: let’s take the assumption that “trainers are experienced and effective.” This assumption is both highly important to the hypothesis and has strong supportive evidence. The trainer’s expertise contributes greatly to the success of the program, leading to higher job performance.
  • Low importance/low confidence: assumptions like “the office temperature during training sessions is optimal for employee focus” fall under this category. The temperature in the office, while potentially impacting comfort and focus, might be considered of low importance in relation to the main hypothesis.
What is assumption mapping?

Source

For each point, you can notice that the focus remains on connecting assumptions to the hypothesis. All our assumptions should point to the success of our hypothesis. If not, they are given lesser importance, as shown above.

Assumption Testing

assumption testing

Assumption testing is a process of checking if the beliefs or ideas we have about a project, product, or situation are accurate. It involves gathering evidence or conducting experiments to confirm whether the assumptions we make are true or if adjustments are needed based on real-world feedback.

Here are four effective approaches to assumption testing:

User Interviews

User interviews involve direct interactions with individuals who represent end-users or stakeholders. This approach helps uncover assumptions related to user preferences, needs, and behaviors.

For example, your assumption states that users prefer a mobile app with a simplified design for navigation. Conduct interviews with a sample of target users to understand their preferences, frustrations, and expectations.

Use the gathered insights to confirm then or challenge the assumptions about the preferred design.

Usability Testing

Usability testing assesses how easily users can interact with a product or system. It involves observing users as they perform tasks with your product and collecting feedback on the assumption that the design meets user requirements.

Let’s say you have an assumption that the checkout process of your e-commerce website is intuitive and user-friendly. Observe users as they attempt to complete a purchase on the website. Track their interactions, note any difficulties or confusion, and analyze the same to validate or adjust the assumption.

💡Pro Tip

Instead of thriving on guesswork, use a usability testing tool to conduct task-based usability tests and pinpoint issues. Based on their interactions with the product, you can then improve your designs. 

Technical Testing

Technical testing refers to analyzing the functionality, performance, and security of the underlying technology. This ensures that technical assumptions are validated and the project aligns with all technical requirements.

Let’s say the assumption states that the website can handle 1000 simultaneous users without significant performance issues. Simulate a scenario with 1000 concurrent users accessing the website and monitor the system’s response.

See whether the assumed scalability aligns with the actual performance and make necessary adjustments.

Competitive Analysis

Competitive analysis involves analyzing the products, strategies, and marketing positions of the competitors. This approach helps validate assumptions about the uniqueness and competitiveness of the project. This can be done through multiple ways, one great method is performing a competitive analysis.

Let’s say your assumption is that the unique features of your new software product set you apart from the competitors. Analyze similar products in the market, comparing features, pricing, and user reviews.

Validate the assumption by identifying the distinct aspects that differentiate the new product. If not, adjust the strategy based on the insights.

See how competitive testing and usability testing works in these demos

 

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Wrapping Up

We can see from the above discussion that assumption mapping helps teams see and understand the hidden assumptions better. This is crucial because assumptions can affect the success of a project. By using assumption mapping, teams can make better decisions, manage risks effectively, and adapt to changes.

An all-in-one UX research tool like UXtweak can help ease the assumption mapping process. To validate your assumptions, conduct surveys and usability tests, register for your free UXtweak account.

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FAQ: Assumption Mapping

What is assumption in design thinking?

In design thinking, an assumption refers to a belief or hypothesis about users, their needs, or the problem being solved. These assumptions guide the design process but should be validated through research and testing to ensure accuracy.

 

What is an assumption matrix?

An assumption matrix is a tool used in project management and design thinking to identify, document, and prioritize assumptions related to a project or problem. It helps teams understand and mitigate risks by outlining key assumptions and determining their potential impact on the project’s success.

What is an assumption chart?

An assumption chart, also known as an assumption log or register, is a visual or tabular representation used in project management and risk analysis to document, track, and manage assumptions made during the planning and execution of a project.

Disha Mod
February 9, 2024
All author's articles

Disha is a freelance B2B SaaS content writer with three years of extensive experience across diverse industries. Her expertise lies in breaking the mold of traditional B2B content, challenging the notion that it has to be dull and uninteresting. With a proven track record of ghostwriting for renowned companies, Disha is driven by the belief that powerful storytelling can transform the way businesses communicate and connect with their audience.

In addition to her role as a content writer, Disha is a skilled spoken word artist, infusing her love for words into every piece she creates. From HR automation platforms to UX research platforms, she has worked with a number of different SaaS brands and helped them craft narratives that drive sales.

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