Assumption Mapping Techniques for Product Discovery

assumption mapping techniques

“The first truth is that at least half of our ideas are just not going to work. There are many reasons for an idea to not work out. The most common is that customers just aren’t as excited about this idea as we are,” says Marty Cagan in his book, “Inspired.”

Every product idea comes with risks because we tend to have a lot of assumptions about the end users, their problems, and their desires. Without continuous testing and checking what works and what doesn’t, we risk building something that our customers will never use, let alone love.

How to make sure what we’re building will provide actual value?

Test your assumptions in a real-life setting. Approach the assumptions with curiosity and an open mindset. Don’t automatically assume that the assumption is true. Create an assumptions map, and decide which product assumptions are high-risk and unknown. Test them first before you invest money and energy into developing particular solutions.

Before jumping into testing, let’s focus on what assumption mapping is and how to use it in continuous product discovery.

What is assumption mapping?

Assumption mapping is a technique that helps you identify risky assumptions about your product or business idea. This technique focuses on creating an assumption map, where the desirability, viability, and feasibility hypotheses are classified according to four criteria: known, unknown, critical, and non-critical.

Some assumptions are high-risk. If proven wrong, they might either prevent you from launching the product or your product won’t be successful after the release.

Focus on the critical and unknown assumptions first and test them with real customers. Refrain from relying on these unproven hypotheses while making major product development decisions. Create experiments to see if what you thought to be true really is.

What are desirability assumptions?

Desirability assumptions focus on hypotheses about the needs and desires of your end users. How appealing is your solution to the users? Would they enjoy using it? Do they want it or need it?

Examples of desirability assumptions:

  • Users prefer an online booking platform to book hotel rooms instead of calling hotels directly.
  • Users prefer booking hotel rooms from their desktop computers and rarely use a mobile app.

What are viability assumptions?

Would the product significantly contribute to the business’s success? Would it generate considerable revenue to justify the work put into its development?

Examples of viability assumptions:

  • Customers are willing to pay the price for the product that will generate profit in the long run.
  • The market is not over-saturated, and there is space to compete with others offering similar solutions.

What are feasibility assumptions?

How easy would it be to produce the product from the technical and legal perspectives? Does the team have enough resources and knowledge to develop a specific solution? Are there any technical or legal constraints that will become major blockers?

Examples of feasibility assumptions:

  • The product can be developed using existing or feasible technology, and the technical knowledge is available in the team to create and maintain it.
  • There are no legal constraints when releasing the product in a particular target country or region.

Why is assumption mapping important?

It saves you time and money and can help you make better-informed product decisions. Without mapping your assumptions and testing them in real life, you risk producing something that your customers will never use.

Apart from testing the assumptions directly in the consumer market, investigate if developing a particular solution with the budget and resources allocated to your team is possible. Avoid wasted energy and wasted money and create specific experiments to test your beliefs. If something doesn’t provide business and customer value, why bother developing it in the first place?

Assumptions map example

An assumptions map is a visual representation of your beliefs about the product, business, and users. Imagine you’d like to launch a new, gluten-free online shop. What assumptions could your team come up with before diving in and putting everything in motion to launch the store? We’ve prepared an example of the assumptions map below.

Critical & unknown assumptions

  • Customers will pay a premium price for the products they can’t find in local shops.
  • The business will generate enough revenue to cover expenses.
  • The suppliers might not be reliable, causing delays or shortages.

Critical & knowns

  • Customers will buy gluten-free products online.
  • The shop will have a strong online presence through an online website and social media accounts.

Non-critical & unknown

  • The quality of the products may not meet customers’ expectations.

Non-critical & known

  • There are several small competitors in the local market.
assumption map example

How to get started with assumptions mapping, step-by-step

Step 1: Brainstorm the assumptions

Get together with your team and key stakeholders in an offline or online setting and run an assumptions brainstorming session. Come up with different assumptions about the product or business idea and write them down on sticky notes. Allocate the assumptions into appropriate columns: feasibility, desirability, and viability.

assumptions mapping template

Step 2: Place the assumptions on the assumptions map

Place your assumptions on the assumptions map, where the vertical axis represents evidence and the horizontal axis represents importance. Focus on unknown and critical assumptions in the next step.

Assumptions matrix in

Step 3: Create experiments to test risky assumptions

Identify high-risk assumptions. On the assumptions map, underline all the assumptions that are unknown and placed in the critical section. If an assumption is critical to your product’s success and you have no proof it is true, you need to test it first. Create experiments to test high-risk assumptions with your end users or experts within the company.

Get a head start with our assumptions mapping template.

How to test risky assumptions?

Testing assumptions is essential to remove the guesswork and make informed product development decisions. You’ve probably heard of Tony Hsieh, the founder of Zappos, an online retail store that Amazon eventually acquired.

Tony had a brilliant idea before the e-commerce boom. He wanted to sell shoes online but wasn’t sure if customers would want to buy them.

His assumption was:

  • People will want to buy shoes online.

Before launching the actual online store, with proper billing, and logistics, he created an experiment. He took photos of the shoes from the local shoe shop and placed them online just to test the users’ reactions. Once he realized that consumers were not afraid to order shoes online, he built a proper website with logistics, inventory, and billing.

He invested in his business idea only when he had proof that his assumption about consumer behavior was true.

How to test high-risk assumptions?

Identify your hypotheses and list your assumptions

Before you jump into testing the assumptions, first identify them. You can use our Assumptions Template to come up with a list of important hypotheses. Create ten business assumptions. Start working individually and then discuss and fine-tune the assumptions in small groups.

assumptions template

Identify the top 3-5 assumptions in each group

Each group votes for its top 3-5 assumptions. You can use our voting function to help you democratically decide which assumptions are the most important within your group.

prioritize assumptions

Prioritize the hypotheses

Prioritize the assumptions and organize them into a list, starting with the most voted one. Be open to discussion in case any new ideas emerge at this point.

Select the top ten most-voted hypotheses and break them into two groups ‘Kill vs. No Kill.’ No-kill assumptions will not heavily impact your business if they are untrue. Focus on the ‘Kill assumptions’ in the next step as they have the potential to kill your business and your product in case they turn out to be wrong.

assumptions workshop

Test assumptions by designing the experiment

The last step is to design an experiment with your target customers to learn if your hypotheses about the product are true or not. If it’s feasible, build a small prototype or an MVP and test it with the target audience to gather feedback and learn more about your product and the target market.

You can also incorporate a value proposition testing framework in this step, which focuses on building a microsite and launching an outbound campaign to test if your target audience accepts or rejects what you offer. Use a landing page, email marketing campaign, or online advertising to see if the value proposition of your product resonates well with the users.

Different ways you could test your assumptions

  • interview and surveys,
  • usability tests,
  • market research,
  • outbound campaigns,
  • legal and technical investigation.
test assumptions

How to run an assumptions workshop?

To run the workshop, get together with your team and key stakeholders, and set aside a time-boxed 2-hour session so that you can easily brainstorm ideas with your team. For larger teams and projects, you might need to allocate the whole day to this activity.

If you’re in a remote setting, get together on a digital whiteboard. You can use one of our two templates the Assumption Mapping Template or the Assumptions Template.

Empathize with your customers, and while mapping your ideas, think of how they relate to different attributes of your product: desirability, viability, and feasibility. Focus on your customers’ needs and pain points and always have your value proposition in mind, together with the product and business vision. Once your assumptions are clearly stated and categorized, move on to the testing phase to see if what you assume as a team is true or not in a real-life scenario.

Key takeaways

Assumptions mapping is crucial for your product’s success. Don’t just assume before building something new; always test your ideas with real users! You might be surprised by their answers. Have a curious and open mindset; don’t think you need to validate every idea. Approach assumptions mapping with curiosity, thinking, “I want to test if what I’m thinking is incorrect.” It opens up your mind to new possibilities. Some ideas will be proven false. According to Product Managers, nine out of ten ideas will usually fail. Test them to eliminate the nine bad ones and focus on the one that works.

Assumptions mapping gives you a direction and shows you the way forward. It might not be the straight road to success, but with an assumption map, you’ll have more confidence in achieving your goals, as it’s the prerequisite for an actionable plan and a good product roadmap.

Avoid costly implications of incorrect assumptions and if proven wrong, shift focus and create something different to boost your product’s road to success.