Mapping, questioning and validating assumptions at project kick-off

Red Badger is prototyping a series of play cards to help solve sticky challenges with inspiration from Lean, Agile and Coaching. Our research has shown that the toughest challenges for design consultants may not be in design or tech. In this third blog of the series we are going to share our latest thinking with you. 

More often than not ideas about the project already pre-exist within the client organisation before the project kick-off. We rarely start with a blank slate. 

The resulting group of challenges circle around stakeholders taking unvalidated assumptions as the starting point for a project or proposing a solution before fully understanding the challenge. 

We help our clients to reduce the project risks by mapping, questioning and validating their current thinking. This ensures the team takes the most effective route to achieve the desired outcome.

How to do it? 

To gain better resources for these conversations I interviewed User Psychologist and Brand Expert Christian Vatter. Together we summarised 9 questions to understand how Cognitive Biases may have played into the decision making.  

9 simple questions that help challenge existing thinking about the problem and possible ways to solve it:

Missing customer perspective?

Your experiences are unlikely to be indicative of your clients experiences, whether you are subject matter expert, or have any other role inside the business. Have you validated core assumptions with actual customers?

Anchoring on first assumptions?

Think back to when you started with the problem at hand – what were your assumptions about the matter back then? Might these assumptions influence your view on the topic, despite having accumulated more insight?

Clinging to hard gained insights? 
Look at the time and effort you had collecting information on the topic. Are you holding on to a view, just because you went great lengths to gain the insight that led to it?

Resisting outside forces?
Think about outside expectations or the people you need to report to. Are you resisting a certain direction just because it is enforced by your surroundings?

Overestimating gains vs. losing negative aspects?
Look at the consequences of your options. Are you focussing too much on the gains of a certain solution, downplaying other solutions that would help you to get rid of important negative aspects?

Overshadowing recent information?
Look back at when you acquired certain bits of information. Is your view on the topic too strongly affected by those insights that you gained recently, underestimating aspects that were gained at the beginning of the project?

Ignoring situational influence?
Think of the matter at hand not in isolation. Are you focussing too much on solving the problem itself, overlooking that the solution might be in changing the situation or circumstances that brought it about?

Infusing personal view?
Think about your attitude towards possible solutions. Are you favouring solutions that bring about values that you personally desire, but that don’t apply to all of the people affected by the solution? 

Violating existing beliefs?
Looking at consequences of decisions – are you limiting yourself by being hesitant to violate existing beliefs or old rules of the existing system?

Mapping assumptions and questions on a wall within the project space makes knowledge gaps visible and invites all on the team to participate in the research.

A clean Discovery phase helps to understand the current processes, pain points and hacks, both on customer and business side. When we see these clearly in front of us we start to prototype and further validate our thinking.

Inspired by GDS model we started using a Knowledge Kanban board that includes columns for ‘what we know’, ‘what we think we know’ and ‘what we don't know’ to list assumptions for validation.   

Sometimes it's ok to follow a hunch, but we want to be mindful about what we don’t really know with certainty yet. If it's still a hypothesis, we want to make this transparent to all on the team and validate it before committing time or money.

To us it is important to keep an open mind while we continue to learn during Discovery and Alpha release. Some of the best insights might only present themselves at this stage.

We hope this helps you start off your project from the right place and develop your next amazing service! We are curious to learn how these questions worked for you or if you found a different approach. Please send a note to andreas.conradi@red-badger.com


Christian Vatter is a user psychologist and brand expert. In his work he combines branding, customer experience and human centered design methods to make companies relevant for people. http://www.rlevance.com/

Other Lean Design Thinking articles:
Series intro: Solving complex problems with Lean Design Thinking
Setting goals, Inspired by Smart Goals Trigger Questions
Mapping, questioning and validating assumptions at project kick-off
Learning, Inspired by Lean/Jobs to be Done [JTBD]
Forming Ideas, Inspired by Design Thinking and Lean
Align & Motivate Cross-Functional Teams, Inspired by the Agile Frames & Rituals

Andreas Conradi

UX Consultant

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