In this episode, David Bland shares an exercise from LeanUX for gaining clarity in times of uncertainty and developing a deep understanding of customer needs.


After listening to this episode, you'll understand:

  • Why the commonly used Build-Measure-Learn loop is backwards
  • How to find the right thing to build in order to learn
  • Why the three lenses of feasibility, viability, and desirability are critical
  • How to run an assumptions mapping exercise to gain a deeper understanding and focus on the right thing

Show Notes

Assumptions Mapping is a LeanUX exercise that leads to valuable conversations within your team and enables them to focus on what really matters.  It allows you to gain clarity and find the right path forward, even in times of uncertainty.

Through Assumptions Mapping, teams will develop a deep understanding of customer needs and the risks associated with finding a solution to address those needs.


The Build, Measure, Learn Loop is Backwards

It’s easy to start with building something, which is why most teams start there.  The problem is that sometimes we build just to build.  It’s something we do to meet a deadline and you’re held accountable to meet dates.

Building something and expecting to learn afterwards is often just a dream.

Instead, start with Learn and work your way backwards.  What do you need to learn about the market, the customer, or the problem?

Build, Measure, Learn loopAfter you understand what you need to learn, figure out how you would measure to learn.  Finally, determine what (if anything) you need to build to measure and learn.

Starting with Learn is much more impactful for the team and helps focus them on building the right thing.


Prioritizing Experiments

Many teams get excited about experimenting and Assumptions Mapping helps teams to prioritize and run the right experiments.

Assumptions Mapping looks at the problem through three lenses; desirability, viability, and feasibility.Venn diagram of desirable, feasible, and viable


The Desirable lens focuses on the customer to understand if the solution is wanted by the customer.  Use the Viable lens to focus internally to understand if this is something we should do from a cost structure, business model, and strategy standpoint.  The feasibility lens looks at whether or not we can do it (set up as a team to build it, have the hardware and infrastructure, etc.).

All three lenses are critical to understanding what to solution build.


Is it Desirable?

To identify assumptions around desirability, you can ask a number of questions to generate a discussion around the assumptions we’re making about the customer’s wants.  With an assumptions mapping exercise, those assumptions are written on sticky notes and later plotted on a four-quadrant map.

Example questions include:

  • Who is the target customer?
  • What problem are they trying to solve?
  • How do they solve the problem today?
  • If the customer can’t solve it, why can’t they solve it?
  • What is the outcome the customer wants to achieve?


Is it Viable?

To understand the assumptions we’re making about viability, we follow a similar process around questions related to how the solution related to our business strategy.

Example questions to identify viability assumptions include:

  • What’s our acquisition channel?
  • How will customers come back to use our solution again?
  • How will customers refer us to other customers?
  • Do we understand our competitors?
  • How do we generate our revenue?


Is it Feasible?

Feasibility assumptions relate to whether or not we are set up to create this solution.  This includes technical feasibility, ongoing support, expertise needed, resources, etc.

Example questions to identify feasibility assumptions include:

  • What are the biggest technical and engineering issues?
  • What are the legal and regulatory risks?
  • Are there internal policy or governance hurdles you need to overcome?
  • Do you have leadership support?
  • Where does your funding come from?
  • Why is your team uniquely positioned to do this and do it well?


Mapping the Assumptions

Once you’ve identified the assumptions in each area (tip: use different color sticky notes for each and another color for those you come up with on your own), map your assumptions.

Plot the sticky notes on a two-by-two matrix of important vs. unimportant and known vs. unknown.  When plotting assumptions on this map, the distance along each important/known line is relative to the next.Four quadrant map of known vs. unknows and important vs. unimportant

This exercise not only creates a map helping the team to understand what items are the most unknown and important, it also generates a great conversation and creates a shared understanding.

For identifying experiments, focus first on the top left quadrant; the unknown and important items.


Run an Experiment

There are many different kinds of experiments.  When you identify an assumption you want to run an experiment against, work to make it more testable by getting very specific.

From there, design an experiment that will allow you to test your assumption.  Depending on the type of assumption, this can mean creating a prototype, a landing page, or price testing, business model testing, engineering spikes, or other ways to test your assumption.


Assumptions Mapping and the experiments help us to avoid shelf-ware; creating a solution that on one actually uses.  It helps us to better understand the solution through different lenses to make sure we build a solution that’s viable, feasible, and desirable.

Remember that the conversation is more important than the mapping.

Listen to the full episode to hear all of David’s tips and advice about using Assumptions Mapping and Lean Startup approaches.



Your Homework

Get David’s materials on Assumptions Mapping and map your assumptions with your team.  Then identify one item and run an experiment.


Links mentioned in this episode:

David Bland

David Bland

Founder & CEO of Precoil

David is the founder & CEO of Precoil, where he helps both startup founders and enterprise leaders rapidly find product market fit. He’s pioneering a new breed of facilitative consulting by blending together Design Thinking, Lean Startup and Agile to make products that matter.


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