Battle-Tested Lessons Learned: How to De-Risk Ideas with Assumption-Based-Development | The Garage Group

Battle-Tested Lessons Learned: How to De-Risk Ideas with Assumption-Based-Development

How do you de-risk your ideas quickly and virtually when building a pipeline?

At The Garage Group, we leverage Assumption-Based-Development as a quick, cost-effective approach to tackling the uncertainty that comes with new ideas. Teams focus on identifying the riskiest assumptions associated with their top ideas and building experiments to prove or disprove them.

To shed light on Assumption-Based-Development, we recorded an internal Battle-Tested Lessons Learned conversation between three leaders at The Garage Group. They dug into their battle-tested ways of capturing assumptions, designing 100% virtual learning experiments, and identifying critical metrics of success to learn as quickly as possible and make informed decisions on whether to pivot, perish, or persevere with ideas. Here’s who jumped in:

Below, check out the key takeaways and full recording, and sign up for our virtual office hours to chat with Erin, Heather, and Molly about how you and your team can design virtual experiments to test against your riskiest assumptions.

How The Garage Group Leverages Assumption-Based-Development

“One of the reasons why we love using Assumption-Based-Development is because it allows you to learn on multiple ideas at the same time. The way that we structure this approach at The Garage Group is by first identifying all of the assumptions you have about any number of ideas. Typically we’ll run four to six ideas at the same time. The assumptions are grounded in the business model canvas and relate to the following three questions:

We have teams then take a step back and ask, ‘What are the assumptions we have about these ideas that we need to prove or disprove via experiments to continue moving them forward?’ At this stage, you don’t need to talk to a ton of consumers or spend time and money building out a prototype. What you need to do is quickly determine which is the riskiest assumption(s) that would make or break your idea.” – Molly Baldwin

How Assumption-Based-Development Is Different & More Effective than the Traditional Idea Development Process

“Assumption-Based-Development effectively de-risks ideas because it allows you to start small with low-fidelity prototypes and build a mounting body of evidence over time. You can take a small nugget of an idea and go learn on it, and then use iterative input from consumers to continue to build each of those ideas into something great and consumer resonant. All the while, checking back in to make sure that you were clear on the problem at the beginning and are delivering value as you intended every step of the way.

I think the biggest hurdle to adopting this way of working is accepting that it looks totally different than the traditional idea development process that exists in most big companies. A lot of corporate teams will jump straight into the building stage of the process, which can result in wasted effort when they’ve prepared for a big study and suddenly learn it’s not going to work. Instead, if you reframe your mindset and start small, you’re able to set each idea in your portfolio up for success. It’s like you’re putting each idea in a designated swim lane with their own experiment track.” – Erin Faulk

How to Establish Structure Within Your Team to Simplify Decision-Making

“One of the biggest hurdles or pitfalls during Assumption-Based-Development is that teams are afraid to commit to a choice. In order to truly learn whether something’s working or not, you have to pick a way forward. Luckily, in innovation, there can be 10 right ways forward. It’s important to drive discipline around making choices and accepting the fact that when you choose to move forward with an idea, you then have the power to pivot, perish, or persevere it. This structure empowers teams to say, ‘I can stop worrying about all of the directions we haven’t taken until a consumer tells me otherwise or until I get to a spot where I have enough evidence that confirms this way forward won’t work.’” – Heather Christman, Ph.D.

How to Test Assumptions in a Virtual Setting

“Talk to your consumers early and often. There’s an amazing book called Talking to Humans by Giff Constable and the entire premise is about getting out of your office and talking to people. Don’t forget that you can always chat with your network of family, friends, and professional connections who probably fit into a segment that you have. Another good way to test assumptions if you have a little bit of money to spend is by creating a quick study on 1Q. You can get an answer from consumers in an hour.

If you’re further down the line in your third or fourth learning loop, you can frankenstein together products that are already in the market to create something new and test it with consumers. This provides a cost-effective opportunity, especially for food brands whose labs aren’t open, to test assumptions and collect consumer feedback. Facebook ads are also great. If you’re trying to A/B test a value proposition, it’s easy to mock up a quick Facebook ad and run it over a weekend. It’s powerful to see what consumers care about in a non-recruited setting.” – Molly Baldwin

How to Gain Organizational Buy-In with Consumer-Driven Data

“No company is going to make a decision or agree with a recommendation unless it is supported by consumer or market evidence. You have to have the data. Assumption-Based-Development is empowering because it enables you to test your riskiest assumptions early on so that you can focus on building out a smarter, data-driven plan forward. It gives you so much more power.” – Erin Faulk

How to Repurpose Consumer Data & Ideas Elsewhere in Your Company

“When you’ve built a body of evidence with Assumption-Based-Development, you can tell a cohesive story that makes an idea capable of living somewhere else in your organization if your team doesn’t end up using it. So instead of letting go of ideas, you can say, ‘We’ve made a case for where this does fit in the organization and who could own it better than we can.’ Moving ideas further in the process creates value for the entire organization if you’re able to repurpose or carry stories elsewhere.” – Heather Christman, Ph.D.

How to Conserve Resources by Testing Past Ideas with Current Consumer Data

“Teams always have vaults of past ideas that were paused because the timing or product wasn’t right. In the era of COVID, consumer behavior has shifted so much, creating an opportunity to go back and ask, ‘What ideas have we already come up with that solve the current problem? And, has the world changed enough for these ideas to move forward?’ This is a powerful way to avoid starting at ground zero and instead, leverage your brilliant ideas from the last five years.” – Heather Christman, Ph.D.

“Sometimes it’s the context that the consumer is living within that has changed, rather than your idea becoming any better or worse. The way that you evaluate your existing set of solutions, current barriers, or existing habits/allegiances fundamentally may look different. So, you may open the door as a brand or business to allow consumers to accept your solution without necessarily expecting it.” – Erin Faulk

How to Avoid Derailing Assumption-Based-Development

“First and foremost, have you done your due diligence upfront? If you get out over your skis and start prototyping or building out something unnecessarily, it’s possible to miss significant opportunities present in the beginning of the process that could have saved you a lot of time, money, and energy.” – Erin Faulk

“I think teams often get tripped up with this way of thinking because it’s exciting to learn so much so quickly. They get distracted by halo learnings and aren’t singularly focused on their riskiest assumption. Making sure you’re delivering on your riskiest assumption is key to success, even if that means uncomfortably putting a stake in the ground as to how your idea will move forward.” – Molly Baldwin


Watch the full recording >>>

Interested in learning more about Assumption-Based-Development? Erin, Heather, and Molly would love to answer any questions and share how you and your team can design virtual experiments to test against your riskiest assumptions. Sign up for our virtual office hours >>>


Reach out to Heather Christman if you have questions about our virtual office hours.

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