When I was in the Army the drill sergeants would repeat the same phrase: assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups. At first, I did not understand why the sergeants kept repeating the statement. But after failing at some seemingly simple tasks, I quickly explained the rationale: nothing is going according to the plan.
Eric Ries, the author of the Lean Startup, echoes the statement:
”Every businesses plan begins with a set of assumptions. It lays out a strategy that those assumptions as a given and precedes to show how to achieve the company’s vision. Because the assumptions haven’t been proven to be true (they are assumptions, after all) and in fact are often erroneous, the goal of a startup’s early efforts should be to test them as quickly as possible.”
The assumption gap was my main downfall in the tasks that was given to me by my drill sergeant. Why, because I entertained assumptions that were based on similarities, past experiences, or poor planning, Ries writes:
”Acting as if these assumptions are true is a classic entrepreneur superpower. They are called leaps of faith precisely because the success of the entire venture rests on them. If they are true, tremendous opportunity awaits. If they are false, the startup risks total failure.”
There is an inoculation to this leap of faith: the test.
In the Army, questioning orders were not encouraged but figuring out the best method to execute an order was nurtured. When we were ordered to carry out a task, we not told how to perform the task. Those of us that spent the time discussing alternatives, backup plans, or doing dry runs succeed more than we failed.
Those that assumed a particular outcome failed; Reis continues:
”The first challenge for an entrepreneur is to build an organization that can test these assumptions systematically. The second challenge, as in all entrepreneurial situations, is to perform that rigorous testing without losing sight of the company’s overall vision.”
Some entrepreneurs follow the just do it school of thought. While that philosophy does have its merits, you are courting failure by trusting the assumptions. There is only one course of action; you must take measures to check quality, performance, or the reliability of the assumption.
Yes, it will take longer to launch the product but when you validate the assumption what you will get is a product that customers will want to buy.