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Setting a Testing Mindset

Testing is an established practice to de-risk business decisions. However, when business is fast-moving and complex, testing can be viewed as too slow. Not testing can be just an excuse to avoid setting clear objectives and performance metrics before undertaking any business effort. With the failure rate of new business ideas being high, using a "testing mindset" before making incremental or disruptive innovation in business, turns a "failure" into a learning experience. Additionally, approaching these innovations in a "testing mindset" means taking small steps before the large ones — learning and refining before scaling.


In projects with diverse teams (experience, culture, geography), some members of the group may be more accustomed to this approach than others. Level setting a "testing mindset" among the team will affect their go-to-market, their interactions with users, and their analysis of insights.


In Ghana, we worked with a partner's team to test a water filter product across different customer segments and geographies. To pull powerful insights throughout the project and beyond, we set ground rules for a "testing mindset" across the team:

Limit variables. Be clear on the results you are looking for. Test one variable at a time.

Set business systems and processes to test soon, quick, and often. Ideas are easy to get. Validated ideas are hard. Setup learning business models where teams can iterate on the model and product to discover what the market reacts best to.

Collect data where possible, but focus on insights. In emerging markets, data is both hard to come by and quickly out of date. Identifying universal truths and user insights allows a long-term strategy to be built despite a lack of consistent data. Data can be used to verify strategy over time.

Empathize with users. Develop empathy for your user (you can only truly appreciate and understand the user if you see through his eyes, feel with her heart). Get a sense of what is the norm and the trend vs. the outlier and the weak signal. Zoom in on the latter. Reflect on your observations, discover and capture the most surprising insights and user. Empathy is different than sympathy.

Be prepared that you may not like the answer. Instead of looking for a market for a product, HCD finds a solution to a customer need. This search may take the team to a place they had not considered going originally. Be prepared for "inconvenient truths" and know what the organization is willing to do.

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