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Introduction to Hypothesis Testing

A hypothesis is a useful tool to form a tentative answer to a problem or question at the outset of a project, which helps guide the direction of the research and analysis to solve the problem. Hypotheses have three characteristics:

  1. They are initial hunches or intuitive answers to questions asked.
  2. Hypotheses form a basis for testing it through analysis to either support or reject that initial hunch.
  3. The hypothesis is what the process of discovery focuses upon.
In order to be called a hypothesis, the answer must be a statement featuring the ability to require rigorous testing.  For example, if there is a problem when you try to slow your car down, you may think "My brakes need adjustments."  This is a statement that can be tested.  "I wonder what's wrong with my car," on the other hand, is not a testable statement.

When a client presents a problem, you will want to use a hypothesis-driven approach to guide the process of forming the solution.  It saves time, it helps you to define the client's critical needs, and it makes you a more effective consultant by avoiding 'boiling the ocean' too much.

There are four key elements involved with operating from the hypothesis framework.  These elements are:
  1. The question - do your homework to ensure that your question reflects your client's needs.
  2. The hypothesis - your tentative answer - don't just go for the first thing that pops to your mind.  The hypothesis should really reflect your best understanding and viewpoint on the answer to the question or problem.
  3. Primary assertions - In order to prove your hypothesis correct, what also must be correct? Break your hypothesis down into its necessary components.  If one of these is false, then your hypothesis must also be false.
  4. Supporting assertions -these are statements that need to be true in order for the primary assertions to be true. 

Mutually Exclusive and Completely Exhaustive (MECE)

When preparing your assertions, it is important to ask the question, "What do we need to know so that the hypothesis is true?"  Don't get lost in this process, it is not an exercise in exploration.

The hypothesis fits into a larger picture of a structured problem solving process. The full picture will outline the situation, the problem, the question arising from the problem, the hypothesis, and the assertions that support the truth of the hypothesis.  Your hypothesis must be MECE - Mutually Exclusive and Completely Exhaustive.  In other words, no assertion should be dependent upon or overlapping to another assertion.  Also, every assertion should cover its area completely in order to give your hypothesis credibility.

They hypothesis, along with the workplan, drive your analysis of the client's problem.  It translates the scope of the project into a business claim and is expressed as a statement. Once the hypothesis and your assertions have been laid out, discuss them with your client until they have been refined enough to form the basis of the project storyboard. Once you have defined all primary and all supporting assertions, testing the validity of claims can be assigned to members of the consulting team.  If any assertion is proven false, then the hypothesis must also be false. If all assertions are proven true, then the hypothesis can be accepted as being true.  A good hypothesis will form the basis of your analysis of your client's problem and will make you a more efficient consultant.


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