Hypothesis development in chemical engineering and the business world

Chenected_American Institute of Chemical Engineers

As I mentioned in the introductory post to this series ‘Moving from Chemical Engineering Concepts to Management Fundamentals’, my goal is to look in greater depth at chemical engineering concepts and their parallels in managerial fundamentals. This time, we look at the relationship between chemical engineering’s hypothesis development and the business world’s equivalent: strategic planning.

In the last blog post, I talked about how a literature survey in chemical engineering is very similar to market research and forecasting in the business world. In this post, we’ll look at hypothesis development.

Hypothesis development

Every literature survey sheds light on previous work in a related area. It also shows the progress of work in your chosen area, as well as who is working in the field, and any recent developments.

This helps identify what remains to be done in your own work. Based on your findings, you can prepare a rough sketch of your own activities in your thesis or research work. A literature survey also helps you refine your research objective. In addition, it is a time to put your imagination into action by estimating how much time it will take to achieve particular results.

Based on this plan, experiments can begin, and further data will be collected in an attempt to support your hypothesis.
Strategy planning

As in chemical engineering, hypothesis development is an important task for any business and forms the core of any business strategy. In both, collecting information—whether through the literature survey in engineering, or through market or consumer research in the business world—helps to identify an area of focus. And for a business, it will show what path could help the company remain profitable or relevant. But once an area of focus is found and a hypothesis needs to be developed, there are some important differences between engineering and business.

The level of imagination required to develop a hypothesis in the business world can go beyond what’s required in the lab because there are a lot of highly complex, real-world and human factors to consider, unlike in the lab or plant, where instruments and equipment and often more predictable.

The business world hypothesis deals with more dynamic situations and it contains many unknown variables, compared to research work. In engineering, we use lot mathematical models and experimental results to arrive at our conclusions, or to refine our hypotheses. While the business world also uses models and technology, highly dynamic and often unquantifiable events such as market changes, political development, and social perception come into play.

This makes business strategy one of the most complicated aspects of business world. In research we can alter the boundary condition by changing temperature or pressure, but in the business world, there is no way to program human behavior, which is always a major factor. So any alterations to a business strategy need to be spot-on during the time of implementation. And even a slight delay in changes can harm a firm’s standing in the market. Though lab work is not always so predictable either, there is often the possibility of changing conditions when dealing with machines, and it is usually possible to repeat experiments until final results are obtained.

So, while the specifics for developing business and chemical engineering hypotheses differ, if you are doing your hypothesis correctly in your chemical engineering master thesis, it is not a difficult task to understand the basic concept of business hypothesis development.

But business hypothesis development is not the only area that is related to chemical engineering—there are others too. I will explain another important concept the two worlds share in my next blog post.

(First appeared in Chenected: The American Institute of Chemical Engineers on 18-08-2015)


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