If you track project assumptions you are more likely to succeed.
Have you stopped to consider the value of assumptions to your project? They may not have been something that you seriously consider. And yet, there is value in taking them seriously.
The assumptions that people make can either support success or create problems for your project. Let’s look at why this is the case.
The value of assumptions
We all make or have assumptions each and every day. Often they are just there and we don’t even connect with that fact. For example, we assume someone understands what we want from them because they are part of the project team. Or we assume they have the same level of knowledge and information as we do.
The dictionary definition of the word assumption is:
a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof.
It’s the idea that something is true without proof that can be harmful to your project. Because, unless you test your assumption or theory, how can you possibly know if it is true or not.
Assumptions are therefore valuable to test the theories that you have about things being true.
Consider that the best time to start capturing assumptions is during the writing of your Business Case. If you make a habit of tracking them from this point forward you will be more likely to succeed.
Track project assumptions from them on during the life of your project.
How assumptions support your project
If assumptions are things that you think are true and you validate if that is the case, then you are supporting your project by testing your theories. When you do this you are less likely to have problems arise, and or risks materialise. You are being proactive in fully understanding what is and isn’t, in relation to your project delivery.
Any time team members have unspoken assumptions they are jeopardizing the ability for your team to be successful.
Unearthing and documenting hidden assumptions will support overall clarity for each and every team member on your project. The more clarity every one has the more likely they are able to work towards the same goal, successful project delivery.
When assumptions don’t support your project
If the assumptions of your Business Owner or Project Owner are not captured up front, this can harm your project from the start. The assumptions these Senior Managers make are likely to be more about operational issues and how the project will support the improvement of them. Without the full understanding of this, you cannot hope to deliver all of the benefits to the business.
Hidden or unspoken assumptions create difficulties in working relationships. That’s a fact and one you probably haven’t even considered. If, as a project team member, I don’t speak up about my assumptions, and they are wrong, then conflict is sure to occur. You thought I knew about x subject and I didn’t. I then don’t deliver, because your assumption wasn’t correct. You are unhappy with me because I failed and delayed the project. All of this could have been avoided by voicing the assumptions or at least documenting them.
Working with assumptions
Assumptions could be treated in the same way as risks. Mark Steele suggests you could document them in a formal register so that everyone on the project has access to them.
By doing this you are making visible ALL of the assumptions being made and validated or invalidated. This way there is clarity for all involved in your project.
Listen to this Project Management Insights episode with special guest Mark Steele, for a more in-depth discussion on assumptions and whether they are good or bad.
Buy a copy of Mark’s book ‘Projects On Purpose 2.0‘ for a different approach to managing your project using systems thinking.
Mark D. Steele, PE, is a project management consultant with over 30 years of experience across a range of project types and industries including construction, product development, manufacturing, software, and information technology. He holds a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and a MS from Villanova University.