Ann-Marie Dougherty

The Assumption Trap

We all make assumptions. Most of the time, the measure of a project’s success is not only its budget and timeline, but the quality of its deliverables. During project planning, the criterion that defines HOW each deliverable will be met, will later become a key part of determining if a project succeeded or not. A critical component of that criterion is often overlooked: What are the assumptions? It sounds so simple, yet project success can be undermined when unspoken assumptions and expectations are not discussed, agreed upon and documented. Key tips to avoid the assumption trap:

State Assumptions
  • Articulate the Relevant Positive and Negative Assumptions: For each deliverable think through what may and may not happen during action plan execution.
  • Explore the Assumptions' Foundation: Discuss the context of the assumption; it provides insight into the frame of reference the assumption was based on and the team benefits from calibrating assumptions together.
  • Review Potential Risks: Assumption discussions can reveal potential risks; utilize the opportunity to validate and discuss mitigation options early in the planning process.
  • Involve SME's: Assumption and potential risk discussions may require additional subject matter experts to prove/disprove assumptions or assist in risk mitigation planning.
Document Findings
  • Document Assumptions: Document the collective assumptions reviewed by the team.
  • Revisit Action Plans: Expectations are a combined result of what has been communicated and unspoken assumptions; Armed with the knowledge of the assumptions, revisit action plans and deliverable expectations.
  • Summarize Expectations: Document the expectations associated with each deliverable in detail.
Review & Refine

As the action plans are executed, periodically review the documented assumptions and expectations and refine as needed. An open and continuous review process will ensure that changes in assumptions and expectations will keep the deliverable on track. Make sure these reviews are scheduled early in the project and published in the project’s Issues, Assumptions and Risk Log. There will always be situational unknowns, however taking the time to continually review assumptions and refine expectations, can mitigate the impact and ensure success.