The Project Management Monster in the Closet: Assumptions

The Project Management Monster in the Closet: Assumptions

Some assumptions must be made on projects when there is a lack of information available.

This may be due to our lack of an ability to predict the future accurately. In most cases, this is a valid source of necessary assumptions on projects, although we still do our best to get better at making them and eliminating as many of those assumptions as possible.

I’ve noticed something with people in general and making assumptions though.

The quality of communication is inversely related to the number of unnecessary working assumptions.

As communication goes down, assumptions go up. And vise-versa.

Nearly every day, in every project I have worked on, I see this. A question is being discussed by a group of people, or someone is trying to figure out an approach on their own. Rather than going out and talking to customers and key stakeholders….talking to the end users and their own team members….for many people it’s more comfortable to make an assumption about what is needed.

Let me stress the part about team members because it may not be obvious…. team members can interpret requirements, initial design, and interface specifications differently. One may implement Y and the other implements something to interface with Y(iThink) instead of the way Y was actually built.

As project managers, it is incumbent upon us to slay these unnecessary assumptions wherever and whenever we find them.

Take a moment now to refocus your attention so you are keenly aware of assumptions when they crop up. Tune your project manager radar and start asking questions when you see the signs of possible unnecessary assumptions being made.

How to Spot Assumptions

  • You hear the phrase “I think”. Start asking them questions to clarify what they do and do not know. Go hunt down answers.
  • Be agile and test-driven. Continuous integration & test will uncover these assumptions and slay them early.
  • You hear a pause or lack of confidence in the voice of a team member when discussing an implementation detail.
  • Keep a list. Ask your team questions like “What questions or uncertainties do you have about what you are implementing?”
  • Ask about obstacles. In scrum fashion, ask what obstacles are holding people back. Many assumptions will be found this way.

How do you spot and slay assumptions in your projects?

photo by kevindooley

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Avatar photo Bill Brantley

Great post! This is why you want to get as much in writing as you can. The act of writing crystallizes the meaning of your communications as long as you have your team and other important stakeholders participate in the process. A great tool for this is a wiki because you can have both the document and the discussion behind the document in one place.