Have you ever been on a project and no problems surfaced to make your job difficult? If you answered yes, someone hid the problems from you. For those of us with actual project experience, problems with projects are inevitable. Without the ability to see into the future with perfect accuracy, no one can anticipate every obstacle and challenge that will arise from even the most well planned project. Here are a few common problem scenarios:
A task takes twice as long or costs three times as much as we planned. Why? Because the person who estimated that task had an assumption about their workload while estimating which turned out to be false.
The entire project runs into crisis because the research data was faulty. Or, the time to develop a solution was unrealistic. Key documents required to execute later steps in the project turn out to have poorer quality than assumed.
The effect of poor assumptions on project quality is usually negative. If deadlines and budget cannot be increased, the only remaining project variable - the scope and quality of the product - is reduced.
So how can you prevent these problems from affecting project or product quality? If you can’t hire someone to travel forwards in time and report back what happened, you are left with only one option: Good assumption management.
An assumption is something taken for granted, or accepted as true without proof.1
During the project planning session, assumptions are rampant. When the project manager asks the team, “What are the tasks required to complete this deliverable?” the team members make assumptions like, “given this is that same type of project as I was in last year, given the regulations haven’t changed, and given our internal systems are the same as last time…” and then answer with a series of tasks.
When the project manager asks a team member, “How long will this task take?” the team member assumes, “given that I’m available 50% of my time to work on this project, and given that I am not on vacation or sick that week…” and then provides a duration.
Almost never are these assumptions stated out loud. And during all the talk surrounding the planning of the project, lots of assumptions are thrown around but rarely captured for posterity. When that part of the project goes into crisis, some people may remember the discussion, but few will remember the actual outcome of that discussion.
Below is a simple method to capture and apply assumptions to the Project Management Planning of any project.
Document your assumptions.
Before the project planning session gets under way, label a separate flipchart sheet with the title: “Issues/Risks/Assumptions.” The Project Manager must