There may be inherent risks when we make project assumptions. We assume certain things to be true when in fact, they may not be. Consequently, we fail to challenge assumptions and continue planning and executing based on false notions. This can be costly.
So, how does this happen? In her book—Thinking in Bets—author Annie Duke shares an illustration:
Suppose someone says, "I flipped a coin and it landed heads four times in a row. How likely is that to occur?" It feels like that should be a pretty easy question to answer. Once we do the math on the probability of heads on four consecutive 50-50 flips, we can determine that would happen 6.25% of the time (.50 x .50 x .50 x.50).
The problem is that we came to this answer without knowing anything about the coin or the person flipping it. Is it a two-sided coin or three-sided coin or four? If it is two-sided, is it a two-headed coin? Is the flipper a magician who is capable of influencing how the coin lands?
In our projects, we may be guilty of this type of thinking. We may assume the world is flat when indeed, it is not. Assumption analysis can help us discover the facts or supporting information when identifying project risks and later when evaluating risks.
The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) 6th Edition defines assumption as "a factor in the planning process that is considered to be true, real, or certain, without proof or demonstration."
Assumption. A factor in the planning process that is considered to be true, real, or certain, without proof or demonstration. —PMBOK 6th Edition
Individuals and teams make assumptions when planning or making decisions. As we consider different options, we choose the path that we believe will bring success. Let's explore common mistakes and what we can do about each.
"It’s not the things you don’t know that trip you up. It’s the things you think you know, but you don’t. You fail to ask a certain question because you believe you know the answer. Separating your information from your assumptions can be very tricky business." —Claudia Gray
So, how about you? Are you making these mistakes? Take some time to review one of your projects. Ask your team members and key stakeholders where assumptions are being made. And capture those assumptions in an assumption log.
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