Assumptions are a part of our lives every day. We make small assumptions all the time, from assuming that other drivers will stop when the light turns red to assuming gravity will continue to keep us tethered to the earth. Most of the time—as with gravity, but maybe not so much with traffic lights—our assumptions are safe enough.
However, there are times when it is risky or even downright dangerous to make assumptions. In fact, the traffic light scenario could easily fall into this category, but in this case, I’m referring to project assumptions.
When you’re part of a project team, even small assumptions, when they’re wrong, can lead to big problems that can impact cost, deadlines, and the overall success of the project. Common assumptions often made with projects are related to time and skill/experience. For example, recently I heard of an implementation of Microsoft Dynamics NAV that went off track because of an assumption. The project involved an add-on application that was not well known to the project team, but they assumed it would be easy to implement. They had no information and no experience to support this assumption, so the time and resources budgeted for the plan were woefully inadequate. Ultimately, this assumption caused major problems and compromised the project.
Although assumptions are normal and acceptable in life, they should never be taken lightly if they could cause harm. This is particularly true in project management. In fact, any assumptions that occur should be managed as potential risks.
Assumptions can take several forms:
Integration with third party project teams and software interfaces often lead to assumptions that their work will be completed on time and that the interfaces will communicate as documented.
Deploying new or untried software and equipment often carry assumptions that they will function as specified.
Ironically, believing that all project requirements are properly gathered and documented before project work commences can also be an assumption.
Basically, any time the project team faces an unknown quantity in the schedule, that issue is probably an assumption. Project managers should encourage project team members to voice any concerns they have and resolve them quickly. Project managers must ensure that any assumptions made by project team members are identified early and managed throughout the project to avoid surprises later in the schedule.