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Three Reasons We Make Assumptions (And What to Do About Them)

by Bill Fournet | April 16, 2019

In our previous post, This Ain’t Freakin’ Texas, we discussed the three types of assumptions that project managers and business analysts will encounter most often. In this second installment of our series, we will examine the three conditions that cause project teams to make assumptions, and what project managers and business analysts can do to counter them.

1. We don’t know we’re making them

One reason we make assumptions is because we don’t realize that we’re making them.

As discussed in our previous post in this series, inherent assumptions are the most basic, and one of the most insidious types assumptions we make. For example, when a team member emails to tell you they will handle something as soon as possible, you might assume they are going to stop what they are doing and focus on the task you assumed them. But will they? Perhaps they meant they would complete the task as soon as they were finished with what they were working on.

Inherent assumptions cannot be controlled via time or planning. Combatting inherent assumptions requires business analysts and project managers to stress overcommunication on your teams. Ask questions ad nauseam. Listen for potential gaps and train your team to do the same.

2. Assumptions are easier than dealing with facts

The second reason we make assumptions is that assumptions take less effort than facts.

Consider a team sitting in a decision meeting. The team is missing a key data point from another department. Rather than calling the department or making an assumption and then expending the effort to validate it, the assumption ossifies into fact. Decisions are made. The team moves on. However, when it comes to light that the assumed “fact” was wrong, the team is back in the room in reaction mode, working to ascertain how much the assumption has cost them.

Project managers can control for these types of assumptions through increased planning, time and communication. Listen for trigger phrases like “I think,” “it should,” or “it could.” Train your team members to ask “has that been validated?”

3. To complete planning or execution

The third big reason teams make assumptions is the push to get from planning to execution. Project managers must train themselves to recognize when these types of assumptions are occurring and train their teams to slow down in order to speed up.

Learning to recognize and manage assumptions and the conditions that make them more likely is a key skill for business analysts and project managers alike. And while it seems cumbersome, as you and your team improve your ability to identify and manage assumptions, you’ll be able to do it without slowing down your project.

Need help honing your ability to identify and manage assumptions? Check out our class, Business Analyst Bootcamp: Essential Skills for Business Analysts (and the Project Managers Who Work With Them).


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