Assumption is the mother of all mess-ups

Assumption is the mother of all mess-ups

That’s a cleaned-up version of one of F1 team-owner Frank Williams’ favourite sayings.

My second revelation over the holidays is that it is only implicit or taken-for-granted assumptions that are a problem. Explicit assumptions, on the other hand, are completely different and a useful tool for the project manager.

Like many words in project management, “assumption” has all sorts of connotations. If you like, we make all sorts of assumptions when we come across the word “assumption” and not all of those are favourable.

Assumptions are a way forward. Used intelligently, assumptions can get you out of analysis paralysis or at least give you a start on a project. If you don’t know something for certain, can you make a sensible assumption that will enable you to move on? Even the whole project needs a fundamental assumption that it is possible to succeed.

Now, you have to remember that every assumption has a risk, so for every explicit assumption you must have an explicit risk and risk assessment. For example, you can assume that the city will give you permits for construction but you need to address the risk that the application will be delayed or denied. You don’t want to hold everything up until you actually get the permits so you proceed with the assumption you will get the permits and a risk assessment of the chances that you won’t get the permits.

Final point… going back to implicit and taken-for-granted assumptions – you need to have at least one attempt at identifying them and making them into explicit assumptions so that you can handle them properly. You also need to keep a watch out for any that crop up while the project is in progress.


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