Remember the saying….”never assume anything because it can make a** out of u and me.” In reality, we have to assume things on our projects – it’s just the nature of the beast…the reality of project work.  The key is to identify assumptions, document assumptions, and keep going back to them.

They shape the work we’re doing on the project, they influence requirements, and if our assumptions are poor, they can cause major problems with the work we’re performing for our customers. So assume carefully…but document those assumptions well as backup. 

Assumptions presume that what you're planning or relying on is true, real, or certain. For example, your project might require someone with special programming skills from the IT department.

Your assumption is that this person will be available when needed and will exercise their skill on the activity you assign. Document the assumption that this person will be available when needed. 

Discovering and documenting assumptions works just like the requirements-gathering process. Designate one of your project meetings, or a portion of one of the meetings, to discuss and document project assumptions.

Use brainstorming techniques in the meeting to get the process going. You could also interview key stakeholders, the project sponsor, and key members to uncover as many assumptions as you can.  Risks are associated with assumptions in many cases, so if you do a good job defining the assumptions, you'll have a good head start on risk identification. Sometimes it's helpful to have someone outside of the project help with this step because they are not as focused on the details as you are. They may see something you wouldn't. 

Assumptions might include any of the following: 

  • Key project member's availability
  • Key project member's performance
  • Key project member's skills
  • Vendor delivery times
  • Vendor performance issues
  • Accuracy of the project schedule dates

Okay, let's assume that you've documented your assumptions.

The next step is to validate and verify them.

This means that if you're assuming that a key resource is going to be available to work on the project, you must verify with that person's functional manager that they'll be available at that time.

If you're working with vendors or suppliers on your project, make sure that they document and verify their assumptions as well.

In fact, if a vendor delivery is one of your critical success factors, make sure that they document assumptions concerning that delivery.

Assumptions should be documented in your project notebook or shared project folder.

They will be incorporated into the scope statement, but it is also good to keep them in their own document and keep them handy.

You will want to verify and validate these assumptions throughout the course of the Planning process and whenever necessary during the project Executing and Controlling phases.