As strategies take shape, deadlines get real, and projects come to life, there's something working behind the scenes – project assumptions.
They play a key role in shaping the trajectory of a project, and understanding and managing them is essential for effective project delivery.
In this comprehensive blog post, we dive deep into project assumptions, their significance, and how they relate to project constraints, dependencies, and risks. We will also explore practical examples of project assumptions and best practices for managing them effectively.
In the world of project management, assumptions are essentially educated guesses or beliefs about certain aspects of a project that you consider true – often without concrete evidence or confirmation. Project assumptions fill gaps in knowledge or information, and serve as the foundation upon which project plans are built.
Project assumptions extend to a wide range of project elements, including:
1. Resource availability: Assumptions about the availability of team members, equipment, or other resources necessary for project execution.
2. Budget and costs: Assumptions regarding the project budget, including cost estimates and financial constraints.
3. Project scheduling: Assumptions about the timeline and sequence of project tasks and milestones.
4. Technical dependencies: Beliefs about the functionality, compatibility, or reliability of technical components or software used in the project.
5. Stakeholder behavior: Beliefs about how stakeholders, such as clients or team members, will act or respond during the project.
6. Environmental or market conditions: Assumptions regarding the external environment and its potential impact on the project. This could include assumptions about weather conditions or market trends.
7. Compliance and security: Beliefs about the project's compliance with relevant laws, regulations, or industry standards.
To gain a better understanding of project assumptions, let's explore some real-world examples:
Assumption: A key team member with specialized product implementation skills will be available throughout the customer onboarding project.
Impact on the project: The specialized skills of the team member can help ensure a smoother client onboarding experience.
Assumption: Timely feedback and approvals from the client will be consistent at every project milestone.
Impact on the project: Consistent client engagement ensures project progress remains on schedule and aligns with milestones.
Assumption: There will be seamless integration between your product and the client’s existing IT infrastructure.
Impact on the project: Smooth integration ensures that your product will work as expected in their context.
However, compatibility issues may necessitate additional time and resources, impacting the project's financial and scheduling aspects.
Assumption: There will be no significant changes in the approved budget.
Impact on the project: A stable budget allows for effective resource allocation and consistent project scope. However, any unexpected expenses or budget revisions can disrupt resource planning and project scope, impacting project execution and possibly deadlines.
It’s easy to see that incorrect project assumptions can lead to delays, budget overruns, and other issues that can significantly impact project success.
This means that project assumptions, by their nature, come with risks.
However, you can’t plan a project without them.
Project assumptions matter because you can't move forward without them. In a project plan, it's impossible to validate every single detail, like costs and timelines, so you have to estimate. Assumptions are what allow you to begin planning and executing the project. The more reasonable your project assumptions, the more effective your project management and delivery will be.
Here are a few ways project assumptions contribute to project success:
Project assumptions do not exist in isolation; they are closely intertwined with other project elements, such as constraints, dependencies, and risks. Understanding these connections is crucial for effective project management.
Project constraints are limitations or boundaries that can impact the project's scope, schedule, cost, or quality.
Common project constraints include:
Constraints are closely linked with project assumptions. For example, an assumption that a certain resource, say a software license will be available may become a constraint if it becomes unavailable.
There are two main differences between assumptions and constraints, namely:
Project dependencies are relationships between tasks, activities, or components within a project. Dependencies are commonly categorized as:
Dependencies are closely linked to assumptions because assumptions about task durations, sequences, or prerequisites influence how dependencies are defined.
Project risks are events or circumstances that have the potential to negatively impact the project's objectives. They can be categorized as:
Assumptions often introduce risks because they are based on incomplete information or uncertain conditions. When assumptions turn out to be incorrect, they can trigger risks that need to be managed.
Project risks and assumptions, though similar, aren’t the same. Risks deal with uncertain events while assumptions are assumed to be certain so they can be used as a starting point for planning.
The foundation for project assumptions is often built upon a combination of factors that draw from both experience, intuition, and data, such as:
Create a centralized log or document to track all project assumptions. Include details such as the assumption, the person responsible, the date, and the status (validated or pending). This assumption log should inform the writing of the project charter.
Make sure to include assumptions about:
When making an assumption log, be sure to include the following
At the project initiation stage, identify and document all assumptions. Ensure that assumptions are clear, specific, and linked to particular aspects of the project. Involve key stakeholders in this process to gather their input and perspectives.
If possible, include a periodic review of assumptions with key stakeholders.
Integrate assumptions into your project planning, scheduling, and risk management processes. Make sure that project plans and schedules account for the uncertainties introduced by assumptions.
Ensure that all team members and stakeholders are aware of the project assumptions and understand their significance.
Throughout the project lifecycle, continuously monitor and evaluate assumptions. Be prepared to adjust plans if assumptions change or new information becomes available. This requires open communication and collaboration within the project team.
After the project is completed, conduct a post-project review to assess the accuracy of assumptions and their impact on the project. Use this feedback to improve your assumptions management process for future projects.
Make sure to include the following in your post-project review:
Managing project assumptions can be a complex task, especially when dealing with multiple stakeholders and evolving project dynamics.
A PSA tool like Rocketlane can streamline the assumption management process and help you turn assumptions into a viable project plan.
Rocketlane seamlessly integrates these foundational elements of data-driven insights, collaboration, and customer feedback to enhance assumption management:
Sign up for a Rocketlane demo to see this in action.
Project assumptions are factors considered true, real, or certain without empirical proof or demonstration. They are essential in project management as they guide planning, risk assessment, and decision-making. Unclear or unaddressed assumptions can lead to project delays and failures.
Identifying project assumptions involves examining every aspect of the project, questioning what is taken for granted, and consulting team members and stakeholders. Documenting them should be a structured process, often done through assumption logs or registers.
Project assumptions can lead to risks if they turn out to be incorrect. For example, assuming a supplier will meet a certain delivery date is an assumption. If the supplier fails to meet that date, it becomes a risk. Constraints, on the other hand, are predefined limitations such as budget, timeline, or resources that can impact assumptions and risks.
Mitigating incorrect assumptions involves proactive planning and risk management. You can create contingency plans, regularly validate assumptions, and communicate any changes or deviations to stakeholders promptly.
To make better project assumptions, rely on historical data, consult experts, involve team members, and conduct thorough risk assessments. Additionally, use a structured approach to document and validate assumptions throughout the project lifecycle.