Assumptions: The Underrated Part of Project Planning

Andy Jordan is President of Roffensian Consulting S.A., a Roatan, Honduras-based management consulting firm with a comprehensive project management practice. Andy always appreciates feedback and discussion on the issues raised in his articles and can be reached at andy.jordan@roffensian.com. Andy's new book Risk Management for Project Driven Organizations is now available.

If we didn’t accept assumptions in project management, then projects would never get done. We have to assume that certain things will happen, or won’t happen; that resources will become or remain available; that issues will be resolved; and that the planned work can be completed to an acceptable standard within a reasonable amount of time with the available resources.

Project management is built on a foundation of assumptions, and yet assumptions are an area of project management that receive very little attention. When PMs are trained in the discipline, there’s a lot of focus on risk management, issue management and dependency management, but nowhere near as much on assumption management. Let’s put that right.

Listing a set of “standard” assumptions in a plan is not assumption management. I don’t know how many times I have seen a simple list with things like “we may lose resources” or “scope may change.” Those are pretty much guaranteed, and all that a PM is doing by listing those items is going through the motions of following process. There’s no thought given to developing a meaningful set of assumptions for the project, and certainly no attempt to manage them.

I believe an organization’s PMO can develop a list of accepted assumptions that hold true for every project and that are seen as …

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