How to Create a Project Assumptions List: Examples and Template Included

 How to Create a Project Assumptions List

 

When my daughter was very little, she came home from school one day and told me the saying about assumptions: When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me.

Gasp! “Where did you hear that, honey?”

“At school, Mommy. Our teacher told us.”

The class was shocked and amazed because their teacher had used the word “ass.”

This was back when they still thought “butt” was a bad word.

We’ve all heard that one.

I just didn’t expect my little one to learn that saying so early in her life.

Though it’s often true, that saying does not apply to your project.

 

When you plan your project, you’re operating on a set of assumptions. And you need to make sure those assumptions are understood by everyone involved.

But maybe the idea of dealing with assumptions in project management is a bit confusing.

What are project assumptions, anyway?

How are you supposed to know what they are? And what do you do with them once you’ve identified them?

Is it worth the effort to figure it out and take the team’s valuable time to do it?

Yes. And in this post I’ll go over the following items:

  • The benefit of identifying and creating a list of  project assumptions
  • Different types of project assumptions – including examples
  • How to identify and manage project assumptions

But first, it helps to understand just what assumptions in project management are.

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What are Project Assumptions?

 

 

Project assumptions are those things you assume to be true for your project to be successful.

They’re called assumptions because you assume that for your project to move forward successfully as planned, these things will be in place.

Even though you don’t have proof at the moment, you expect them to occur during the project.

 

But just because you assume them to be true doesn’t mean that everyone else does. That’s why it’s important to go through the process of identifying your project assumptions.

Just because you assume something to be true for your project doesn't mean everyone else does. Planning around false assumptions sets you up for problems. Get it out in front of others so they can verify if it's true or not. Click To Tweet
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Why It’s Important to Identify Project Assumptions

You identify and create a list of project assumptions, so you don’t have to double check everything before moving forward with your project.

You need to be able to move forward without getting bogged down checking every detail you know will likely be true.

In your day-to-day life, for example, you start each day with assumptions about what will be true:

  • You assume you need a certain amount of time to get ready for and get to work each day.
  • You assume that you’ll have electricity when you wake in the morning and that you’ll have hot water for your shower.
  • You assume when you get in your car to drive to work, it will start.
  • You assume that the train will run on time.
  • You assume your office will be open and you’ll be able to conduct your work once you arrive.

These are assumptions we usually take for granted.

However, things don’t always go as planned. One day my husband walked out of the house for work, as usual. Shortly after, he walked right back in again. He was shaking his head, and said to me, “your car is on cinderblocks. Someone stole your tires.”

When I woke that morning, I assumed I’d have tires on my car so I could drive to work.

This is an extreme example (but true).

Something more likely is my assumption that traffic will flow smoothly on my drive to work. And yet I check the traffic map as I leave the house. I check that assumption so I can adjust my route if needed.

The stakes can be higher when we’re talking about the success of your project.

But many people don’t take the time to consider project assumptions. It’s easy to overlook them. After all, there are so many things to focus on, such as identifying scope, gathering requirements, creating your schedule, among many others.

Dealing with project assumptions isn’t sexy. But skipping it may come back to bite you. And if you’ve never done it, it can be confusing.

 

So let’s break down how to do it.

Types of Project Assumptions

To help you think through and manage assumptions, it can help to understand the different kinds of project assumptions.

They usually break out into different categories. Doing so helps you think through all the different types of assumptions you need to consider.

Here’s a list of categories to start with. If these are too many, scale back the number of categories and make them fewer and broader.

But if you’re new to project assumptions, this will help you consider the many different areas where you’ll make assumptions about your project.

Categories

  • Resources – people, materials, or facilities needed to complete the project
  • Delivery – what’s intended to be delivered.
  • Budget – estimated cost of the project
  • Finances – funding to complete the project
  • Scope – the scope of the what’s to be delivered
  • Schedule: tasks, durations, and dependencies needed to complete the project
  • Methodology – the approach you’ll take to completing the project.
  • Technology – this could cover software development, platforms, environments, and infrastructure
  • Architecture and design – architecture and design approach your team will use

 

Now that you’ve got categories, it’s helpful to see examples.

Examples of Project Assumptions

Now that you’ve got a list of categories, it will make things even clearer to provide examples in each.

  • Resources:
    • End users will be available to test during the time they agree to
    • Training rooms will be available at the training center as needed
  • Delivery:
    • Project servers arrive configured as expected
    • Correct number of handheld devices arrive on target delivery date with no delays
  • Budget – estimated cost of the project
    • Project costs will stay the same as initially budgeted costs
    • Training will be conducted internally with no additional training costs incurred
  • Finances – funding to complete the project
    • Funding for licenses will be provided by various departments as needed
  • Scope – the scope of the what you’re going to deliver
    • Project scope will not change once the stakeholders sign off on the scope statement

Here’s a helpful read on project scope: Don’t Let Project Scope Creep Sabotage Your Project Success 

  • Schedule: tasks, durations, and dependencies needed to complete the project
    • Materials will arrive as planned within the project schedule
    • Vendor contracts will be fully executed within two months of vendor selection.
  • Methodology – the approach you’ll take to completing the project.
    • Project will follow waterfall methodology throughout execution
    • Project will follow team governance guidelines and requirements
  • Technology – this could cover software development, platforms, environments, networks, firewalls, bandwidth.
    • The team will write the solution in Java
    • The solution will use the existing test environment
  • Architecture and design – architecture and design approach your team will use
    • The solution will utilize REST API architecture
    • The solution will reside in an offsite cloud

If architecture is an area you’re not as familiar with, the Open Group has a great deal of information about architecture compliance that may be interesting to review.

Use this list of categories and examples as a starting point for listing your project assumptions.Click To Tweet

So now…

You know what project assumptions are.

You have categories and examples.

Now you’re ready to start compiling a list of project assumptions.

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How to Identify and Manage Project Assumptions

 

Follow these activities to address project assumptions.

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1. Identify and Document

Identifying your project assumptions is not something to do all by yourself while sitting at your desk alone.
You need to include the team. They’ll be able to provide insight and help create a more comprehensive project assumptions list.

Whether you do it virtually or in person, explain that you’ll be compiling the list of project assumptions with their input.

Share the categories with them and ask for ideas or feedback on them. Do they fit your project? Should they be changed in any way?

Once you’ve settled on your categories, begin to brainstorm and list the project assumptions together.

Capture them as your team shares them, and identify the category that each falls within.

 

As you work through these, document them.  One of the best ways to do this is in a Project Assumptions Log.

 

2. Create a Project Assumptions Log

The project assumptions log allows you to document additional information about your project assumptions, and track the status of each.

 

Simply identifying the assumptions isn’t enough. You need to document them in a way that helps everyone understand the current assumptions and how you’ll manage them going forward.

In the Project Assumptions Log include values for each of the following categories:

  • Assumption log number: for ease of tracking and discussing
  • Initial date logged
  • Category (resource, delivery, budget, etc.)
  • Name/description of the assumption
  • Owner who takes responsibility for following up
  • Due Date: date to validate
  • Status: Open or closed
  • Actions/Comments: Action needed or taken.

 

 3. Communicate and Validate with Stakeholders

Once you’ve got your list of project assumptions, don’t just set them aside.

Share them with stakeholders. It’s important for stakeholders to know the assumptions you’re working under.

If any of them change, it could impact your project. Your timeline or budget may change.

Additionally, your stakeholders may have insight that you’re not aware of regarding assumptions you’ve made.

If you discover any of your assumptions are wrong, make adjustments in your documentation. Make sure the team knows. The change will likely impact your plan.

You need to determine how the plan needs to change based on the new information.

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4. Monitor throughout the project

Validate your project assumptions at various points through the project.

Your assumption owners listed in the Project Assumptions Log should follow up and validate on the target dates.

For example, if you have an assumption about contract execution times, check with the legal or procurement team during the contract execution timeframe. Situations change, and you need to make sure your assumptions hold true throughout. As assumptions and dates pass, you can mark those items as closed.

If any project assumptions turn out to be false, this would negatively impact your project.

Monitor them throughout so that you can adjust as needed.

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5. Adjust if Needed

As you monitor your project assumptions list, you may find that some assumptions change.

If they do, take action and adjust as needed.

These changes may impact your project in the areas of cost, schedule, or quality.

Be prepared to adjust your plan to account for these changes.

Communicate the changes to the team, stakeholders, and anyone else impacted.

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Summary

Now you know what project assumptions are, why it’s important to identify them, and how to do it.

It may seem like a lot of work. But when you brainstorm with your team, it goes faster, and you’ll capture more than doing it alone.

It’s a great communication tool to make sure your assumptions are shared and validated, and you can monitor them throughout your project.

 

2 Comments

  1. Holden July 31, 2018
    • Leigh Espy July 31, 2018

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