Effective Solutions Through Partnership

Why Validating Assumptions is So Critical to Project Success

Best Practices, Issues and Risks, Project Management, Risk Assessment, Validating Assumptions

By Stephen Alfano, CSM

Full disclosure, I made three assumptions before I wrote this blog post:

  1. I assumed that project management mavens (and groupies) would overlook my obviously self-serving gambit and give me the professional courtesy to read beyond the first sentence.
  2. I assumed that even the most courteous reader would grow impatient (bolt!) if I didn’t pen something provocative about an intentionally rigid project management subroutine that at times can seem mind-numbingly pedantic.
  3. I assumed that only a handful of the readers would read all the way through the opening paragraph; while most of the readers who remained engaged beyond the gambit would have skipped down to the links leading to additional insight on the prescriptive and didactic data science behind validating assumptions.

If you are still reading this blog post (thank you!), you probably figured out my stratagem quickly and decided to chalk it up to a level-setting parlor trick used to underscore the “tricky” nature of assumptions. (You saw what I did: That statement is an assumption.) So, let’s move on, starting with an official, textbook definition of an assumption.

An assumption is, “a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof.” Of course, how would you know this definition is the definition you seek? How could you be sure it comes from a legitimate and “official” source? (Tricky, right?) In short, an assumption needs to be validated.

Validating Assumptions 101

  • To properly validate an assumption, you need to start by capturing it into a database tool called an assumption log.
    • The assumption log lists assumptions by date.
    • The log is usually created and maintained by a project manager. However, everyone on the project team will have access to the log. More important, specific individuals or groups on the project team will be assigned assumptions to validate throughout the project lifecycle.
  • Not all assumptions are equal, which is why the validation process begins by determining the level of impact or affect an assumption has on the project outcome.
    • Moreover, assumptions may also be project risks—either now or in the future. So, in addition to creating an assumption log, a project manager will produce an overlapping or supporting database called a risk register. The risk register is used to identify, manage, and mitigate risks.
    • The continuous alignment (interdependence) of the assumption log and the risk register is central to a project management plan.
  • Once the level of impact or affect an assumption has on a project outcome is determined, project team members or groups are given the responsibility to validate assumptions by a specific date to keep the project on track.
    • Validation at its core is scientific probing—asking lots of “why” and “how” questions until the assumption can become a proof point. This probing supports the decision-making process towards delivering or realizing project goals. (At this point, I’ll assume you now know how important that is.)

For more insight on validating assumptions, check out these links below:

ASSUMPTIONS ARE MADE TO BE VALIDATED via Leading Agile

The Need to Validate Project Assumptionss via Business 2 Community

5 Tips to Make Sure You Are Validating Early and Often via Kissmetrics

Case Study: Using the 5 Whys to Validate Assumptions via iSixSigma

Identifying and Validating Assumptions and Mitigating Biases in User Research via UX Matters

Build Better Products: How to Identify and Validate Assumptions via Users Know / SlideShare

Now it’s your turn—what are some of your best practices to validate assumptions and reduce risk on your projects? Or, what other trouble spots does your project have—we’d love to cover some mitigation techniques in a future blog post!

About the AuthorStephen Alfano is Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM), Organizational Change Management Consultant and Communications Expert. He has 30 years of experience leading and managing internal and external program initiatives for both private and public-sector clients. His résumé includes providing both new business and business process improvement services to Apple, American Express, AT&T, California Department of Transportation, Chevron, Entergy, Levi Strauss & Co., Louisiana Office of Tourism, Mattel, Microsoft, Novell, SONY, Sutter Health, and Wells Fargo. Stephen currently works as Marketing and Communications Manager for KAI Partners, Inc., spearheading business development and leading the firm’s marketing and communications practice and line of business.

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