Project Management: The Importance of Project Assumptions

We all make assumptions every day, from water turning on for a shower to our car starting so we can drive to work. For project managers, however, assumptions can often prove to be incorrect. To combat the potential negative consequences of assumptions, project managers need to understand assumptions, how to identify them, and what to do when assumptions change.

What Is a Project Assumption?

Project assumptions are expectations a project manager integrates into the planning of a project. These are events or conditions that a project manager believes will occur during a project’s life cycle.

Project assumptions are events or conditions that a project manager expects to occur during the life cycle of a project.

When planning a new project, it’s impossible to know what every variable may be. As a result, managers often have to make assumptions to generate models or plans that can form the basis for actions the organization will take in the future. However, project assumptions can’t just be pulled out of the air and carry some inherent risks.

Common Types of Project Assumptions

Below are some of the most common project assumptions.

  • Resource assumptions involve materials, people, and funds. These assumptions are critical for the success or failure of a project. For example, during the Covid-19 pandemic, many projects had difficulties because resource assumptions had mistakenly assumed that materials, labour, and funds would all be available.
  • Cost assumptions. Related to resource assumptions are cost assumptions. These are expectations regarding the pricing of different parts of the project, which could include resources, but also assumptions about other expenses and the budget.
  • Schedule assumptions are related to how long different parts of the project may take and the timeline for the project. Often, when schedule assumptions are disrupted, other assumptions may need adjusting. Many project managers utilize task management software to stay on track.
Just like with other assumptions, when schedule assumptions are disrupted, others may need adjusting.
  • Quality assumptions generally refer to the fit and finish of resources, but they can also apply to the quality of finished work in a project. Quality assumptions can also relate to the skill of individuals involved in the project.
  • Technology assumptions involve any assumption related to technology. Today, many projects rely on digital technologies to function, but technology assumptions can bring your project to a halt if they are not carefully managed. For example, some project managers find that utilizing a VoIP phone system is far more reliable than traditional phone lines. Careful project planning requires understanding whether or not specific technology resources will be available.
  • Location assumptions involve anything relating to geographic considerations of the project. Projects may assume that an area will be high traffic or low traffic, where resources can be staged, and so on. These types of assumptions are critical for planning.
  • Environmental assumptions help consider environmental factors like the weather and local conditions. Some materials may need special handling to avoid spoilage, or projects well-suited to one environment may need adjustment in another.

Why Do We Need Assumptions in Project Management?

To create reliable frameworks for projects, like marketing or new project management plans, you must integrate some assumptions into the planning process. According to a recent study, 60% of surveyed business owners claimed they didn’t feel knowledgeable about basic accounting skills, and many are probably unclear about basic project management skills as well.

Project assumptions are an important component of project management as they help build reliable project frameworks.

But assumptions are essential to planning because it’s impossible to know every possible variable in a project. Skilled managers can examine past projects, use their intuition, and leverage data and other common assumptions to integrate them into their current plans.

Often, these assumptions will be based on the given project’s needs. However, picking assumptions isn’t just guesswork or making things up. Assumptions should be based on some kind of experience or specific knowledge. Remember, an assumption is an unknown fact you believe is accurate at a given time.

For example, if you’re planning a road trip to visit your best friend, you would know what city you’re going to, how far away it is, and approximately how long it will take to get there. However, planning the trip might require making assumptions about how often you’ll decide to stop. If you’re planning the trip far in advance, you might find yourself integrating assumptions about what the weather will be like too. In any case, these assumptions are critical to planning your trip – even if you don’t know whether it will be sunny or rainy when you get to your destination.

Managing Your Project Assumptions

At this point, you’re probably wondering how a project manager can know which assumptions to include in a plan. Managing project assumptions requires dutiful balance because your assumptions are crucial to making your project work, and they can drastically impact how your project performs. 

One of the main ways to weed out unnecessary assumptions is to look toward past projects, as they are often useful sources of future assumptions. This is particularly true when a past project is similar to a new one. Be cautious though, past projects should be checked for their validity, and any risks should be taken into consideration.

Using previous projects as a reference point allows project managers to make more accurate project assumptions.

During project planning, managing assumptions is an active process. This means that as inaccuracies appear or as information changes, assumptions should be altered.  Changes should then be documented while simultaneously informing necessary parties about the changes.

For example, while managing a construction project, an essential subcontractor fails to complete work on time. Other contractors and managers may be depending on that work before they can move forward with the completion of the project. To adequately address this change, all interested parties should be informed with relevant information.

One of the key functions of a project manager is to rectify initial observations or assumptions early in the project and then continue to analyze performance to ensure successful completion.

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Ensure Your Assumptions Are Valid

Sometimes it can be difficult to determine which assumptions are valid. However, there are some best practices for validating your assumptions.

There are some simple ways of conducting effective project assumptions. Some important steps to consider include research, feedback, brainstorming, and testing.

Some simple ways to validate assumptions are:

  • Conduct research: Examine past projects and earlier work similar to your current project. Understanding the scope of past assumptions can help you understand future ones.
  • Ask questions: Seek feedback and information from other team members or stakeholders to understand whether an assumption is valid or realistic. Individuals should be able to provide proof, documentation, or testimony of their experiences to help.
  • Brainstorm: Brainstorming can also yield excellent results for understanding if assumptions are valid. Consider doing this alone and as a team.
  • Seek confirmation: Sometimes, validity can come from outside your team and stakeholders. Seek confirmation from authorities, like regulatory organizations or governmental bodies, to help validate your assumptions.
  • Test: Sometimes, small-scale controlled testing can reveal whether assumptions are valid or not. Record the results and incorporate them into your project so future project managers can reflect on your findings.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, the assumptions you incorporate into your projects will be up to you and your team.

However, if you utilize these helpful tips, you’ll perfectly incorporate assumptions into your projects every time.

Zenkit Projects for Project Assumptions

Zenkit Projects is a powerful project management tool with real-time collaboration features. Its user-friendly project management dashboard enables project managers to keep track of multiple projects in one place. This not only makes project management more, well, manageable, but it’s also an invaluable method of developing key project assumptions from previous (or ongoing) projects!

Furthermore, its integration with the rest of the Zenkit Suite provides your projects with additional power and flexibility, making project development more reliable and streamlined. Plus, all applications in the Zenkit Suite are free to use!

What an exciting time to be a project manager!

Learn to master the Zenkit Suite by visiting our Knowledge Base.

About the Author: Alex Williams is a seasoned full-stack developer and the former owner of Hosting Data UK. After graduating from the University of London with a Master’s Degree in IT, Alex worked as a developer, leading various projects for clients from all over the world for almost 10 years. Alex has recently switched to being an independent IT consultant and started his technical copywriting career.