Hidden Assumptions Can Take Down Your Project

What are you assuming? Every project plan, user story and task list contains assumptions. An assumption is something that’s taken for granted by the software development team — something presumed to be true. This is in contrast to risks, in that risks are adverse events that we believe are unlikely to occur.

Some assumptions will be obvious and others will be obscure. If an assumption proves to be wrong, the team will be adversely impacted. (That would be a risk.) Here are a few examples of obscure or hidden assumptions:

  • The team will remain intact for the duration of the project.
  • Computer systems and data will be available to the team when needed.
  • Development tools and technology infrastructure will be adequate to support the project.
  • People outside the core team will be available when needed.
  • Outside parties (e.g. vendors, suppliers, business partners, etc.) will deliver as promised.
  • User stories have been properly scoped and estimated.
  • Task lists are thorough.
  • The definition-of-done covers the needs of every story.
  • Any team member will be able to select any story and complete it.
  • Team members have adequate knowledge and training to complete the project.

You get the idea. We all make a variety of assumptions when making plans and commitments. Usually, those assumptions prove to be correct but not always. And, the more assumptions the team makes, the greater the likelihood that something won’t go as planned. (A risk event will be realized.)

One reason why so many development projects take longer than planned is simply because one or more assumptions proves wrong and the team has to scramble to address an unplanned issue. For that reason, it’s a good idea to take a moment to think through the development team’s assumptions.

Ask yourself if the project goals and timeline seem reasonable? Is the team ready? Is the environment suitable? Are people outside the core development team engaged? What’s missing?

Projects tend to take more time than we expect simply because most of us are optimists — we want to believe. Don’t give up your optimism. Just take a little time to validate it.

Updated: May 15, 2012 — 9:31 pm