Friday, 31 October 2014

Assumptions – The mother of all evil?

Yesterday we were discussing some topics related to a delivery, and I became aware of something our counterpart was saying things like: “We assume…”, “It is safe to assume…”, “You might be in a position to assume…” – That led me to lose faith in the plan that they had prepared.

In my book assumptions are a constant source of risk, due to the fact that they represent something that is unknown and hidden under a blanket of guessing. They are however easy to make, simplifies things and offers a shortcut in situations where unknown variables are encountered. In other words a necessary evil for most of the things we do and when made consciously they might even serve you well. If assumptions are injected unconsciously bad things might happen on the basis the risk you indirectly accept.

This corresponds (more or less) with the dictionary definition of assumption: “Accepted cause and effect relationships, or estimates of the existence of a fact from the known existence of other fact(s). Although useful in providing basis for action and in creating "what if" scenarios to simulate different realities or possible situations, assumptions are dangerous when accepted as reality without thorough examination”

Back to the plan under discussion the other day… With all the assumptions aired while walking through the plan I had to ask the author about the foundation on which it was build. My claim is that it could hardly be estimates, as many of the activities was based on assumptions, it would have to be guesstimates, or in other words inaccurate estimates – This argument caused quite a stir.

We ended up agreeing that the plan was fine, but all assumptions that were related to activities on the critical path of the project had to be documented. These assumptions had to be proved right or dismissed with adequate re-planning as a consequence. Until this point in time they where they were considered risks. It was hard work identifying the assumptions, but gave a good picture on risk vs. critical path.

Conclusion: Assumptions are not the mother of all evil but be very conscious when operating on assumptions. You cannot avoid them, but rest assured that assumptions are the equivalence of unmanaged risk if you are not, especially if you build critical plans on assumptions!

Happy testing!

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