Guideline Six | Assumptions

6. Identify assumptions or risks that may limit project outcomes being achieved

Significant assumptions often exist in relation to how a project is intended to work (i.e. its Intended Project Logic). In some cases, they can make a major difference to the level of success ultimately achieved by a project. Accordingly, assumptions (or risks, see below) should be considered carefully throughout a project, but particularly in the early days.

Some assumptions about a project may be well known to the project team and explicitly considered as success factors – for example ‘effective collaboration between stakeholder group X and stakeholder group Y’. Other assumptions may be hidden (not articulated or even not thought of). For example, a hidden assumption about a project might be that students in selected courses will be willing to engage positively in particular project activities.

It is therefore important to articulate and reflect critically on any assumptions that could influence the progress of a project, particularly when formulating its design and intended logic, and while planning implementation actions. Thinking about assumptions as early as possible in a project’s life can also be helpful for identifying critical success factors, and for other important project management activities, such as engaging with key stakeholders to (for example) influence their enthusiasm for the project.
Some conventions on project management stress risks rather than assumptions. In our view, in most situations assumptions can be easily translated into risks and vice versa. The following examples illustrate this point.

1) Assumption: There will be sufficient Heads of School who volunteer to engage in X     Risk: There might not be sufficient Heads of School willing to engage in X

2) Assumption: It will be possible to align the Trial-Testing Team work and process with the Production Team (process) so that timelines for product completion will be met.     Risk: The limited capacity of the Trial-Testing Team might cause slippage in the Production Team schedule (due to turn-around time delays with results) and this could cause timeline problems for product completions. 
In most contexts, a choice can be made about how considerations should be expressed: as assumptions or risks. Either way, the information generated can be very helpful for thinking strategically, planning effectively for project success and watching out for potential difficulties.