Challenging Assumptions and Rules

2014-02-01 12.19.12-2The Creating passionate users blog has a great post on the need to challenge assumptions, so many times I come across assumptions that everyone knows are invalid, but are used because people assume they isolate a project from risk.  Of course all they really do is defer the risk.  Personally I think many assumptions should really be restarted as either issues or risks, that way they are constantly being reviewed by the project team.  Kathy has a few tips:

List them.
Yes, that’s a "duh" statement, but seriously… how many times do you actually SEE assumptions explicitly called out?

Give them a Sell By date.
Slap a date on these puppies and have a system in place for knowing when to sniff them! Whether its a database or spreadsheet or just a big chart on the wall that y’all agree to review once a month or quarter or whatever, the point is to guarantee that you really WILL test them all on a regular basis.

Challenge them all the way down.
Question something and then question what it’s based on, and then what that is based on, and so on… until you get to the bottom. And when you hit bottom, keep questioning until you’re absolutely positively sure it’s the bottom.

When you challenge an assumption, make it fight for its life.
Put it on trial. Force it to defend itself. Be relentless. Be sceptical. Be brutal.

These are all rather obvious tips, yet so often overlooked. But simply listing and challenging our assumptions on a regular basis isn’t the biggest problem it’s the assumptions that we forget we are making that really hold us back.  Often these ingrained assumptions are thought of as rules.  On projects that require innovation I find it useful to list all of the rules and assumptions that we think are constraining us and then ask ourselves what would happen if we break them.  This discipline often reveals artificial constraints that we are imposing on ourselves.  Sometimes these constraints are tough to convince others to remove, it’s not always worth the effort (you need to choose your battles), but it’s better to explicitly decide that.

The storms this winter forced the country to revisit many assumptions that it had about our sea defences.  This picture is of Cleveleys’ prom on one of the milder winter days!

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

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