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Project assumptions: What they are and why you should care

Blog: Monday Project Management Blog

Assumptions are part of our everyday life. We assume we’ll wake up on time for work and that our cars will start. Project assumptions are also a part of every project management cycle. Project managers assume that they’ll have the appropriate budget and talent to complete the project on time.

The fact of the matter is that assumptions can be proven wrong at any time. Of course, when something comes up to prove them wrong, they can effectively ruin your plans. That’s why it’s essential for project managers to have a deep understanding of what project assumptions are and how to properly identify them during each phase of planning a project.

Learn more about project assumptions and why they’re so important, and discover how can help you initiate and execute projects successfully by managing project assumptions.

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What are project assumptions in project management?

According to the Project Management Institute, the definition of a project assumption is “any factor relating to a project that is considered to be true, real, or certain — without any empirical proof or demonstration.” In other words, project assumptions are simply the things you assume to be true for your project’s success. Naturally, these assumptions will vary with each phase of the project management cycle. What’s more, since these “things” you assume to be true may or may not actually occur, project assumptions will always come with inherent risks.

Project assumptions come with inherent risks as they can make or break your project. That’s why it’s necessary to identify what they are and implement contingency plans to prevent them from hindering your project’s timeline.

Why are project assumptions important?

Realistically, it’s impossible to plan a project without making assumptions. However, the most important thing is that you understand how to identify the assumptions and implement the proper safeguards to keep any false assumptions from hindering your project during any phase of the project management life cycle. This is why project assumptions are so important — because it’s impossible to foresee every variable within a project from initiation to completion.

As a reputable project manager, it’s your job to create a reliable framework for the project’s success. This requires leveraging your past project planning experiences, intuition, and the data at hand to identify and integrate assumptions into that framework. For example, your resource allocations will undoubtedly align with the assumption that you’ll have the necessary resources — talent, funds, materials, etc. — available to you as needed. However, you also know that these resources are typically finite and tend to run out quickly. This means integrating your resource assumptions into the initiation, planning, and execution phases to prevent the negative impact they may have should your resources run out.

What is the connection between project constraints, dependencies, risks, and assumptions?

For many project managers, the distinctions and connections among project assumptions, constraints, dependencies, and risks aren’t always so clear.

Here’s a quick overview:

Constraints are the limitations that you and your team must work within. Project constraints typically include the following:

Dependencies are any tasks or activities that rely directly on the completion or initiation of another task or activity. For example, let’s say you have a task that needs to move to the next phase but can’t without the approval of the client or a stakeholder. This next phase would be the dependency.

It’s important to note that in many instances, project constraints lead to dependencies. In the above example, without the proper approvals, the task cannot be pushed through to the next phase, which can delay your timeline. Therefore, the constraint of needing approval produces a dependency.

Risks are any unexpected events that can crop up and affect your project. Risks don’t always have to be negative, especially if you’ve identified your assumptions appropriately and made a plan for their occurrence. Therefore, if you’re meeting with the client or a stakeholder during the project initiation phase, and they make it clear that their approval is needed at each stage, it’s safe to assume that this may create timeline constraints and dependencies along the way.

So, what do you do? One solution is to integrate this assumption by padding your timeline with space for the client or stakeholder to give your approval. You can also take things a step further by coming to an agreement about said timeline and the expected turnaround time for them to give their approval. With that example in mind, let’s look at how to use project assumptions to move effectively through the project management life cycle.

Best practices for utilizing project assumptions

When it comes to utilizing project assumptions, you’ll want to follow these best practices:

Assess every potential assumption

The phrase “I think” will occur left and right during the initiation and planning phases of the project. Consider everything that follows “I think” to be an assumption, make a list of them, and then narrow that list down to the most realistic assumptions. Be sure to view every assumption with an appropriate amount of skepticism, and think about the likelihood of it happening, as well as what the realistic consequences of each assumption would be. Then think about how you can mitigate those consequences.

Integrate the assumptions

Once you’ve identified and assessed the potential assumptions throughout the project’s future life cycle, you’ll need to incorporate them into your project planning.

This means including assumptions about the following:

Maintain control

Since assumptions can potentially hinder your project, you’ll need to remain vigilant in monitoring your assumption integrations so you can manage them accordingly. If you don’t monitor your assumptions throughout the life of the project, you won’t be able to enact your contingency plans where appropriate. Keep in mind that your initial assumptions won’t remain static, meaning that new assumptions can evolve as the project unfolds. Therefore, monitoring your initial assumptions and making room for new ones is how you maintain the necessary control.

Do a post-project review

Once the project is complete, it’s a good idea to review the assumptions and your process for evaluating them as part of a post-project review. This will allow you to gain unique insights for the next project as you’ll get a full view of how the project went, what went wrong, and which contingency plans worked best. You’ll also be able to think about what tools (e.g., Work OS) you could use differently to manage those assumptions better.

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Managing project assumptions with

You can use as a project management tool to create workflows for task management, productivity, and teamwork, which will help you see how project assumptions could negatively impact your project’s completion and proactively avoid those pitfalls. With, you’ll get a visual of the effective Work OS to help you manage everything in one place. This makes it super easy to monitor a project’s overall health and the integrated assumptions because everyone has access to the same data and processes.

For example, using’s WorkForms, you can break the project down into phases based on the timeline. From there, you can make notations of things like the budget, turnaround time expectations, and the assumptions in place, as well as their contingency plans, for everyone on your team to see.

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What are the four stages of the PM life cycle?

  1. Initiating: The initiation phase is when you define the project and its scope, timeline, and resources. More importantly, it’s when you’ll clarify the project goals and expectations.
  2. Planning: This phase calls for determining the steps that will lead you and your team to achieve the project’s goals. It involves budgeting, creating a timeline and milestones, and how communications among team members, clients, and stakeholders will proceed.
  3. Execution: The execution phase involves putting your plan into action while managing, tracking, and measuring progress along the way.
  4. Closing: During the closing phase, you and your team will finish the project and turn it over to the client or stakeholders.

What are project management assumptions?

Project management assumptions are the factors involved in a project that you assume to be true.

Final thoughts

There’s potential to encounter project assumptions at every stage of the project management life cycle. The only way to mitigate the potential damages of making assumptions that don’t turn out to be true is to identify what could happen instead, implement contingency plans for the consequences, and use what you learned to prepare for the next project.

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