“Testing Assumptions” – Patrick O’Reilly

May 9, 2014

Testing Assumptions

Often when confronted with a new assignment you may find yourself completely unfamiliar with the project at hand, and as such you will need to draw from your wealth of knowledge to assist you in coming up with your recommendations.

Making assumptions about the nature of the organization, or how you expect the business to operate, can greatly assist your ability to brainstorm effective solutions to the problem. However, it’s important to acknowledge that your own inherent biases and predispositions will influence the assumptions you make, and as such it may prevent you from truly being able to objectively assess the nature of the problem.

When starting work on a project, make sure your team asks themselves what assumptions they are making about the project, the intended outcome, the constraints, the priorities of the organisation and their criteria for success, among others.

Consider all Factors

One helpful way in which this can be achieved is by using a ‘Consider All Factors’ approach; this will help you avoid overlooking essential aspects of the problem you are trying to solve. Get your team to come together to brainstorm all the potential factors that could influence the outcome of the project, these may include such things as budget, expenses, management competency, government regulations, resources, constraints…. anything you think may influence the outcome of your project. Once you have compiled a list of your top influencing factors you can begin to discuss your reasoning for their inclusion, what makes it important? If it were changed would it significantly affect you achieving your goal? By forcing yourself to question the assumptions you have made about the business, you place yourself in a better position to objectively determine the impact that factor has on your overall goal.

Write Down Assumptions

Another way to check your assumptions is to simply write them down as you work and, when suitable, come back to test your claim. For example, say hypothetically you are working on a project to improve the circulation of a local newsletter; you may need to make an assumption on the amount of people you could reasonably expect to reach by distributing in a new area. Is there any empirical evidence to back up your claim? Could you find any comparable data from similar organizations to check your assertion?

You may find that by applying this method of critique, your project recommendations will become stronger overall. Each false or conflicting assumption you find will help make your recommendation stronger, and it is important that you test your assumptions continuously in order to create a more robust piece of work.