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Project Management>About Project Assumptions


Assumptions are used to establish the project environment and also to provide a basis for planning and estimating.


Assumptions are also defined as low-level risks.

Sometimes there is confusion regarding what is an assumption and what is a risk.

If the activity is within your control it is neither an assumption nor a risk. It should simply go into your work plan

Where you have no control over the activity, the difference between an assumption and risk is whether you think there is a high or low likelihood that an event will happen

However, you should note that:

§         If there is 100% chance of an event occurring, it is simply a fact.

§         If there is a 0% chance of the event occurring, it is fiction.

Neither of these are risks or assumptions.

So for activities that are outside of your control, how do you determine what should be an assumption and what should be recorded as a risk?

There is a simple process for testing how risky assumptions might be, and for recording them as a risk.

A simple IF-THEN statement can be written for each assumption, in the form:

“IF this assumption proved to be false, THEN the effect on the project would be …”

The IF side tests how likely the assumption is to be unsafe, and the THEN side tests whether it matters.

Another way of describing this is to see the IF statement as reflecting probability, whereas the THEN phrase is about impact. And probability and impact are the two sides of risk.

This simple approach can be used to turn project assumptions into risks.

Where an assumption is assessed as likely to be false and/or it could have an impact on one or more project objectives, that assumption should be considered as a risk.

If the assumption is negative and there is a low probability that it will happen, it can be stated as an assumption.

If the event is positive and there is a high likelihood it will happen, it is also an assumption.

This type of Assumptions Analysis is a good way of determining project-specific risks

Assumptions are made for most projects simply because, at the time of planning or re-planning the full facts are not known.  The reasons for this can be:

  • The facts are not yet fully known or not yet decided;
  • The Project may be dependent on the Deliverables or outcomes from other projects, for example:
    • Delivery of a consultation document;
    • Production of new policy or guidance;
    • Purchasing certain goods or services;
    • Construction of new premises.

Example of some assumptions that would appear in the project’s documents are:

  • Four staff working at 25% dedicated time.
  • Staff working hours are 8:00am-5:00pm.
  • Dedicated staff will remain in their current roles.
  • Dedicated staff will cross train one another.
  • Availability of Partner and Vendor staff as needed.
  • Replacement parts will be on site within four hours of notification.
  • New hardware is functional.
  • Project scope will not be modified.


Details of the assumptions and also the risks too, should be recorded in the Project’s documents. This will ensure that all parties who have a vested interest in the project, are made aware of the assumptions and the risks for the project. The Project Brief and the Project Initiation Documents are where the assumptions and risks are usually recorded.   



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Go to Analysis Knowledge Base
Go to Process Change Knowledge Base

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