July 15, 2006
Liz published this at 12:46 pm
What Is the Premise Behind your Thinking?
At the time I was an Executive Editor. The project was simple. Build a binder of about 300 pages. I’d probably built four times that many books already. For a rush job, this one should be a piece of cake.
We made the bookmap. We went through the usual steps. We got the pages. Got the binders. Got everything ready for assembly. That’s when we faced our hidden assumption.
We’d assumed that Binders go together exactly like books do.
They do except in one important way. Books don’t have those tab dividers. Our tiny assumption caused a major, stressful, and immediate problem. The first divider belonged between pages 23 and 24. So?
Pages 23 and 24 are the front and back of the same sheet of paper! Try putting a tab between one sheet of paper. I declared war on faulty assumptions.
Test the Supporting Walls as They Go Up
When it comes to hidden, faulty assumptions, most folks prefer to find bad thinking during the planning stage. They’d rather not be surprised like we were with those binders. There’s no reason that they should be. Good tests at the right time will unearth faulty, hidden assumptions.
Knowing when to test a plan makes finding those lurking losers easier. Checking too often can disrupt the thought process. It can kill teamwork and creativity. Checking too infrequently can cause a plan completely unravel with a test.
I take my lead from building contractors. I test my assumptions as each supporting wall goes up. Supporting walls might be when the project launches and before planning begins for a phase in which the project responsibility changes hands.
Five Tools for Finding Faulty Assumptions
Knowing when to test the plan is half of the strategy. The other half is knowing how. These five tools can help you find and shake loose most faulty assumptions in your planning.
1. Question the basic premises. Whether the plan is based on research, conversation, or experience, it’s best practice to state and challenge the vocabulary, job roles, and basic premises at the beginning of any project or plan. Time changes things and situations. People often have different ideas about how terms and processes are defined.
2. Over-plan any part that is new or untried. Every new endeavor brings an adventure, something that wasn’t expected. Look in the new parts for the differences. Look for what you’re assuming will be the same. If you can, find someone who’s done what you have not.
3. Describe your plan to folks who care, don’t care, and couldn’t care less. Don’t ask for buy in. Ask for help in finding problems. Choose folks who weren’t part of the planning. They see things that you can’t. Other viewpoints offer new perspectives. Use them to your advantage.
4. Don’t make a list. Make a graphic, preferably a flowchart, if you can. It’s easier to see missing steps when you’re looking at a picture.
5. Don’t fall in love with your ideas. Fall in love with finding the holes. When someone else points out a problem with your plan. Know that solving that problem to meet both of your needs will make the plan stronger and more elegant.
I’ll never have another binder-building problem, and I now know to be careful about assumptions when doing something “close, but not the same.” Faulty, hidden assumptions that catch me out have a of sticking in my memory.
New faulty assumptions are still the enemy. Those bad guys can be dangerous, if left unchecked to roam freely.
Do you have strategies that you use to find the hidden assumptions in your thinking? I wouldn’t mind a few more tools to add to my assumption-catching survival kit.
–ME “Liz” Strauss
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