Visible assumptions

When folks don’t know what to call something or where it fits in the scheme of things, they tend to throw it into a big bucket or list of assumptions.  This happens most frequently when they are attempting to understand someone else’s plan (e.g. due diligence on a business case, forecast or estimate) or attempting to explain, support or defend their projection of the future.

We can all agree that there are no facts about the future.  However, that doesn’t mean that the future lacks a rich structure by which it can be explored when standing in the present.  There is a decision pattern that can provide the context for every estimate or scenario of the future.  Stated another way, every assumption has a decision context; it can be unambiguously placed within a Decision Breakdown Structure of the business situation.  There are no exceptions!

It’s been almost 2 decades since I made a list of assumptions to describe or back-up my view of the future.  Every assumption that I can think of ends of being a fragment of decision data such as:

  • Criterion: Threshold or Objective value that a stakeholder associates with a specific requirement/goal in a specific decision
  • Alternative – possible courses of action that we or a competitor might take for a specific decision
  • Performance estimate – the anticipated effectiveness of a specific alternative against a specific criterion/factor and our basis-of-estimate
  • Risk – a potential failure mode associated with a specific alternative and its probability and seriousness
  • Opportunity -a potential windfall associated with a specific alternative and its probability and potential benefit
  • Derived requirements – inherent consequence associated with an alternative that constrains other decisions, i.e. creates a decision-to-decision dependency that would otherwise not exist
  • Tasks – Work and resources required to inform a specific decision or to implement an alternative
  • Alternative dependencies – Timing/composition relationships between alternatives across multiple decisions that constrain roadmap time estimates

These bits of data don’t float in free space somewhere, but they are firmly attached (and only have meaning) in context of a specific decision (a pre-existing, fundamental question/issue that demands an answer/solution).  If you have a proven and comprehensive decision pattern and decision-centric information model, every assumption can be precisely described and placed within this decision model.  This makes your assumptions more:

  • Visible
  • Clear
  • Testable
  • Actionable

So the next time you’re tempted to build a list of assumptions (or are trying to get your head around a list created by someone else), take a moment and ask, “What decision does this assumption belong to?” and “What type of decision data is it?”  Or even better, subscribe to the Decision Driven® Solutions Framework (DDSF) and paste it precisely where it fits. Please contact the Decision Driven® Solutions team at or to start your free DDSF trial today.

About decisiondriven

Innovator in Decision Management, Systems Thinking and System Engineering methods and tools
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