Documenting Project Assumptions and Constraints


Quick Summary
Screenshot A guideline and suggested format for logging and monitoring key assumptions and constraints that could affect your project. Both detailed guidelines and a basic template containing the most essential data elements are included.


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What this is

A guideline and format for identifying, managing, and monitoring key assumptions and constraints that may affect your project. Both detailed guidelines and a basic template containing the most essential data elements are included. This format provided in this template can be used "as is" or modified to suit your organization and project environment. (Higher risk projects will require more robust treatment and vice versa.) You may prefer to log your project's assumptions and constraints in a spreadsheet, for easier filtering and sorting.


Why it's useful

Both assumptions and constraints are inevitable and necessary inputs into the project planning process. But they can also inhibit sound judgment and forward progress when we get bogged down by believing things that "just ain't so." The most dangerous assumptions and constraints remain hidden or unspoken: we act on them without being aware of them, or simply take them at face value without appropriate testing or independent verification.

This is why it's essential for project teams to have a structured, open, collaborative process for identifying, capturing, analyzing, and validating assumptions and constraints, beginning with project initiation and continuing through project planning and execution and ultimately to closeout. This is not a one-time "set it and forget it" exercise. As with many aspects of project definition and planning, capturing and managing project assumptions and constraints should be an iterative and evolutionary process as information is progressively identified, gathered, and refined throughout the project.


How to use it

  1. Start identifying assumptions and constraints at the very beginning of the project. Consult the project business case, project charter or vision document, the sponsor, your team, key internal and external stakeholders, and lessons learned from prior similar projects. The key here is AWARENESS.
  2. Capture and classify all assumptions and constraints in the Assumptions and Constraints Log. You may prefer to modify the provided form for the particular needs of each project.
  3. Complete an initial group review and challenge process to confirm the truth of any assumption or constraint before using it as a basis for any decisions, conclusions, or estimates. Remember that especially with assumptions, beliefs do not necessarily equal facts.
  4. Document and communicate all agreed-upon assumptions and constraints both in writing and via formal review (individually and in group settings as appropriate) to ensure common understanding, agreement and alignment. Address and reconcile any gaps or disagreements.
  5. Track and periodically review all key assumptions and constraints during team meetings and reviews in order to confirm their continuing accuracy and relevance. Modify or retire any assumptions or constraints that no longer apply, and add/process new ones as they are identified.
  6. Archive the Assumptions and Constraints Log at the end of the project. If the log prompted any specific learnings or issues, document those in the project's Lessons Learned documentation.
About the Author

David Bouchard is a Senior Project Manager and certified PMP with over 30 years of experience in financial services project management and is a specialist in the organization, planning, and execution of business projects. For the bulk of his career, he worked at Bank of America and its legacy companies on a wide variety of projects and programs including transitions, integrations and systems conversions. He is currently consulting as Senior SME, Financial Services Sector for ProjectConnections.com. Connect with Dave on LinkedIn.


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