Attack of the killer Assumptions (and how to overcome them)

assume the position

Assumptions are something we battle in kinds of ways. I know when I was doing more project management, trying to get a handle on project assumptions and documenting them was a necessary challenge. Understanding and documenting assumptions was critical to managing my client’s expectations, and making sure that it was actually possible for me to deliver a project on time and on budget.

These days, I’m more likely to make assumptions about the way that people will understand an interface and what they’ll find easy to use. Even though I continually try to train myself NOT to bring assumptions to the table when I’m designing or testing designs – or at least, to position my assumptions more as hypotheses than as a personal truth.

I often learn as much about my own inbuilt assumptions as I do about how people interact with particular interfaces… even now when we are all conscious of the new challenges created by different kinds of novel interface element, it’s a constant challenge to keep assumptions under control (which is – in my opinion – to make them conscious assumptions).

I’ve been thinking about this subject for a few years now and have asked lots of people along the way about their experiences so it was reassuring to see Kathy Sierra sum up my quandary so succinctly in her recent post on Assumptions (and their use by dates):

The really big problem is the assumptions which are so ingrained that we don’t even know they’re assumptions. They become an accepted Law of Physics, as good as gravity.

For me, assumptions are something that you usually become aware of after they’ve bitten you in the butt. Once they’re known, conscious and documented they’re not so scary… in fact, they’re not scary at all.

It’s kind of like being afraid of the dark… when you can’t see what’s under the bed, you imagine all kinds of hideous things. Once the light is on, you wonder how on earth you let your imagination run away with you so crazily.

Kathy is right – once you’ve recognised your assumptions, you can’t just leave them sitting there. You need to pull them out and re-examine them every now and then and make sure that they’re still as they should be, or update them if you need to. (Or, potentially throw them away as irrelevant).

But here’s my question – what do *you* do to try to expose these really dangerous assumptions? The ones you don’t even know that you have? How do you bring them to light and make them known and not dangerous?

Come on. Help me take out some of these killer assumptions.

:)

Image Credit: Kayaness @ Flickr

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