Hidden assumptions are one of the primary forces that lead teams to frustration and conflict. Projects are conceived and talked about but key details are shrouded and left out of the discussion. These minor gaps in communication accumulate and create problems that lead to the dark side.
For example imagine that a team needs to decide on the name for a new product. Excited to explore new ideas, they immediately jump into brainstorming. As they begin to talk about the various naming options, disagreements and arguments break out. They failed to properly establish the groundwork and goals for the name. Who is the audience? What do we know about them and their drives? What are the specific qualities in a name that are important to the customer? How do we measure the various candidates and know which ones are most likely to be successful? The assumption that everyone would recognize the perfect name and agree on it was toxic.
When teams don’t take the time to establish common, customer oriented goals, their own egos become attached to the outcome. Each team member has personal preferences but they haven’t consciously explored why. In the example, they failed to openly discuss the necessary qualities of the name or, more importantly, do research to find out what matters to the customer.
The team fights and the highest ranking person chooses the new name based on their own hidden assumptions. Understanding and learning from the success or failure of the name will be impossible because there was never a clear assessment of the necessary qualities. Each new product naming exercise will just be a new roll of the dice.
Just as in the example of the name, hidden assumptions negatively impact many aspects of projects. Choices made with unexplored and untested origins can destroy customers experience objectives. It is critical that everyone on the team recognize their hidden assumptions and find ways to gather data to test their assumptions so that thoughtful decisions can be made that are in alignment with the customer and the force.
May the force be with you