Experience makes you think you've gained an unquestionable license to generalizing :) At least that's what is happening regularly in my case. I tend to believe I see patterns I wasn't able to identify years ago. Maybe I'm right, or perhaps it's hubris (boosted by bias, e.g., things I want to see) - nevertheless, I believe some of them (those generalizations) are worth sharing. You don't need to take them for granted - a bit of good discussion is always appreciated, though.

Here's an example I covered years ago. In fact, it wasn't coined by myself, but within one of my teams, and it sounded like this:

"Do not criticize (other people)."

I'm not going to revisit it. If you're curious, you'll easily find the blog post covering the whole story. However, today, I have another generalization I tend to refer to frequently, but AFAIR, I haven't written about it so far. Here it goes:

"Do not make silent assumptions."

What is a "silent assumption"? It's an atomic unit of intellectual laziness. I bet you'd like some examples:

  1. "We've talked about this bug in the morning. I assume someone will take care of it."
  2. "He had no questions. I assume he understands the topic now and won't make that mistake again."
  3. "There were no questions during the All Hands meeting, I assume the strategy is clear, and everyone is fully committed."
  4. "We had this agreement last quarter that every new batch job must be load-tested. I assume the team has respected that."

What's a common denominator here? Well ...

  • all the statements may have rational intentions behind them, and they are at least partially justified (there's an excuse ready in place)
  • all of them could be validated (which, of course, requires time, energy, or - the worst! - reaching out to another human being - the horror!)
  • probability-wise, at least some of them (and at least in some healthy, high-ownership organizational cultures) will not fail - the bug will be picked up, the batch job will be load-tested, etc., but ...

... sooner or later, some assumptions won't be fulfilled. The ball will get dropped, and the topic without clear ownership will get stuck in the void. Or alternatively (which may turn out to be even worse), there will be overlapping activities, causing not only waste, but also chaos, quarrel, and frustration.

Unfortunately, these negative phenomena tend to scale (if not addressed immediately) in a really nasty way. Organizations where ownerless problems stockpile in an aura of excuses and fingerpointing tend to slow down to a crawl and lose any effectiveness left. At best, they are able to keep the lights on.

At best.


I believe that the solution is straightforward. Make your assumptions explicit - write them down. And make that (explicitness) a habit - e.g. nearly whatever I write, I start with the section called 'assumptions'. Communicate your assumptions proactively and expect clear acknowledgment/confirmation (not only in case of a question). If needed (the problem is complex), illustrate the assumption with an example.

And don't forget to test the assumptions. Communication always has more than one side - the other party may actually assume a particular (but wrong!) way of understanding your formed assumption :) Don't be afraid to ask the other party to rephrase the assumption from their point of view - if they can express it correctly, they got it right.

Occasionally, that may mean a moment of inconvenient awkwardness - when parties do not share the same assumptions. But it's better to know earlier than later, correct? Being 'morally right' (having the best excuse) may not be enough to save the day.