We last spoke of the need to ask questions instead of always making assumptions – it leads to less error and lower risk.  But how do you identify when someone is making an assumption?  Here’s a few markers to help you tell when assumptions are being made:

Genius – as in “He’s a genius!  Sorry, but calling someone a genius doesn’t make them a genius – it requires a solid record of unique achievements before you can call someone a genius.  Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman were geniuses – they demonstrated real, unique achievements.  And “They” are not a judge of genius.  Just saying…

Precise Numbers – I once watched a demonstration by a wood turner and while sharpening her tools was asked what angle the tool was held to the grinding stone.  She replied that it was “about 35 degrees” whereupon the questioner wanted to know the precise angle and when she couldn’t give a precise number, he left in a huff.  Her comment afterward was, “I should have said 34.57 degrees.”

We love to see precise numbers when we are making decisions – but they usually don’t exist.  Why?  Because if precise numbers are known, the decision would be an easy one to make and it’s likely someone would have already made the decision.  It’s easy to come up with precise numbers – the real question is how believable are they?  And what is their range of uncertainty?  If there is no valid reason for the numbers, i.e., no authority, then beware.

I’ll have to get you the numbers – the opposite of being given precise numbers with no back up is being given no numbers at all.  Whenever I’ve developed budgets, I would always come up with three – the worst case, the expected case and the wildly successful case – each complete with the assumptions they were based on and an explanation of how the numbers were derived.  That was so anyone looking at the numbers would understand how they were created and the circumstances that they were based on.

Lots of experience – this is what you hear when you’re hiring someone or considering whether to let them lead a project.  The questions to ask are what experience?  Where?  When?  How was the experience related to what you’re doing?

Just needs a few tweaks – I am a firm believer in rapid prototyping – developing a minimum viable product (MVP) and showing it to potential customers and users.  It quickly gives you feedback on what the customers will be willing to use and pay for.  If your developer is unwilling to show you the product or insists that it needs a “few more tweaks” before it can be shown, then you are likely dealing with a perfectionist that wants everything perfect before showing it anyone – and how do they know that anyone wants it?  Oh, yeah, they’re a genius…

Lindsay Lohan – mentioning Lindsay Lohan is not a marker but a warning that hiring based on one performance usually leads to trouble.  There’s no question that Lindsay Lohan is beautiful and talented, but she’s also a lot of trouble as attested by the headlines she’s generated.  Hiring someone, and this includes picking partners, without doing a background check and seeing them perform under pressure – is just asking for trouble later when the price to pay will be much higher.

What are some of the markers you use?

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.