Affirm the Absent

Summary

  • At the root of this post is the concept of checking and confirming assumptions – confirming that an issue doesn’t exist, while superficially appearing to not provide any additional information, is actually quite valuable in terms of providing comfort that the present course does not need to be altered.

    • A quick example of this would be instead of remaining silent if a project’s timeline is proceeding as planned, an employee should tell their collaborators that the project remains on course based on the current data and information.

  • This not only provides comfort to those involved in the project, but also serves as a secondary check to see if any of the employee’s collaborators have pertinent information that has not yet been communicated.

    • Affirming that there is no fire is just as valuable to team awareness and communication as finding a spark.

  • If practiced consistently, Affirming the Absent will reduce the chance of Type 2 Errors occurring, or when an action should be taken and isn’t.

Detailed Discussion

Affirming the absent is most valuable in environments where timelines, input variables, resources, and staff are in constant flux.

The reason AtA is so valuable in these environments is because team members may not always be aware of, or be able to control, every factor that may affect deliverables they are responsible for as an individual contributor.

This is particularly true in software product management where a high number of stakeholders are involved in varying capacities and degrees with each product launch.

This concept is also helpful for subject matter experts who are relied upon for their opinions for certain aspects of each project. SME’s can mistakenly assume that those they report to, and collaborate with, possess the same level of knowledge and understanding. SME’s should recognize the information asymmetry and attempt to even the playing field by affirming when the course is proceeding as scheduled. Hearing this affirmed by the SME provides significant comfort to those involved who may be afraid or unable to ask the correct questions to determine if the project is on track.

Additional Examples

  • Airline pilots and staff run through a checklist before every flight, where they positively affirm to each other than there are no issues with the equipment, route or staff. This check of basic assumptions is a key component to making air travel safe and efficient.

  • Project managers providing confirmation that a project is on track given a certain set of assumptions affirms to the team that, if the present course continues, the project’s goals will be achieved. This continuous affirmation can catch hidden assumptions or factors that team members may not otherwise voice which could delay or impact the project.