When a project fails, we look back on what went wrong, assume it was unforeseeable or unavoidable, and take it as a lesson learned for our next project. But why wait until after your project’s demise to look at its problems? Imagine the failure before it actually occurs – and most importantly, prevent it.
The premortem technique (developed by Gary Klein) is conceptually similar to a postmortem but rather than determining the cause of death after-the-fact, you instead conduct it at the project’s outset. Imagine that you’ve launched your project and it has failed. Consider why this may have happened, then take the necessary steps to stop those causes from actually occurring.
This approach should involve all stakeholders, from “executive champions” (i.e., leaders and senior management) to project outsiders who can offer a different perspective (Peters, 2017). This allows you to hear the concerns and fears people have about the project; whether they’re fact or opinion, both are equally valid and ought to be considered (Belshaw, 2016).
In a premortem, raising potential issues is encouraged and rewarded – the more issues that people can brainstorm, the more effective the premortem; “when you’re working on a high stakes project, no elephant should be left in the room” (Tervooren, 2013). This exercise will not only help you take preventative measures to avoid the potential failures, but it also sensitizes stakeholders to pick up on early signs of troubles once the project is under way (Klein, 2007).
The key to this exercise is critical thinking, a broad imagination, and a fearless, safe approach to flagging potential concerns. Powernoodle’s Premortem Assessment tool will help facilitate this exercise with your team and ensure that you cover all the bases, preventing trouble before it has the chance to start.
Belshaw, D. (2016). How to run a ‘pre-mortem’ brainstorm to spot (and avoid) project fails. NewCo Shift.
Klein, G. (2007). Performing a project premortem. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2007/09/performing-a-project-premortem
Peters, H. (2017). 7 tips for a successful project "pre-mortem". LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/7-tips-success-project-pre-mortem-hud-peters/
Tervooren, T. (2013). The pre-mortem: A simple technique to save any project from failure. Riskology. https://www.riskology.co/pre-mortem-technique/