We’ve all seen the TV docs do a postmortem to figure out why and how a victim died so the NCIS detectives can catch the bad guy. A lot of organizations will conduct a postmortem after a big event or project has concluded to do an evaluation (though I prefer an After Action Review, since I hope no one died while implementing the project).
Research has demonstrated that “prospective hindsight” – imagining that an event has already occurred – increases the ability to correctly identify reasons for future outcomes by 30%.* Therefore, some organizations conduct a “premortem” to identify potential problems before implementing a project.
To conduct a “premortem” ask your team to imagine:
“If this project ends up having some breakdowns, what would you guess those might be?”
This gives people license to play a sort of brainstorm guessing game without the pressure of being labeled as a negative thinker.
A premortem is a good discipline to add to the end of your planning process to identify possible hidden problems lurking around the corner. It also helps slow the process down just a bit in case the team (or more especially some excited leaders) are going a bit too fast.
There is no way to predict every possible problem that can occur when implementing a project, but the premortem provide a chance to avoid some challenges and allow the organization to make even more of a Mission Impact.
*Performing a Project Premortem, Gary Klein, Harvard Business Review, September, 2007.