Get the Failure Over With

Why wait for your project to actually fail when you can imagine it did up-front?  Simon Moore at Strategic Project Portfolio Management writes about the use of a “premortem” as a risk management tool.  The supporting research found their use can increase the ability to correctly identify reasons for future outcomes by 30%:

…[P]ost-mortems are, by definition, only successful correcting mistakes after they happen. …Experience may be the best teacher, but that can also prove expensive. Pre-mortems offer a different solution, correcting problems in advance, and eliminating the risk in the first place.

A pre-mortem involves getting project stakeholders and participants into a room before a project starts, making the rather bleak assumption that the project was not successful and then determining the cause. By assuming that the project has already failed, it makes it much easier for everyone in the room to be creative in pointing to potential problems and shortcomings.

I think it’s fascinating that a simple and completely notional change in mental perspective can have such a profound impact on the effectiveness of surfacing risks early.  Moore links to this Harvard Business Review article in which Gary Klein introduced the term “premortem”; it goes into more detail on the research behind the idea.

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