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Premortem on Projects: How to Do It & Why

Stephanie Ray
Publication date:
September 5, 2019
Article Summary: 

Premortem on Projects: How to Do It & Why

A premortem is when a team imagines their project has failed before it even starts. It is a strategy that allows the project team to work backward from that point of failure to determine what might have caused the failure. The goal is to identify issues that caused the project to get derailed and take preventative action to avoid such events from occurring over the life cycle of the project. Research has shown that when one image something has already happened it improves the chance of correctly finding reasons for future outcomes by 30 percent. There is a danger that the premortem identifies threats or weaknesses that are not real, but the benefits of a premortem are great. It offers a perspective often missing from a pre-launch risk analysis, it gives everyone a voice and respects their input, and it helps to capture issues before they turn into problems.
A premortem is a team-building exercise where the team is briefed on the project plan and an assigned leader tells them that the project has failed. The team is then given an hour or more to brainstorm every possibility as to why the project failed. The leader then asks each group or individual to share only one of their reasons for the project failure, which must be a different one from those that proceeded it. These reasons are listed on a document or spreadsheet. This activity is not only practical, but also solidifies the team and makes them more productive.
A project management postmortem is a way to dissect the finished project and see what went wrong, so steps can be taken in the next project to avoid the same results. It is important to note that a premortem and a postmortem are not mutually exclusive and both serve a valuable purpose in leading a winning project. Premortem best practices include being specific and actionable, assigning owners to each of the priority reasons, and considering risks, opportunities, and existing plans. Postmortems are helpful tools for understanding the underlying currents in a project and how they carry it one way or the other. The more knowledge you have of what makes your project tick, the more likely you can run it like clockwork.


premortem, project failure, risk management, project failures, new product development

Source Citation: 
Stephanie Ray
Premortem on Projects: How to Do It & Why
September 5, 2019
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