Kick Off Projects with a Premortem

February 11, 2011 at 8:22 am Leave a comment

One of the best things about my job is I get to work with some really smart clients. Working closely with them, I’m constantly challenged (in the best sense of the word) to deliver value in my engagements.

Recently I was talking to a client I’ve known for years. Since we know each other well, I was sharing with him some obstacles I was encountering in a social media campaign for another company. Some on the client side have not bought into the social media approach, despite having sat in numerous planning meetings and not raising any objections.

His response was, “Well, did you do a premortem prior to starting execution?” And I replied, “What’s a premortem?”

At the simplest level, a premortem is the opposite of a postmortem. Rather than examining for causes after a death/failure, the premortem assumes failure prior to launch, then challenges team members to identify all possible causes for the negative outcome.

So what does this accomplish? It can help surface potential problems colleagues are reluctant to raise. Some employees are reluctant to rock the boat, or be perceived as less than enthusiastic about the project, not “team players.” With a premortem, every team member is expected to find a potential cause for failure, and identifying the most plausible cause demonstrates an individual’s knowledge and expertise.

Conducting a premortem is a very healthy habit that combats group think and overly optimistic expectations. Here’s a Harvard Business Review article with more detail.

I bet you can guess the new best practice I’m going to incorporate into Strategic’s client kick off meetings.

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