The Pre-Mortem

Your team has generated a brilliant idea. The whole team loves it and is eager to implement. Great. But watch out; falling in love with your ingenious idea has dangerous side effects…

If a team likes an idea too much, they will have a hard time objectively evaluating it. Their enthusiasm might blind them and they are likely to rush into implementation without recognising the risks and flaws of their idea.

This is a problem. Failing to acknowledge potential flaws can lead your team to implement an idea that is not ready yet. Time and energy might be wasted on an idea that will crash and burn.

It’s very important to carefully evaluate an idea and to map out risks, weaknesses and disadvantages. Addressing these will give you the opportunity to disarm them.

In almost any team there are people who dó see the limitations of an idea. They are eager to point out any flaws and they love to tell others why an idea will be a total disaster. These buzzkills are generally not very popular. They tend to be ignored or at the very least told to be a bit more positive. Their feedback is hardly ever taken seriously.

As a result, these unheard critics often become the project’s biggest nightmares. They are not likely to work very hard to make the plan succeed, and even worse: their discontent might very well demotivate the entire team.

The solution to all this? The pre-mortem.

The Pre-mortem

In a ‘post-mortem’ (or autopsy) a coroner investigates what killed the person on his or her table. The pre-mortem works the other way around. During the pre-mortem, you try to determine what it was that killed your project… in advance.

So, how does this work? All you need to do is follow two simple steps.

Step 1. The bad news
Get the team together and pretend it’s one year later. While all of you imagine looking back on the year, give them the bad news. Sadly, their project turned out to be a total failure. Now ask the team: what went wrong? Now they have to list all the things that could’ve led to this disaster. What were the reasons the idea never became a success?

Step 2. The good news
Luckily, it doesn’t have to be like that. In reality, there is still time to prevent this disaster from happening. Pick the most likely reasons for failure the team members just listed, and use them to improve the plan. Come up with ways to prevent the fiasco you just imagined.

There are several benefits of doing a pre-mortem of an idea. Apart from pointing out risks early on, the method gives the critics in the team a voice. They are encouraged to point out all the flaws of the plan and are rewarded for their pessimism. Instead of being ridiculed as the annoying sourpuss of the group, the critical team member will be rewarded. In the pre-mortem critics get a chance to show the team how smart and experienced they are.

In the pre-mortem the weaknesses of the idea are pointed out, and the entire team gets to work together to improve the plan. What better time to solve nasty problems than in advance?


Look at the latest idea you came up with and imagine you’re one year in the future. What is the most likely reason your plan failed?

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