Project Practitioners > Project PRE-Mortem Simulations - Why Not Learn and Benefit From the Lessons BEFORE the Project Is Completed?

Project PRE-Mortem Simulations - Why Not Learn and Benefit From the Lessons BEFORE the Project Is Completed?

By ProjectConnections Staff

In order to effectively plan for and achieve success on specific projects, project management practicioners must understand how they could fail and ideally, they should derive this understanding when they can do something about it. That said, consider performing project pre-mortem simulations during the planning phase as a risk identification and risk mitigation exercise instead of waiting until you crash head-on into problems with the potential to seriously derail your project.

The Harvard Business Review talks about and endorses this concept (http://hbr.org/2007/09/performing-a-project-premortem) and it's also been covered in various project management texts and the works of psychologist Gary Klein and Daniel Kahneman, his Nobel-winning colleague. The basic idea is to leverage prospective hindsight (i.e., imagining that an event has already occurred) and create a forum where it’s safe for knowledgeable devils advocates to speak up about any reservations or concerns that they might have regarding the project so that you improve the probability of a successful outcome by identifying potentially fatal risks BEFORE it’s too late to do anything about them.

Pre-mortems are essentially the opposite of a post-mortem and allows the team to improve the project BEFORE something goes wrong rather than performing an autopsy on it once it’s failed. The pre-mortem operates on the assumption that the “patient” has already died and asks what did go wrong, i.e., team members are asked to generate plausible reasons for the project’s “failure”.

The leader starts the exercise by informing everyone that the project has failed spectacularly. Those in the room then independently write down every reason they can think of for the failure, especially things they wouldn’t normally mention as potential problems for fear of being politically incorrect (e.g., lack of support, dilution of the business case due to external environmental factors, etc.). Next, the leader asks each team member to read one reason from their list and everyone states a different reason until all of them have been reviewed and recorded – there are NO wrong answers. 

After the session is over, the project manager reviews the list, perhaps with the sponsor, core team and key stakeholders, to identify areas where the plan could be strengthened or reinforced and/or risks avoided, mitigated or neutralized. The exercise also sensitizes the team to picking up early signs of trouble once the project gets underway. In the end, a pre-mortem simulation can be a great way to avoid an actual, painful post-mortem. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure indeed.

Related Articles:

http://www.projectconnections.com/articles/031703-glory.html  - The best decisions employ the collective knowledge of the team -- even those pesky customers or users -- in the decision-making process.

http://blog.projectconnections.com/project_practitioners/2009/02/what-could-possibly-go-wrong-risk-management-part-2.html - How to make a comprehensive list of what could possibly go wrong with your project.

http://www.projectconnections.com/templates/detail/project-risk-checklist.html - Drafting a risk list can be a daunting proposition, but you need to be sure you've covered all the bases. This risk checklist prompts your team to consider common risks across a wide variety of categories, to reduce the odds of missing one of those dreaded "unknown-unknowns."

Related Templates:

http://www.projectconnections.com/templates/detail/project-risk-checklist.html - Drafting a risk list can be a daunting proposition. This risk checklist prompts your team to consider common risks across a wide variety of categories, to reduce the odds of missing one of those dreaded "unknown-unknowns."

http://www.projectconnections.com/templates/detail/product-project-risk-assessment.html - Risk Assessment tables used during the early project selection process for documenting product risks, as well as several more detailed risk assessment categories for projects moving into full-blown planning.



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