Projects of every kind go horribly wrong in a bewildering variety of ways. Despite that, the instinct to assume that the act of planning is sufficient to ensure that assumptions are borne out and that delivery follows a smooth path can be overwhelming. But there is great power in assuming the opposite: if we examine early on some of the ways in which the project might have gone horribly wrong, in time to think about how the risk might be mitigated, the chances of successful delivery are enhanced.
That’s the idea behind a premortem – not waiting until the project is dead before performing the autopsy. At root it’s a simple risk management technique, its power is in making it easier for people to liberate themselves from optimism bias.
This is not a new article, it is the definitive account of the method, and having tracked it down to share with a colleague, thought it worth sharing here too. I was first introduced to it by Naomi Stanford, who has an interesting blog post contrasting premortems with devil’s advocacy – the former is a distinctly (if curiously) more positive approach.