You know what a postmortem is: An examination to figure out why someone (or something) died.

But do you know about the “premortem” technique? According to behavioral scientist Gary Klein, it’s a great way to get your team to do devil’s advocate thinking about an upcoming project – thinking that may save it from unexpected failure.

Here’s how Klein recommends you approach a premortem. Tell the team: “Imagine we’re looking in a crystal ball, and this project has failed; it’s a fiasco. Now, everybody, take two minutes and write down all the reasons why you think it happened.”

Make them feel smart
See the benefit of this approach? Nobody wants to be the wet blanket who pooh-poohs a project. The crystal-ball approach already assumes the project failed, so nobody has to be the bad guy. Instead of discouraging people from pointing out potential problems, it tells them they’re smart to think of good reasons why a project might collapse.

“The whole dynamic changes from trying to avoid anything that might disrupt harmony to trying to surface potential problems,” Klein says.

Source: The McKinsey Quarterly.

4 Comments

  • Jen says:

    I try to make a point to do something like this on every project. Thinking ahead about where a project can go wrong is just common sense on one level. This is the first I’ve heard the phrase premortem when describing it though.

  • Jen says:

    I try to make a point to do something like this on every project. Thinking ahead about where a project can go wrong is just common sense on one level. This is the first I’ve heard the phrase premortem when describing it though.

  • Jen says:

    I try to make a point to do something like this on every project. Thinking ahead about where a project can go wrong is just common sense on one level. This is the first I've heard the phrase premortem when describing it though.

  • Jen says:

    I try to make a point to do something like this on every project. Thinking ahead about where a project can go wrong is just common sense on one level. This is the first I've heard the phrase premortem when describing it though.

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