Risk Management Tool: Pre-mortem

I’m going to write about risk management and more specifically about intervention tool called pre-mortem.

Short Introduction of Theory

Pre-morten, like the name hints, is a tool that you use to write a short story about why the project failed, but you do it before. The style is quite frankly the same that most of the time you spend on analysing why some things went wrong. The emphasis is on story telling. This will allow people reading it, make up the holes and wake up to the reality that something needs to be done.

This leads me to the use cases where you should use this:

  • Your not getting your voice through for one reason or another, a risk is being talked down in the project board or by project owner.
  • You as a project manager are worried that something really bad is about to happen, but it’s something vague. You can clear your mind and do the bullet before this.

It’s quite powerful so use it wisely and think of this as a tool that’s used once-per-project for hardest risks or times the project faces.



“The project had great chances of being succesful project and the project team was glowing with energy in the start. However something weird happened, I’m not sure which order, but all contributed a little bit to failure of this project and it started to sink in a spiral of death:

  • Project owner was not really interested when the project went well and this lead to situation that he/she wasn’t able to really make distinction when it was going bad. We all wanted well, but we didn’t have the time.
  • This leads to second issue, the project portfolio was piling up and we accepted more than we could finish, project being a lower priority project lead to situation where most of the project managers time was spent on trying to get scraps of work done by the team here and there. The team was doing exactly like the organization wanted, prioritize the work. However visibility to the whole amount was lost and even though organization did want also this project to finish on time, it was unable to see what was happening.
  • Project was subject of reactive decision making of all dependencies of the project, which lead to re-designing of project many times over, even with excellent JIT-method, it was still too much, combined with the last bullet when only member of the project group who could contribute was the project manager.
  • Finally the nail that killed the project was another more important project that was issued to project manager.
  • Most stakeholders did not share the idea of how the learning should be done (actually how learning happens), thus creating situations where some of the stakeholders were wondering why we are spending so much time on this and the other half thinking why we’re not doing as much as we should and we’re actually sawing our own leg.

What really happened? We wanted to do a project that frees up resources that was not done the way it should have been. Thus the situation afterwards was worse, having to do with less resources.

The End

Now I hope you’re thinking this virtual project and reading this like this all happened in the past, 6 months ago. Talks in the coffee tables are dieing down, but still some people wonder why it failed.

Now consider you got this in an e-mail designated to the whole board of the project when the project was half-way in and you started seeing the first clouds yourself. How would you react as a board member?


This entry was posted in Management, Methods and frameworks, Risk Management. Bookmark the permalink.

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