Pre-mortem

Pre-mortem

You get assigned an implementation.

It’s terrifying – people are going to hate it.

So, you pick a team.

And now you and your team are shaking in fear.

“Why me?” you ask yourself.

“Why me?” asks everyone on the team.

Here’s what you do.

Panic. No, I’m kidding.

First, lean into the fear. Ignoring it, hiding from it, trying to brush it off as it ain’t no thang – is the easy path. Instead, get your team together and do a pre-mortem. 

Step 1 – The Pre-mortem meeting

Follow the instructions from this gameplay site. In short, ask every member one-by-one the question “What will go wrong?” in the project. If you are feeling bold, go with “How will this end in disaster?”

The object is to create a space where all the fears can be shared. By identifying the concern, you can then address them. Once you have them all out, preferably written on a whiteboard for all of your team to see, the next step is to prioritize the list. Do not rush this. Create a safe space for everyone to vote and weigh in on this part. Then, proceed to the next step.

Step 2 – We Can’t Because

With the prioritized list of everything that will go wrong, write up the phrase “We Can’t because…” above the list. This is the moment where things shift in the Pre-mortem – so I would recommend taking some time between step 1 and Step 2. 

You’ll want to change the tone of the conversation from “We Can’t Because…” to “We Can If…” To do that, take the top thing on the list and shift it from a problem to a constraint. It’s not impossible to achieve – it’s just really difficult or very likely to happen. (I’m assuming this part but when I’ve run this experience very few people have come up with the impossible to achieve). By shifting the fear to a constraint, you can attack it with whatever you can imagine. As you go through fear after fear, you’ll move from problem to solution. And the impact, even if some of the “Can-if” solutions seem highly improbable, has a way of pulling the team out of what can’t be done to what can be done.

The result is often a team that is willing to face the fear together. The pre-mortem experience bonds the team with the recognition of their concerns and the best ways to resolve them.

References and Resources

Dave Gray from Gamestorming 

A Beautiful Constraint: How To Transform Your Limitations Into Advantages, and Why It’s Everyone’s Business by Adam Morgan and Mark Barden

Another approach to Pre-mortems

Supporting Music

The 5 6 7 8 – Woo Hoo

22-20’s – Devil in Me

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