Pre-mortem – How to Prepare for Change
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 project member, “What will go wrong?” If you are 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 where things shift in the Pre-mortem – so I 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 tricky or 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 improbable, has a way of pulling the team from what can’t be done to what can be done.
The result is often a team willing to face the fear together. In addition, the pre-mortem experience bonds the team by recognizing their concerns and the best ways to resolve them.
Step 3 – Repeat Steps 1 and 2 with a Success Lens
So What Happens AFTER you are successful with the Change Initiative? Let’s say everything went according to plan – what happens after that? Will the Software and Process Changes stay in place without monitoring? What about a Leadership change? Will that impact long-term success?
This step is essential because the best implementations can fail, not because the execution was poor, the training inadequate, or the software insufficient, but because this step never dawned on anyone. Instead, everyone, including the Executives, was laser-focused on implementing the software.
I was recently assigned a Global Implementation for Marketing with massive upheaval and impact on the end-users. They will be resistant – see the post “Unwanted Implementation” for more, as the CEO is mandating this. However, this is not my primary concern. We will dive in and get there, but this software’s impact will take more than just the software. It will take long-term support to ensure long-term value can be achieved. This is my primary concern. What will happen when the CEO becomes focused on other topics – which will happen – and a new CMO comes in? Will that CMO see the value of the latest solutions as their new team complains about the extent of change coming their way? Will the CMO hold onto the budgets allocated for the administrators supporting the new process when they could use those budgets for a new idea that the CEO is pushing for? Those are my concerns. We will prove the ROI, but will we get there in time?
Exposing Step 3 early on will help provide credibility that you have the full view of what’s happening. Unfortunately, sometimes it can be perceived as negative if not presented in the proper context. So, ensure your excitement about this opportunity equals or exceeds the possibility of everything ending in disaster. Pre-Mortems and Post-Mortems are not just for “Debbie Downers.”
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
Originally Posted September 3, 2019