Nerve Collective

Thoughts & Musings

Mastering the Art of
the “Pre-Mortem”

There are a lot of great techniques out there for project troubleshooting, but my personal favorite continues to be the “pre-mortem.” Though entrepreneurs (especially very enthusiastic ones) find it morbid and deflating, it’s awfully useful for identifying flaws in an action plan.

The process is simple. You sit down with your project team and imagine you're living six months in the future. Your plan — whatever it is, a new company, a campaign, a product launch — has crashed and burned utterly. Your time and money have been wasted, your stakeholders are disillusioned and angry. How did it come to this? What on Earth happened?

You can see why a lot of people hate this. It's not exactly a positive visualization technique. But there’s a point. Once the happy, overly-optimistic smiles have been wiped off everybody's faces, people start to think clearly about risks. Explanations for the disaster are typically honest and frequently profound. “We didn’t do enough research.” “We didn’t do diligence on our suppliers.” “We did what was best for us instead of what was best for our customers.”

These “pre-failures” make great project checklists. Make a habit of the pre-mortem and you’ll be amazed at how much smarter you’ll be the next time you go to market.

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