Pre-mortems, steering clear of the rocks.

18 Nov, 2019
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Are you worried your new project won’t be successful? Or afraid getting stuck applying these new techniques you just learned in a training? Or are you perhaps part of a very pro-active organization, but is a lack of focus crushing all new initiatives in the long run?

At Xebia we help customers as consultants, but also as facilitators or as trainers. A common pattern we see is people worry about how to move forward with their newly acquired knowledge or insights. In order to improve your chances of success, it can be very useful to do an upfront analysis of the causes of these worries. This will help you steer clear of the rocks, and prevent early ship wreckage of your new ideas. One of the formats we’ve been using over the years is the so-called Pre-mortem.

Meet the Pre-mortem

Example of a pre-mortem poster

Taken from, and also published in the awesome Gamestorming book, the Pre-mortem is an exercise to thoroughly explore all important scenarios that can set your project / product / change up for failure. This will then, in turn, help you prepare for these scenarios, increasing your chances of success. And even better: the exercise is easy to run:

Set the stage by imagining yourself X months ahead in time. By this time your project has miserably failed despite all the efforts that you & the others put in. Next, you explore 3 questions:

  1. What were your goals?
  2. What were your actions?
  3. What went wrong? And why was your project unsuccessful?

Now that you have all these scenario’s clear you can already start preparing you mitigative actions. Additionally, you can prioritize the risks to decide on where to focus in order to mitigate the risks.


Running this kind of exercise has several benefits. First of all, you use the knowledge of the collective to identify potential risks upfront, making it less likely to miss risks. Furthermore, the format makes it easier to voice concerns, that otherwise are overlooked, or just ‘got lost in conversation’.

Our Experiences

This kind of exercises can create a lot of powerful shared insights; on which huddles to take and can be used to create alignment within the group. However, gathering insights becomes very difficult in large groups. So in a recent training with +/- 20 attendees we decided to split up the group in four groups, have each subgroup do their own Pre-mortem and then share back to the group on perceived risks and mitigation strategies.

When you’re in a group that is very reactive and risk aversive, this exercise can be a bit risky. It can send them down a negative thinking spiral. In these cases, it’s very important to reiterate the goal of the exercise, and emphasise the benefits of being ready for issues at hand. Otherwise, it might be interesting to use a different exercise like remember the future or wish granted.

So how do you identify your project risks? What mitigation strategies are you using? Let us know by replying to this post!

Thanks to João Rosa for the collaboration on the blog!

I am a specialist at Qxperts. We empower companies to deliver reliable & high-quality software. Any questions? We are here to help!


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