Imagine a Failure: a pre-mortem retrospective

by Nikos Batsios

Conducting a Post-Mortem at the end of your project is a great lesson learned practice that could promote the recurrence of desirable outcomes while preventing from the undesirable outcomes!

It’s true that we – our teams, processes and organisations benefit from post-mortems, except our project! As the psychologist Gary Klein said: “A postmortem is a medical setting allows health professionals and the family to learn what caused a patients’ death. Everyone benefits except, of course, the patient.”

Instead of conducting a postmortem and looking back on what happened in your project you can try a pre-mortem just at the beginning of your project and imagine that it was an absolute failure! (alternatively think of success)

What you can expect to get out of this exercise

Creativity and openness from all team members to express their concerns in a safe environment when their project is still in the planning phase! Teams can get ideas and actions on areas that if implemented well could increase the chances of success!

How to do it

Creating the “script”

Before starting your pre-mortem, it is really important to illustrate an imaginary failed state, a disaster,  of the project that is about to start. Adding details, using pictures and creating a “script” or a story could help the team to actually be part of this unwanted state! It can be, for example, an “aggressive” email that your team received from a customer’s CEO describing the frustration with the project delivery trigger and he needs your immediate support to resolve all these problems!

Why this has happened? – 30 minutes

After discussing this project imaginary failure story ,  all team members brainstorm possible causes that triggered this disaster!

  • Use sticky notes to gather all the causes and discuss them
  • Group them into common themes and
  • Prioritize the themes based on their importance and their contribution to that failure

How to prevent this imaginary failure? – 30 minutes

Discuss the themes and the identified causes. Ask team members to brainstorm and find possible solutions that will prevent the identified causes from happening in reality. The outcome should be a list of concrete actions that team members should take care of by themselves or delegate these to people who could best support them.

The team can decide to work on a few or all themes depending on the their availability, time and the importance of causes. The team can also follow-up on the actions or discuss more themes in their retrospectives at the end of each development cycle.

Keep Calm and carry on! – 5 minutes

You can close the pre-mortem with a relaxed message all participants! At the end, it was just a simulation and all participants gave their best to prevent this disaster from happening in real life! And the good thing is that you have a list of actions that might increase the chances of success! (in case this would really happen in the future)

About Nikos

Nikos Batsios´ main belief is that great teams could achieve astonishing results! Keeping that belief in mind, contributing in the quality environment creation, human relationships that will further unleash the potential of individuals, will enable teams to perform high and cooperate with one another towards the same organisation’s purpose. As an Agile Coach, I contributing towards that direction supporting and training teams and organisations to understand the importance of agile values, principles, practices and helping them see the benefits in their agile transformation.

If you have questions related to this article, please feel free to contact Nikos on Twitter @nbatsios.

Picture credits go to: Jeff Djevdet

In case you are interested in Agile Retrospectives I am at the moment preparing a 10 DAYS FREE AGILE RETROSPECTIVES PROGRAM. This is a complete self-study program where you will learn anything that you need to become a great Agile Retrospectives facilitator.

If you are interested in sharing your Agile Retrospective exercise with us please contact us:

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *