I came across a great idea to address bias in decision making by a psychologist called Gary Klein. We’re all familiar with the idea of a project post mortem to establish what’s gone well and not so well with a project but what about the idea of a pre mortem?
Research conducted at the Wharton School and University of Colorado identified something they called ‘prospective hindsight’—imagining that an event has already occurred – and they found this can increase a person’s ability to correctly identify what happens in the future by 30%. I recently ran an innovation sprint for a client and we used this process to help us figure out what might go wrong.
What is a pre-mortem?
Projects may fail for many reasons. The pre-mortem helps you and your group recognize potential barriers, vulnerabilities and complications around your project and so anticipate problems to overcome.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Gary Klein an expert in decision making, explains further:
“Unlike a typical critiquing session, in which project team members are asked what might go wrong, the premortem operates on the assumption that the “patient” has died, and so asks what did go wrong. The team members’ task is to generate plausible reasons for the project’s failure.”
Why use a pre-mortem?
When trying to generate creative ideas, perhaps in a group brainstorming session, it helps to structure your session so that when you are generating ideas for the first time, you avoid dissenting with each other in order to generate a volume of options. You can decide whether they are workable as the next stage. But when it comes to planning dissent is a really useful way to assess the pros and cons of an idea, evaluate whether any risks are associated and to find holes in a plan. This is where the pre mortem fits in.
The idea is similar to Edward De Bono’s ‘black hatted’ thinking as part of his famous six thinking hats technique – spotting all the pitfalls and issues with a project – but it isolates the negative thinking into one-stage.
How to run a pre-mortem
Step 1 – imagine that you are 3 years into the future, and despite all of the team’s efforts, the idea, campaign or project you have been working on has failed—catastrophically, and many things have gone completely wrong.