2 March, 2023

What is a Pre-mortem? …and how do you run one?

In this video, I answer the questions, what is a Pre-mortem and how do you run one?

This video is safe for viewing in the workplace.

This is learning, so, sit back and enjoy

What is the Pre-Mortem Technique?

Origin of the Pre-Mortem

A Pre-mortem is a technique devised by Gary Klein, which he documents in his excellent book, ‘The Power of Intuition’.

Klein named it by analogy to a post-mortem – and examination of a corpse to find the cause of death. What would happen, he asks, if we could find the cause of death before our project fails?

Purpose of the Pre-Mortem

The pre-mortem is an excellent exercise that you can carry out at any time in your project, as a valuable part of your risk management.

It is a way to find failings in your plan. Too often, when we look for risks, all we are doing is looking for small variances in our plan. We have an intrinsic bias that sees our plan as fundamentally accurate.

We find it very hard to escape the tunnel vision of following the broad path our plans. In truth, there may be a fundamental error in the assumptions on which they are based.

The pre-mortem exercise is a way to spot these big divergences and it works because we don’t start with the plan. We start with the outcome and, more than that, with the assumption that our plan fails, and the project is a fiasco.

The Pre-mortem Process

This can work equally well as a live, in-person, event or as an online meeting.

6 Steps

  1. Preparation
    Gather together your group, and set up the exercise. Make sure everyone is familiar with the project and the planned outcomes. Everyone will need a pen and paper.
  2. Imagine a Fiasco
    Invite everyone to imagine the end of the project. And that the project has been a complete disaster. There have been massive failings of any kind. Ask them to note down the kinds of failure that they imagine.
  3. Generate Reasons for Failure
    Now ask the group to write down all the things they can think of that can have caused (or contributed to) the failure
  4. Consolidate the Lists
    Now facilitate a sharing of these scenarios and reasons. Capture them on a board of some kind. Keep facilitating to add to, organize, and develop the list.
  5. Review your Risk Register and Plan
    Now, you can use the work you have done to create risks on your risk register, and identify parts of your plan you need to strengthen or change. 
  6. End the session…
    by determining the next steps and allocating responsibilities.


Periodically revisit this process to keep your team alert for potential points of failure, and the plan as sharp as possible.

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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