A post mortem is a regular practice in business. In agile speak, it is called a retrospective. But why wait so long to gain insights? In times of fast learning, we should do our learning even before we start executing. This is the pre mortem!
Gary Klein and his team introduced this framework. He writes about it in this 2007 HBR article.
What it is all about
Many projects and initiatives fail. Tragically, very often the reasons for failure have been known to the people involved from the very beginning. But potential issues haven’t been discussed upfront. There are various reasons for this neglect. For example, people don’t dare to speak up. Or they ‘only’ have a faint feeling which they don’t find worthy enough for mentioning. Whatever the reason, an opportunity for learning is missed.
The Pre Mortem tries to mitigate the loss of those opportunities. It conducts a thought experiment: suppose this initiative will have failed in the future. What do you believe are the reasons for this failure?
Why I found it valuable
Asking this hypothetical question provides a save space to discuss potential risks with the initiative. It changes group dynamics to the better. Suddenly, raising concerns is not something that undermines the initiative, but supports it. It helps to bring up all the things that should be discussed upfront.
Relevance for product management
The idea of a pre mortem resonates quite nicely with lean and agile methods. The team is focued on finding out the most critical assumptions about their product. Those assumptions are the ones you should address in your first experiments and your MVP.
Caution: don’t fall in love with a framework. They support, not replace thinking. Frameworks always have a point of view on reality. There are other views as well. Stop using a framework if it doesn’t help to create insights.