What Is a Pre-Mortem Meeting and How To Run One?

You might have heard of post-mortem meetings or exercises, during which teams discuss the successes and failures of a project. But what about pre-mortem meetings? These type of meetings are held prior to initiating a new project and they help managers and team members to think about what could happen in a project (good and bad), and make plans for specific scenarios.

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What Is a Pre Mortem Meeting?

Post-mortem meetings are well-known. They are commonly conducted by gathering relevant information from people involved in a project after its completion and they are performed by evaluating the different aspects of the project. And during this process, project managers and team members look at what went well as well as what didn’t go so well. 

The problem with post-mortem meetings is that they are conducted after the facts. And while it’s very helpful to learn from past mistakes and to avoid repeating those actions that worked as planned, it would also be extremely helpful to avoid certain scenarios and risks while conducting a new project. Luckily, a pre-mortem meeting is a great way to gather a team, discuss risks, and make plans to manage and mitigate those risks before they become a reality. 

What Are the Benefits of a Pre-Mortem Meeting?

Pre-mortem and post-mortem. It doesn’t necessarily mean that one is better than the other. There truly are benefits to both exercises. The only difference is that, in a pre-mortem, the team imagines the project has failed. And it might sound negative, but in reality, this strategy empowers teams to analyze scenarios and work backwards from a point of failure with the sole purpose to determine what caused the failure, and what could have been done to avoid it. 

Conducting pre-mortem meetings can offer different benefits to your projects. Let’s review some of them:

  • They help to identify new perspectives and potential issues prior to launching a project.
  • They boost team communication by giving everyone a voice. 
  • They improve efficiency by ensuring everyone is focused on discussing different aspects of your project, which will help to capture sensitive issues before they turn into issues.

How to Perform a Pre-Mortem Meeting

When done correctly, a pre-mortem can significantly help prevent a crisis. But this doesn’t it needs to be a complicated process. On the contrary, it can be a relatively simple process when you make sure to follow a few ground rules:

  • Prepare. Make sure your team has been briefed on the project plan before you start. 
  • Set aside uninterrupted time, at least a couple of hours. Your team needs to be able to focus solely on this.
  • All stakeholders should be present. You will want to avoid any possible blind spots, so make sure to invite every stakeholder to make sure you’re incorporating every point of view.
  • Take notes and review. During this time, many ideas will be floating around, and hence the importante of taking notes. Someone should be in charge of taking notes so that later on this information can be reviewed and revised as needed.

Now, the process. First, get the team together and brainstorm every possibility as to why the project failed. Here are a few basic questions:

  • What could go wrong with this project?
  • What could cause us to miss our deadline?
  • What will keep our project on time? What happens if this fails?
  • What if the software that we are using goes down?
  • What if the most important person backs out on us?

The goal at this point is to create a completely exhaustive list of things that could go wrong.

The only thing not allowed during this phase is proposed solutions.

Now, you’ll want to review your entire list of problems and select your top 10 problems to focus on. But how to select them? Make sure to focus on issues that feel critical to the success of your project, pick problems that are likely to happen, as well as to discard problems you have no control over.

Pre-mortem Template

Pre-mortems are a great tool for managers and team members to think about what could happen in a project, the good and the bad, and to prepare for different scenarios. They require preparation but the good news is, is that it doesn’t need to be a complicated process. You just need to make sure that you have a way of getting the right people together and that you have a good way of organizing the information your need to collect. And of course, one of the best ways to plan and to execute a plan is by building a Gantt chart

Gantt charts can be of great help when conducting pre-mortem meetings. An online project management software such as Instagantt can help you plan, conduct, and store what was discussed during your pre-mortem meetings so that you can review this information later down the road. You will be able to easily categorize your problematic scenarios as well as their solutions. Most importantly, you will be able to collaborate and follow up with your team, allowing them to actively participate in the process. This way, information becomes available for every stakeholder, and you can revisit data as much as you need to. 

Pre-mortem meeting template

Pre-Mortem Meeting Template

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