A Premortem: Reverse Positive Thinking for Success

Do premortems. A postmortem is too late.

Gary Klein introduced the idea of premortems. A premortem is reverse positive thinking. Instead of imagining success, imagine failure.

What might go wrong:

A year from now, imagine your project is a colossal failure. What contributed to imagined failure? What did you fail to do?


Your business is becoming more profitable. A year from now, your business is failing. What did you fail to do that caused the failure? How might you prevent future failure?

You’re ready to launch a new initiative. A year from now, this initiative crashes. What went wrong? What process or system will make success more likely?

You’ve made progress at overcoming ineffective leadership behaviors. A year from now, you’ve slipped back into ineffective behaviors. What are some possible reasons you slipped back?

Get real:

Prepare for negative outcomes that are likely.

You might say, this project will fail because the earth is hit by a meteor. You don’t need to prepare for that contingency.

Example: check-in initiative

You schedule check-in meetings with team members. Imagine your check-in initiative is a complete failure. What went wrong?

  1. You stopped listening and started thinking you had all the answers.
  2. The conversations turned into gripe sessions.
  3. Actions were planned, but there was no follow through.
  4. You canceled check-ins because of busyness.

Which of the above negative outcomes is most likely?

How will you prevent a negative outcome?

How might a premortem be useful?

What might go wrong during a premortem meeting? (This is a premortem on premortems.)