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?
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?
- You stopped listening and started thinking you had all the answers.
- The conversations turned into gripe sessions.
- Actions were planned, but there was no follow through.
- 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.)
Thanks for the article. I personally love premortems. I’ve found they allow for 2 things usually…provided it isn’t all about meteors.
1. Eliminate certain failures by expecting and implementing mitigation plans early.
2. Reduce the sting of failures that aren’t eliminated…at least you’re prepared for when it happens and the result is less of a fire needing to be put out.
I’ve heard about this before. And it reminds me, in some ways, of the “Begin with the end in mind” axiom made popular by Stephen Covey. It’s always good to think about what might go wrong and that would be helpful in developing different options or plans for serious considerations.
Sounds like doing a ‘Failure Modes and Effects Analysis’ for a project.
In my world we would never go with a plan that we know wont work. I do know sometimes when our plan fails we say “now I are setting up my replacement for success” and try to do that. Even if we know we wont be part of the end.
On Fri, Jun 28, 2019 at 6:04 AM Leadership Freak wrote:
> Dan Rockwell posted: “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 co” >
“Invert! Always INVERT!”
— Charles Munger’s mantra re companys’ financials
Re Warren Buffet’s sageness …
Mwrcilessly … Always run whatever equation you have come up with … both backwards and forwards,
modifying each and every presumption as regards the past (performance), current assumption (delta between then and now), and future prosumption (unrealized, as yet, potential variable) as you do so.
You find out – in quantitative terms – how ONLY positive thinking by individuals (incomplete considerations) leads to potential collective disaster (wrong results), i.e. unintended consequences.
The only way to check your faith…
What goes wrong with premortems?
When “lessons learned” dictate that unseen mistakes are repeated (because they are taken gospel by those vested in them).
I did this exercise this past year with our school leaders and then many of them did it in their schools last year. It is a powerful exercise and gets barriers named and strategies to overcome those barriers on the table.
This is the same thinking as Mr. Risto Siilasmaa presented in his book “Transforming Nokia. The Power of Paranoid Optimism to Lead Through Colossal Change”. He calls it paranoid optimism: in any process you start with preferred outcome and prune the plan by challenging everything in ‘paranoid way’ i.e. everything fails. By expecting the worst you plan for success, eventually, and by challenging the thinking within the organization itself, you also take into account the fact that the organization itself might not be up to the challenge at the moment. This goes well along with the freethinking leader philosophy by Marcus Buckingham, that to create a flowing change you have to evaluate your thinking by looking it outside the box you are put in. Question everything that is taken for granted.