Monday, June 23, 2014

Project Premortems: A Great Tool to Help Mitigate Project Failure

Doctors at the General Assembly 

It is well known that CRM projects can fail. Just choose a number, any number: 35%? 60%? Whatever the figure really is, it's significant. So I was very interested when another sector consultant, Richard Collings, sent me a link to a fascinating article written some years ago now about a concept called the Project Premortem. And I liked it so much, I thought I should share it.

It works like this: We all know about compiling Lessons Learned after a project has finished (a post-mortem if you like). Instead, a Premortem is held at the start of an implementation (or even during it I guess). It starts by gathering project team members in a room and telling them that "the project has failed catastrophically". Then you ask them to imagine why that has happened. Everyone writes down why they believe the project has failed so badly and then you discuss it. And anything goes. People shouldn't hold back from airing their concerns and should not worry about offending others or upsetting senior managers etc. (Or: if you think that some staff might not be so open/honest with, say, a senior director present in the room, then I guess you could hold multiple such sessions).

The theory is that by doing this, it gives people a chance to air their concerns in a specific, safe environment, when they would not do so in normal working mode. And it makes us think differently too - more imaginatively (and maybe even as a bit of fun!) The scenarios given in the original article are excellent examples to show the sort of things which people might say. For example, the project sponsor "left during the project" and interest in the project waned thereafter; or one I might add: the supplier "under-estimated the work involved with a mission critical function" and therefore the whole project stalled by several months.

I really like this. I am currently working on a large CRM project and we have decided that we will definitely use this technique when we do kick-off the implementation.

As the original article says: "Although many project teams engage in prelaunch risk analysis, the premortem’s prospective hindsight approach offers benefits that other methods don’t… It also reduces the kind of damn-the-torpedoes attitude often assumed by people who are overinvested in a project." And as it goes on to say, "Moreover, in describing weaknesses that no one else has mentioned, team members feel valued for their intelligence and experience, and others learn from them." What a great idea - let's bring premortems to the fore!

Since writing this blog post, I have also heard the wonderful Freakonomics podcast air a recent episode in which the author of the original article, Gary Klein, discusses this whole concept. Well worth a listen.

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