Pre-Mortem to Set Up a Product for Success
As a product manager, I like to start every project with a pre-mortem. A pre-mortem is an exercise done to figure out how a project can fail and to work backward to ensure those failures don't happen.
This is the best way I know to set up a project for success.
I particularly love this if you are new to a team or product, or technology. You’ll learn what everyone thinks (since most folks have at least one concern) and end with a list of advice from the most experienced in their domain. You will also learn the blind spots on the team e.g. did the team consider future known compliance needs? Or is your team factoring in their vacation schedules? Lastly, because there aren't standards on the follow-up from a pre-mortem, you get the wisdom of the crowds and ownership over the next steps.
Create space for the team
Pre-mortems are a comfortable way for everyone on your team to bring up their fears about themselves and others. Because of the non-personal format, you’ll get an answer to “what will you and your coworkers suck at”, without having to be so blunt. I’ve had people volunteer their fear about a new type of coding involved or around time management as a first-time manager. While you may know some of the facts of the situation, until people state their concerns as it relates to themselves or others, you won’t know how important it is and if you should index on those situations.
Every project will have something bad happen and a pre-mortem won't stop that. But it can reduce the number of bad things from happening and makes you better prepared. On the later point, once the project starts, every person will dive into their workstream, and issues happen and vary in surprise levels. Given this eventuality, it feels good to at least begin the project on the same page as everyone else going in.
Format for pre-mortem
My pre-mortem is a watered down version of Tim Ferriss’s structure. I recommend reading his full structure here.
Fear Write down every fear. What would delay this project for months or make it not workable?
Prevent List how you can prevent that fear from happening. What actions can you take now to prevent that bad thing from happening?
Repair Put down how you will go about repairing the damage if your fear does occur. Is this easy to repair? Will more time suffice as a repair?
I love this framework for any life choice where there is fear. The framework helps me understand my concerns and how to be less complacent. I've found by doing a pre-mortem that you discover there aren't many downsides.